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Pell 'aware of priests' sex abuse and took no steps'

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Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell. Photo: Mark Dadswell/Reuters

Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell. Photo: Mark Dadswell/Reuters

REUTERS

Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell. Photo: Mark Dadswell/Reuters

An Australian government-appointed inquiry into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church and other institutions has found former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell was aware of child sex abuse by at least two priests in the 1970s and 1980s and failed to take steps to get the priests removed.

Previously redacted sections of the Royal Commission's report, first issued in late 2017, were released yesterday following Pell's acquittal last month on five counts of sexually assaulting two teenage choirboys in the 1990s when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

The report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse said Pell was aware of child sexual abuse in the church from the 1970s.

"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," the commission, the country's most powerful public inquiry forum, said.

The commission did not look into specific allegations against Pell, but focused on whether he and other church leaders in Australia were aware of thousands of incidents of abuse dating from the 1970s and what they did to address those issues over the next three decades.

During that period, Pell rose from being a priest in regional Australia to become archbishop of Melbourne and then archbishop of Sydney.

He was the most senior Catholic cleric worldwide to be jailed for child sex abuse.

He was freed in April after just over a year in prison, when the High Court of Australia overturned his conviction on the grounds there was not enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

The commission found Pell was aware of allegations of abuse by two priests, Father Peter Searson and Father Wilfred Baker, and should have pushed for their removal.

Rejected

It also rejected Pell's evidence that he was unaware of why Gerard Ridsdale, another offending priest, was being moved from one parish to another during the 1970s and 1980s.

Pell, who lives in Sydney, said in a statement he was "surprised by some of the Royal Commission's views about his actions", especially statements in the report about discussions regarding Ridsdale's transfers.

"The consultors who gave evidence on the meetings in 1977 and 1982 either said they did not learn of Ridsdale's offending against children until much later or they had no recollection of what was discussed," Pell's statement went on to say.

A spokesman for the Vatican said it had no comment.

The Catholic Church in Australia declined to comment and referred to statements from the archbishop of Melbourne and from Bishop Paul Bird of Ballarat, where Pell was an assistant priest from 1973 to 1984.

Irish Independent