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Pell should have acted on priest: counsel

AAP logoAAP 31/10/2016

The child sex abuse royal commission is being urged to reject evidence from Cardinal George Pell, who has been accused of failing to stop a Melbourne pedophile priest.

Lawyers for the commission argue there are no grounds to accept Cardinal Pell's evidence that he was intentionally deceived by Catholic Education Office about abuse carried out by Doveton parish priest Peter Searson in the 1980s.

In their submission to the commission the lawyers say Cardinal Pell knew enough about child abuse claims linked to Searson to consider sacking him or, at the very least, launch an investigation.

While the CEO should have done more to respond to the threat posed by Searson, there was no evidence it had intentionally concealed evidence from the archdiocese or wanted to keep him in Doveton, they said.

"The royal commission should find that the CEO officers had no motive to deceive Cardinal Pell and did not do so," lawyers Gail Furness SC and Stephen Free wrote in their submission published on Monday.

The commission has heard lengthy evidence about abuse carried out by Searson, including indecent assaults, threatening teenagers with a gun, holding a knife to a girl's chest, and showing children a boy's body in a coffin.

A delegation of Doveton teachers warned Cardinal Pell about Searson in November 1989, when he was an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne.

However when Cardinal Pell gave evidence earlier this year he said while he had heard about the allegations against Searson, the CEO deceived him and withheld information.

Lawyers for the commission disagree, arguing that Cardinal Pell and other senior archdiocesan officials failed to exercise proper care for the children of Doveton.

"The matters known to Cardinal Pell on his own evidence (being the matters on the list of incidents and grievances and the 'non-specific' allegation of sexual misconduct) were sufficient that he ought reasonably have concluded that more serious action needed to be taken in relation to Searson," their submission said.

"It appears that Cardinal Pell concluded that no such action was required because the teachers did not ask for Searson to be removed. That was not a satisfactory response."

The lawyers said it was incumbent on Cardinal Pell at the time to have urged the archbishop to take action against Searson.

"His failure to take any such action meant that Cardinal Pell, like other senior officials in the archdiocese before and after him, missed an important opportunity to recognise and deal with the serious risks posed by Searson," they said.

Cardinal Pell's lawyer, in a separate submission, said there was no basis for adverse findings against him and that he had "nowhere near" the same amount of information about Searson as Victoria Police did at the time.

"George Pell may now be a cardinal of the Catholic Church, and he accepts by virtue of that position that he is subjected to greater scrutiny than others," the submission said.

"But that does not mean that his involvement in historical events should be inflated or exaggerated because of the position he now holds, nor should the royal commission more readily make findings against him because of his title, as opposed to his actual involvement."

In a separate submission about child abuse carried out in the Ballarat diocese, the commission's lawyers said there was insufficient evidence Cardinal Pell tried to bribe or silence the nephew victim of pedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale.

But the lawyers for the commission said that Cardinal Pell and other consultors to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns in Ballarat knew by 1982 that Ridsale had been sexually abusing children for several years.

Ridsdale was moved several times between parishes by Bishop Mulkearns.

Cardinell Pell, who was a Ballarat priest between 1973 and 1984, claimed when he gave evidence that he never knew the true reason Ridsdale was moved and that pedophilia was not mentioned at consultors meetings held in the 1970s and 1980s.

However counsel assisting the commission said it was the "common understanding" among consultors, including Cardinal Pell, at a 1982 meeting to discuss moving Ridsdale away from the Mortlake parish that he had sexually abused children.

Any consultor who agreed to move Ridsdale, or indeed any priest, with knowledge of allegations of child sexual abuse made against them, had behaved in an "unnacceptable" way, the lawyers said.

Cardinal Pell insists it wasn't until some years later that he learned that Ridsdale abused children.

The commission had not found "a single witness, nor a single document, which evidences that any person, lay or religious, provided information to Father Pell which would have indicated that Ridsdale was abusing children," a submission prepared by his lawyers said.

"Ultimately, when one assesses all of the evidence placed before the royal commission, including that of Cardinal Pell, the commission could not be 'comfortably satisfied' that any one of the allegations made against Cardinal Pell has been made out."

The submissions released by counsel assisting the royal commission run to more than 800 pages. However their recommendations do not have to be accepted.

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