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Australian Cardinal George Pell Knew of Clergy Sex Abuse Allegations for Decades, Report Says

Cardinal George Pell leaves HM Prison Barwon in Geelong, Australia, April 7, 2020.
Cardinal George Pell leaves HM Prison Barwon in Geelong, Australia, April 7, 2020.

An Australian government inquiry into child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests has concluded that Cardinal George Pell had been aware of the allegations for decades.

The royal commission released its findings about Pell’s knowledge Thursday, nearly a month after Australia’s High Court overturned his 2018 conviction of child sexual abuse. The full inquiry had been released a year earlier, but its findings about the former Vatican treasurer and close adviser to Pope Francis had been withheld to prevent jurors in his trials from being improperly influenced.

The report said Pell knew about allegations involving ex-priest Gerald Risdale as far back as the 1970s when he was a priest in his hometown of Ballarat. Pell told investigators that he was not aware of the allegations until 1993, but the commission said he discussed moving Risdale from a local parish to Sydney in 1982 when he was serving as an adviser to then-Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns.

The inquiry also says Pell was aware of numerous disturbing allegations involving Melbourne parish priest Peter Searson when Pell was Melbourne auxiliary bishop in the late 1980s. Searson had numerous complaints lodged against him, including child sexual abuse and incidents of strange and violent behavior.

Risdale is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence for abusing over 60 children over decades. Searson was convicted of physically assaulting an altar boy in 1997 but died in 2009 without being charged with child sexual abuse.

The 78-year-old Pell was convicted by a court in Victoria state of molesting two teenage choirboys at Melbourne’s St. Patrick Cathedral in 1996 while serving as the city’s archbishop. He was sentenced the next year to six years in prison, making him the highest-ranking Catholic clergy member to be convicted in connection with the church’s decades-long scandal.

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