Cardinal didn’t report ‘70s abuse ‘because attitudes were different then’

Cardinal didn’t report ‘70s abuse ‘because attitudes were different then’

Pell gave evidence from Rome by video to Royal Commission

Australia’s Cardinal George Pell told the country’s Royal Commission on clerical abuse that he knew of an abuse complaint in the 1970s but didn’t act on it “because people had a different attitude then”.

The cardinal said a schoolboy came to him about Christian Brother Edward Dowlan, who was later convicted of abusing at least 20 boys. Cardinal Pell said: “He just mentioned it casually in conversation, he never asked me to do anything.”

Asked why he didn’t take the allegation to the school, he said: “People had a different attitude then. There was no specifics about the activity, how serious it was and the boy wasn’t asking me to do anything about it but just lamenting and mentioning it.”

The cardinal, 74, who is Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See, gave evidence by video link from Rome.

The commission, which is examining institutional responses into clerical sexual abuse, heard that as an auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne Pell received complaints about abuser priest Peter Searson but left the matter to the Catholic education office. Searson died before he could be prosecuted for sexually assaulting young girls during confession and for other acts of child sex abuse.

During four days of questioning, Pell was been asked about his knowledge of abuse in the 1970s and 80s, particularly in his home Diocese of Ballarat which housed a number of abuser priests including Gerald Ridsdale who was convicted of abusing 54 children and with whom Pell once shared a presbytery.

Pell said he “wasn’t much interested” in Ridsdale. He denied a claim that he tried to silence Ridsdale’s nephew David who said he telephoned Pell, a friend of the family, in 1993 to tell him he was being abused by his uncle only for Pell to ask him what could be done to “keep him quiet”.

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