'He should have done more': key findings from the newly released George Pell reports

Two case studies reveal the full extent of the Cardinal’s knowledge of sexual abuse within the Catholic church. Here’s what they tell us

Two previously redacted sections of Australia’s child sexual abuse royal commission’s final report were published on Thursday, more than two years after the commission finished its five year inquiry.

The redacted sections related to two case studies. The first was case study 28 in which the royal commission examined Catholic church authorities in and around Ballarat, Victoria. Pell was a parish priest in Ballarat from 1972 and was also a member of the College of Consultors of the Ballarat Diocese, a group of senior priests who advised the then Bishop Ronald Mulkearns.

The second sections related to case study 35, which examined the response to abuse by the Catholic archdiocese of Melbourne. Pell was an auxiliary bishop in the Melbourne archdiocese from 1987. In 1996 he became the archbishop of Melbourne.

These are the key findings from the redacted sections of the Ballarat and Melbourne reports:


Brother Ted Dowlan

Dowlan, a member of the Christian Brothers order, was removed from St Patrick’s College in 1974 after he admitted abusing boys under his care. He went on to abuse children at at least four other schools over another 14 years. Dowlan was jailed for his crimes, once in 1996 and again in 2015.

The royal commission found it was “satisfied that in the early 1970s Cardinal Pell was told by one or two students, and one or two priests, about Dowlan’s infractions of a sexual nature with minors”. Pell told the chaplain at St Patrick’s College about the rumours, but did not tell the bishop, Mulkearns, or the headmaster of the school, Brother Paul Nangle, about what he had heard.

“Cardinal Pell told us that, with hindsight, he should have done more,” the commission’s report said. “In particular, he told us he should have consulted Brother Nangle and ensured that the matter was properly treated. Cardinal Pell said he regretted not doing more at the time. We agree that he should have consulted Brother Nangle and ensured that the matter was properly treated.”

A witness identified only as BWF told the royal commission that Dowlan had beaten and molested another boy. But Pell told the commission that BWF was not a credible witness, given he had been convicted of child sexual offences.

“We do not consider that his [BWF’s] criminal history of itself undermines his credit in his evidence,” the royal commission found.

Gerald Ridsdale

From 1973 Pell lived in the parish house of St Alipius in Ballarat East with the paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale. Pell has always maintained he never knew Ridsdale was abusing children. Ridsdale was a prolific sex offender who abused children hundreds of times throughout Victoria from the 1960s to the 1980s. What Pell may have known of Ridsdale’s offending and that of other paedophile priests becomes the subject of much of the royal commission’s later questioning.

The royal commission found: “We are satisfied that in 1973 Father Pell turned his mind to the prudence of Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camps”.

“The most likely reason for this, as Cardinal Pell acknowledged, was the possibility that if priests were one-on-one with a child then they could sexually abuse a child or at least provoke gossip about such a prospect. By this time, child sexual abuse was on his radar, in relation to not only Monsignor Day but also Ridsdale. We are also satisfied that by 1973 Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy but that he also had considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.”

Pell told the commission that other senior figures in the church deceived him about Ridsdale’s abusing and the reasons for moving him between parishes. The commission found this “implausible”. Pell has always maintained he did not know Ridsdale was offending against children at the time.


Father Peter Searson

Searson was a parish priest at Doveton, a suburb south-east of Melbourne, who was accused of sexually and physically assaulting children in the 80s. Pell was an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne from 1987.

The commission heard that Searson had behaved outrageously towards children: pointing a handgun at a child; holding a knife to the chest of a young girl and threatening her; showing children a dead body; torturing a cat and stabbing to death a bird in front of children; loitering in children’s toilets; and forcing children to kneel between his legs to say confession. Teachers refused to send children to see Searson and tried to ensure children were never alone with him, the commission found.

“Pell had the capacity and opportunity to urge the Archbishop to take action against Father Searson in order to protect the children of the parish and the Catholic community of his region. Cardinal Pell’s evidence was that he could not recall recommending a particular course of action to the Archbishop. He conceded that, in retrospect, he might have been ‘a bit more pushy’ with all of the parties involved. We do not accept any qualification that this conclusion is only appreciable in retrospect.

“On the basis of what was known to Bishop Pell in 1989, it ought to have been obvious to him at the time. He should have advised the Archbishop to remove Father Searson and he did not do so.”

Pell gave evidence that he was handed a list of incidents and grievances about Searson in 1989, which included reports Searson had abused animals in front of children and was using children’s toilets. But Pell said this was not enough information for him to act. Searson died in 2009 without facing charges.

Father Wilfred James Baker

Baker, once a priest from the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese, was jailed in 1999 for abusing children. The royal commission found that the senior administration of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, known as the “curia”, knew in August 1996 that Baker would probably be charged in relation to an incident at Brighton in 1965.

Pell and other senior officials were at the meeting where this was discussed, the commission found.

“Archbishop Pell had the authority to remove Father Baker,” the report said. “Despite that knowledge, Archbishop Pell did not stand down Father Baker at that point in time.” Baker remained in his position at North Richmond – a parish with a primary school attached to it – until May 1997. A period of more than 11 years elapsed between the time that Father Baker was convicted of sexually abusing children and an application was made to have him reduced to the lay state.

“The delay was unacceptable,” the commission found.

Father Nazareno Fasciale

In 2015 the commission heard that twenty people alleged Fasciale abused them between 1953 and 1985. Complaints were made to police in 1994 but he was not charged before he died in 1996.

On 8 December 1993, the Melbourne Archdiocese Personnel Advisory Board met and carried a motion to accept Fasciale’s resignation due to poor health. Pell was among the senior officials who attended the meeting.

“We are satisfied that Father Fasciale did not resign solely because of his health,” the commission found. “His resignation was also a result of complaints that he had sexually abused children in the 1950s and 1960s and because assurances had been given to the complainants that he would no longer minister.”

During the commission’s hearings, Pell accepted the possibility that he was told of the complaints at or before the meeting. The commission found “it was inconceivable that the true circumstances of Father Fasciale’s resignation were not discussed, when so many senior priests were present with knowledge of complaints against him”.

“Allowing Father Fasciale to resign ostensibly on health grounds was wrong,” the commission found, finding recording the true reason for his resignation would have helped to protect and inform the public.

Father David Daniel

Daniel resigned from the Melbourne Archdiocese in 1995 on health grounds. Pell was, at the time, a member of the Personnel Advisory Board [PAB] that was responsible for appointing priests. Daniel was convicted for multiple child sex offences in 2000 and died in 2014.

“We are satisfied that the true reason for Father Daniel’s resignation was the complaints against him of child sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct with adults,” the commission found. “Bishop Pell probably knew about complaints of child sexual abuse against Father Daniel. Despite that knowledge, the PAB carried a motion to accept Father Daniel’s resignation on the grounds proffered. We are satisfied that it was misleading and that all those present at the PAB meeting who knew of the true reason for the resignation and voted for the motion participated in an act that was misleading.”


Melissa Davey

The GuardianTramp

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