CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australian cardinal George Pell knows a pastor was moved decades ago because he had children who were sexually abused, and was supposed to move an unstable priest in another parish who was also suspected of being a pedophile, a government investigation concluded .
A report from an investigation into child sexual abuse was released in 2017, but findings regarding former Pope finance minister Francis were removed until Thursday to avoid jury jury in future prosecutions.
The government decided to release a full report after the High Court last month overturned the verdict against Pell on the charge that he molested two choirs in a Melbourne cathedral in the late 1990s when he was archbishop.
The 78-year-old scholar spent 13 months in prison before being released and released last month.
Pell, who now lives in the Sydney presbytery, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the investigation’s findings.
The investigation rejected Pell’s evidence provided by a video link from Rome in 2016 that he was tricked and lied to by Catholic Church officials about the worst pedophile priest in Australia, Gerald Ridsdale, and disturbed Melbourne parish priest Peter Searson.
Ridsdale has been in prison on charges of sexually harassing more than 60 boys for decades.
Searson died in 2009 without being charged on charges that he had also abused children in several parishes.
Pell told the investigation that he was unaware of the allegations that Ridsdale was a pedophile until 1993.
The investigation rejected Pell’s evidence that Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns did not explain that Ridsdale had been moved from the Mortlake parish in 1982 because he had children who were sexually abused there. Pell was one of the bishop’s pastor advisers at the time, known as a consultant, who regularly met to discuss diocesan matters.
“Cardinal Pell’s evidence that ‘pedophilia is not stated’ and that the ‘true’ reasons were not given is not accepted,” the report said.
“It is absurd … that Bishop Mulkearns did not notify those present at the meeting that at least complaints about sexual abuse of children were made,” he added.
Pell was Melbourne’s auxiliary bishop when he met with a staff delegation from a Catholic elementary school to discuss complaints about Searson, who was described by the investigation as “an unstable and disturbed individual.”
Complaints include that Searson abused staff and parents, killed and tortured animals in front of children, made threats with a gun, showed children corpses in coffins and used children’s restrooms.
The investigation found that Pell should have advised Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little to remove Searson.
“It is the responsibility of Bishop Pell as an auxiliary bishop with responsibility for the welfare of these children in the Catholic community in his area to take action in such a way that he can advocate for Father Peter Searson to be moved or suspended or at least a thorough investigation is carried out allegedly,” said the report.
“On the basis of what Bishop Pell knew in 1989, it should have been clear to him at that time. He should have advised the archbishop to remove Father Searson and he did not, “he added.
Pell is one of a number of senior Australian church officials who have been criticized by investigations into handling complaints of harassment or accusations against many Christian priests and Brothers in Melbourne and Ballarat.
The failure was led by Little and Mulkearns, who according to the investigation prioritized protecting the church’s reputation for children’s well-being. Both are now dead.
The Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse relates to Pell’s knowledge of the alleged harassment while a priest in his hometown of Ballarat and a bishop of Melbourne in the 1970s and 1980s.
Australia’s longest-running royal commission – the highest form of investigation in the country – has been investigating since 2012 how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia for more than 90 years.
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