Pope Francis’ top advisor, Cardinal George Pell, described the church sex abuse act that happened decades ago as a ‘catastrophe.’
The comment from Pell came following his necessary presence in the royal commission to provide valid evidence about two case studies. According to the ABC, the first one was case number 28 that was about the recent Diocese of Ballarat matter where Christian Brothers were alleged to have abused school children sexually while the second was number 35, the case alleged against former Ballarat priest Gerald Ridsdale of abusing 53 children under 138 offences filed against him.
The commission had a hearing of sex abuse cases that were reported from 1960s to 1990s, the most recent one in the news is about the six Christian Brothers who abused children at schools they used to work in. When asked whether Pell had been approached by any of the abused at any time, he said he did not remember receiving any complaints. “I don’t remember any such thing happening and therefore I don’t believe it did but my memory is sometimes fallible,” he said.
Pell recalled that in one of the cases, a student complained about Christian Brother Edward Dowlan who was accused of “touching boys at school.” According to 9News, the Pope’s advisor confirmed that there are one or two references that indicated misbehaviour by Dowlan to students. He said that Dowlan left the school even without knowing about “indiscretions or crimes.” He recalled another case where Brother Fitzgerald was reportedly being “eccentric,” who kissed boys at Diocesan primary school, St. Alipius.
Pell claimed that the church authorities never took the case as harmful to victims. “Nobody said we’ve got to do something about this,” he said. “I could have mentioned it to the principal or the parish priest but I had no jurisdiction in any sense over the Christian Brothers.”
Pell accepted the fact that in those days he was not strong enough to fight against what the church authorities decided. He admitted, however, that the church made “enormous mistakes” in handling those cases. The royal commission also heard decades ago case where former Ballarat priest Gerald Ridsdale was convicted of 138 offences for abusing 53 children.
Ridsdale’s nephew, David, told the commission that he called Cardinal Pell in 1993 to let him know that he was being accused by his uncle. “I have just re-read the file of Ridsdale. The priest. Ex-priest. And the way he was dealt with was a catastrophe,” Pell told the commission. “A catastrophe for the victims and a catastrophe for the church. If effective action had been taken earlier, an enormous amount of suffering would’ve been avoided.”