Victoria police will receive a copy of the unredacted child abuse royal commission report findings relating to Cardinal George Pell.
“We will then undertake an assessment of those findings,” a spokeswoman told Guardian Australia. “At this time it would not be appropriate to comment further about any possible action.”
The comments follow the publication of previously redacted parts of the child sexual abuse royal commission’s final report after its five-year inquiry into abuse within institutions, including churches. The findings regarding Pell were not released with the rest of the commission’s final report in 2017 due to legal action against the cardinal and fears the report would prejudice a jury. Pell was acquitted in April of child sexual abuse charges and released from jail, clearing the way for the report to be made public.
The commission found that Pell was aware of children being sexually abused within the Archdiocese of Ballarat by the notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, and it was “implausible” that other senior church figures had not told Pell abuse was occurring.
A solicitor who represented victims during the inquiry, Peter O’Brien, said police must investigate the royal commission findings that Pell knew priests were abusing children but failed to act appropriately to stop them.
“At the very least there must be a criminal investigation,” he said. “The findings are extremely damning and suggest criminal, not only immoral, misconduct.”
To date, no one has been convicted in Australia for the crime of concealment of child sexual abuse. New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have concealment-related offences but they are difficult to prosecute.
In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, Pell said he was “surprised by some of the views of the royal commission about his actions”.
“These views are not supported by evidence,” Pell said. He maintained that he did not know of Ridsdale’s abusing children at the time or that this was the reason for him being moved between parishes. He also said a meeting he had with a delegation from Doveton parish in 1989 about Father Peter Searson did not mention sexual assaults, nor did the delegation ask Pell to remove Searson.
However, Pell confirmed when he gave evidence before the royal commission he was handed a list of incidents and grievances about Searson at the meeting, which included reports Searson had abused animals in front of children and was using children’s toilets. But Pell told the commission this was not enough information for him to act.
Shine Lawyers’ national practice leader, Lisa Flynn, who represents the father of Pell’s alleged victim, now deceased, said Pell did not deserve his cardinal title.
“In my view, his position as Australia’s highest-ranking representative in the Catholic church should be reviewed based on his choice to protect paedophiles over innocent children, at the time the abuse occurred,” she said.
“Pell’s preference to protect paedophiles over the safety of children is deplorable. There are no excuses for someone who conceals this disgusting behaviour towards innocent, young children.”
Pell has always maintained his innocence in response to allegations against him, and was acquitted of his convictions by the full bench of seven judges of the high court in April. He has previously said he had been made a scapegoat for the Catholic church’s failures.
Pell told Sky News in April: “I’m the scapegoat that’s copped most of this.” He said his actions setting up the Melbourne Response – the scheme established by the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1996 to respond to allegations of sexual abuse within the church – had not been adequately recognised and showed he took abuse allegations seriously.
Dr Cathy Kezelman is president of the Blue Knot Foundation, which provides specialist phone counselling to survivors of abuse. She said the royal commission’s findings were not the result of a “witch hunt” but were “the considered findings of a thorough highly professional Royal Commission examining the facts”.
“The commission found it implausible that Cardinal Pell was not aware of child sexual abuse activity,” she said. “It identified that not only was he aware that children were being abused, but that he failed to act – not once but on numerous occasions.
“Not only did he fail to act but was allegedly complicit in covering up and potentially concealing crimes against children in Ballarat and in Melbourne. His lack of action arguably caused irreparable harm to countless innocent children.”
The In Good Faith Foundation, which provides independent advocacy to people who have experienced abuse, said the commission had revealed that as early as 1973 Pell knew that offending was occurring within the Catholic church and he had failed to act.
“There were numerous opportunities for Pell as a Priest, a Bishop and as a Cardinal to do the right thing and at each point he appeared to show more regard for trying to maintain a shroud of ignorance, than protecting the most vulnerable in our communities,” said the founation’s chief executive, Clare Leaney.
“These failures to act have resulted in countless lives being devastated and too many lives lost. Not only was this a failure of competency, it was and abject failure of decency and care.
“These findings ultimately highlight one simple fact: George Pell has always known more than he’s claimed and done less than he should have.”