Cardinal George Pell has told the child sex abuse Royal Commission that the attitude of some people in the Vatican was that accusations against priests “were being made exclusively or at least predominantly by enemies of the church to make trouble and therefore should be dealt with sceptically".
Pell has begun his evidence to the commission this morning in its investigation into the handling of the case of John Ellis, a former altar boy who was abused by Father Aidan Duggan from the age of 13.
Pell admitted in his statement to the commission that he “explicitly endorsed the major strategies of the defence” in the litigation which left Mr Ellis a broken man.
Pell had not been aware that his lawyers told the court Mr Ellis had no one to sue other than the Archdiocesan trustees or himself, Pell’s statement says.
The Ellis case established that the trustees could not be sued because they only held the Archdiocese’s assets but were not responsible for the behaviour of priests, and the Archbishop could not be sued because he had not been in charge at the time of the abuse.
That precedent has protected the church from victims’ damages claims in similar cases. Cardinal Pell said in his statement this was “not his understanding” but he would “welcome clarification on this point”. He said it was his view that the church “should be able to be sued in cases of this kind”.
“The resources of the Church should be available to the extent necessary to meet any judgment,’’ the statement says.
The Cardinal also apologises in his statement to Mr Ellis for the “gross violation and abuse committed by Aidan Duggan”, a now dead priest of the Sydney Archdiocese. Pell acknowledged and regretted that “mistakes were made by me and others in the Church that resulted in driving Mr Ellis and the Archdiocese apart rather than bringing healing”.
Giving evidence the Cardinal said he could not remember “ever being asked my opinion on how much money might be paid for reparation compensation to a Towards Healing victim”.
The evidence of his then-Archdiocesan Chancellor Brian Rayner that the Cardinal always made the final decision on offers to victims was not correct, the Cardinal said. He said the suggestion that he had offered Mr Ellis an extra $5000, taking it to $30,000, after Mr Ellis lost his job as a partner of Baker & McKenzie was “grotesque”.
He also said his private secretary Dr Michael Casey was wrong to assume that the chancellor discussed with him all offers to be made to victims. “That didn’t happen,’’ he said. He said it was “too universal” to assert, as Dr Casey did, that all matters about child sexual abuse would have been discussed with him.
Mr Ellis’ offer to mediate before suing the Catholic Archdiocese for the sexual abuse he suffered as a boy should not have been rejected, Cardinal Pell said in his statement.
And once two witnesses had come forward to corroborate Mr Ellis’ account, the church’s “non-admission of the allegation of the abuse should not have been maintained”, he stated.
The trajectory of the litigation which the Royal Commission has heard caused harm and suffering to Mr Ellis “would have been different” if an accurate assessment of his case had initially been made, Cardinal Pell said.
But he said John Davoren, director of the church's Professional Standards Office responsible for organising such an assessment was a “muddler” and “sometimes not logical” who “didn’t seem to have a scrupulous understanding or commitment” to following the Church’s protocol.
“Did you take any measures to remove him from the position?” counsel assisting the Commission Gail Furness SC asked.
“No, but I was very relieved when he retired through ill health”, the Cardinal responded.
“Of his own volition?” Ms Furness asked.
“Of his own volition”, the Cardinal confirmed.
Earlier Cardinal Pell told the commission that up until 1996 Australia was leading the way in the Catholic Church’s treatment of victims of sexual abuse by priests. He said it was “a mighty issue for us because it is so contrary to what we should be about”.
But “whatever the deficiencies, I think we were ahead of some countries”, he said.
The commission continues.
The story George Pell: Vatican said enemies of the church made abuse allegations first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.