Cardinal George Pell has told the child abuse royal commission he was deceived in a world of crime and cover-ups by people who did not want the status quo disturbed.
Australia’s most senior Catholic claimed he was not briefed properly or adequately by the Catholic Education Office and Archbishop about abuse in Ballarat and Melbourne.
Giving evidence from Rome’s Hotel Quirinale for a third day, Cardinal Pell told the commission he believed the information was kept from him because he would have acted on it.
“They realised very clearly I was not cut from the same cloth,” he told the inquiry.
“They [Catholic Education Office] would have been fearful … that I would have asked all sorts of inconvenient questions if I’d been better briefed.”
Counsel assisting the inquiry dismissed this explanation as implausible.
Cardinal Pell recounted events involving accused paedophile Father Peter Searson, who pulled a handgun on parishioners and stabbed a bird with a screwdriver in front of children.
The inquiry was told Searson, who was accused of sexually abusing children from the 1970s to the 1990s, also held a knife to a young girl’s chest and told her: “If you move, this will go through you”.
Cardinal Pell said he had no recollection of a meeting in which a list of complaints made by children was raised that included fear of sexual abuse, Searson hitting children and concerns he was dangerous.
Searson, who died in 2009, was described by Cardinal Pell as “one of the most unpleasant priests that I’ve met”.
The commission also heard how some parents raised concerns that Searson used a tape recorder to record confessions, and forced children to kneel between his legs.
Pell’s evidence ‘designed to deflect blame’
Cardinal Pell told the commission he regretted not doing more at the time about rumours of child abuse.
He also said he was not aware of discussions about sexual activity, misconduct, or interference with children and in particular a meeting in which there was discussion about what was known of complaints against paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.
“I wasn’t aware of such discussions … although I would concede I should have done more,” he said.
When asked why he did not do this, Cardinal Pell said: “Because, one, I didn’t think of it and when I was told that they were dealing with it at that time I was quite content.”
Counsel assisting the inquiry said Cardinal Pell’s evidence was designed to deflect the blame from him, a claim which he denied.
Abuse survivors request meeting with Pope Francis
Survivors of Catholic abuse in Australia, who travelled to Rome for the hearings, said they wanted to take their complaint directly to Pope Francis before they left at the end of the week.
“We would like to request a meeting to discuss the commitment to the children of the past and children of the future … so this is never repeated again,” Philip Nagle said.
“We are getting a little bit tired of hearing what George is saying up there on the stand. We feel we only have two more days here in Rome and we want to be heard and we want someone to show they care about us and that can possibly help change this for the future into the future.”
In a statement issued during the hearing, Cardinal Pell said he would meet survivors once he had finished giving evidence on Thursday (Rome time) and assist with their requests to meet Pope Francis.
Following Cardinal Pell’s evidence earlier this week, Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who became the bishop of Ballarat in 1971, is to be requestioned.
The hearing previously heard the former bishop received numerous complaints about paedophile priests over three decades but they were never referred to police.