A victim of notorious paedophile priest Peter Searson has revealed the contents of a letter of apology to her from former archbishop George Pell about her abuse.
The letter paints a different picture to the evidence given by Cardinal Pell to a Victorian inquiry in 2013.
Julie Prien (nee Stewart) gave evidence on Wednesday morning to the royal commission into child sex abuse about her treatment at the hands of Father Peter Searson at the Doveton Holy Family Parish in outer Melbourne in the 1980s.
The letter, signed by the then-archbishop Pell and written in 1998, accepts that Ms Prien was abused and says: “On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologise to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Searson.”
But, while being questioned in 2013 by Victorian MP Frank McGuire, Cardinal Pell defended his actions in relation to Searson.
The transcript of his evidence reads: “…No conviction was recorded for Searson for sexual misbehaviour – there might be victims…”
Julie Prien told the ABC’s 7.30 she was deeply angered by the statement that “there might be victims”, so decided to tell her story to the royal commission for the first time.
“Oh, I was absolutely so angry … And I thought, ‘let’s get ’em’,” Ms Prien said.
When asked by 7.30 what she thought of George Pell, she answered: “Not very much.”
Ms Prien was abused by Searson in 1984 and 1985 at Holy Family when she was nine and 10 years old. The school was a hot spot for a succession of paedophile priests through the 1970s and 1980s.
Cardinal Pell, who has engaged personal legal representation for this royal commission, will reserve the right to cross-examine witnesses, including victims of paedophile clergy, despite a Church decision not to do so.
Evidence will also be heard this week from the principal of the Holy Family School at the time, Graeme Sleeman, who quit in disgust after he says the parish was left unprotected from Searson by the Catholic Church.
“When Searson was sent to me, priests, people, contacted me at the school to say ‘mate, you are getting this crazy guy’,” Mr Sleeman told 7.30.
“In all my life, I have never been frightened of anyone, but Peter Searson scared me. Because he was a really, really creepy guy.”
The former principal, whose career was left in ruins following Searson’s arrrival at the school, said the Catholic Education Office received numerous complaints about the priest but ignored them.
“They said ‘we’ve passed it on’. And they kept constantly telling me, ‘that is not concrete evidence, we need concrete evidence’. I don’t know how much more concrete evidence we could give them,” Mr Sleeman said.
The commission has received in evidence dozens of letters from the time Mr Sleeman left the school from concerned parents and parishioners who wanted Searson out.
Mr Sleeman told 7.30 the church failed the students of Holy Family School.
“I signed a contract to be a principal at that school which said I would uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church and I would provide a safe environment for children. And the diocese really did not assist me in providing a safe environment for any of the students in that school,” he said.
The Catholic Church substantiated four complaints of child sexual abuse against Searson. He was also convicted in 1997 of hitting an altar boy. He died in 2009.
– with Andy Burns, ABC