Just days before Cardinal George Pell carried out a second violent sex attack on a choirboy in a corridor at St Patrick’s Cathedral he was in a “furious mood”, a leading abuse advocate has revealed.
Chrissie Foster has exclusively told The New Daily how she spoke to Pell, then aged 55, at a February 1997 meeting about a priest who had been abusing her daughters and other children in the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh.
She has told how Pell, the then-newly installed Archbishop of Melbourne, was clearly getting frustrated with the 45 parents gathered and having to constantly troubleshoot the clergy sex abuse scandal in Victoria.
“He was in a terrible mood,” Mrs Foster, who attended much of Pell’s trials, told The New Daily.
“He was on the warpath and very dismissive and seemed annoyed that he was having to face us.
“It was at the meeting he described much of the allegations against priests as gossip. He just seemed to want to make out it was all lies.”
Just six days later Pell pushed a choirboy up against a wall in a corridor after mass and squeezed his private parts, a jury has found.
“I see Pell’s attitude at the meeting in the different light now … we now know he was fighting for his own life and, of course, it all makes sense now,” Mrs Foster said.
“It makes me wonder that part of the reason he was so violent and opportunistic was because he was under huge pressure and was very upset and unhappy.
“It’s not an excuse, but it just gives a bit of context to what was going on.”
In December Pell was found guilty of the attack, along with four counts of sexually attacking the same boy and another in the priest’s sacristy.
Pell was well aware the Foster family had been shattered by priest Kevin O’Donnell, a paedophile and serial child abuser who attacked Katie and Emma repeatedly between 1988 and 1993.
Brazen and cruel, O’Donnell would regularly take the girls from the playground of their Catholic primary school to the school hall or the church next door. At the time, they never spoke a word of the abuse to their parents.
However, as the sisters entered their teenage years, the abuse began to take an immense toll on their mental health and wellbeing.
In August 1995, O’Donnell was jailed after pleading guilty to multiple charges across 31 years.
Though the Fosters were not involved in the case, the surrounding publicity prompted Emma and Katie to plummet into private despair, confusing their parents.
The nightmare resurfaced again 15 months later, when Mrs Foster read a desperate note written by Katie explaining that she, too, had been abused by O’Donnell.
Katie developed a binge-drinking problem and in May 1999, when she was 15 years old, she was hit by a car while drunk. She suffered brain damage and is now confined to a wheelchair, requiring 24-hour care.
Emma continued to spiral out of control and in 2008 she took her own life. She was 26.
Mrs Foster told The New Daily she was shocked when she checked the dates and realised she had met Pell, who has admitted to having a bad temper in the past, on Tuesday, February 18, 1997, less than a week before the second attack in the corridor the following Sunday at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
“We were all being pretty civil in the circumstances. We were even in the hall where some of the abuse took place, and I remember even one of the parents challenging Pell and asking, ‘Why are you so angry?’,” Mrs Foster said.
“He sat taking notes and didn’t even look at them.
“Pell replied, ‘It’s the Irish blood in me’.”
In the end Pell’s mood escalated that night and he shouted at the parents who were making complaints about three other priests.
“He said ‘I don’t listen to gossip’,” Mrs Foster said.
“He kept saying ‘Prove it in court, prove it’.
“He had no right to get angry … we were there talking about a priest who pleaded guilty to 31 years of sexually assaulting children.”
After political pressure Pell had set up the Melbourne Response in October 1996, funded by the Archdiocese of Melbourne, to give compensation and counselling to clergy sex abuse victims via “independent commissioners”.
Mrs Foster, alongside her late husband Anthony, went on to be one of the most courageous advocates on the subject of Catholic clergy abuse.
“It shows that everyone is accountable, no matter how senior in the church,” she said.
“What he has been found guilty of is hideous and appalling. He has shown utter arrogance and hypocrisy ever since.”
Pell was convicted in December after a first trial resulted in a hung jury in September. Both trials took place at the County Court of Victoria in Melbourne and lasted five weeks.
The guilty verdict has made Pell the most senior Catholic figure in history ever to be convicted of a crime.
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