Abuse survivors and their supporters watched on as evidence was extracted from Australia’s most senior Catholic — some of it, they said, “beggared belief”.
Here are some of the key moments in his testimony and the reactions it drew.
- Cardinal Pell said the church made ‘enormous mistakes’
- He said the ‘predisposition was not to believe’ children’s claims of abuse
- Cardinal Pell said the instinct was to protect the church
He was questioned specifically on two case studies — number 28 about the Diocese of Ballarat and number 35 about the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
These case studies included complaints about Monsignor John Day, Brother Gerald Leo Fitzgerald and Gerald Ridsdale.
Here’s some of Cardinal Pell’s most potent testimony from the day:
“…Too many of them [complaints] certainly were dismissed and sometimes they were dismissed in absolutely scandalous circumstances.”
“They were very, very, very plausible allegations made by responsible people that were not followed up sufficiently.”
“At that stage, the instinct was more to protect the institution, the community of the church, from shame.”
There were moments when Cardinal Pell brought his memory into question saying it was “sometimes fallible”. Survivors said they felt like he was “passing the buck”.
“But I remember as a four-year-old, I’m 44 now, and that was 40 years ago. Very clear and vivid. These guys were priests in their 20s and that, and they can’t recall and can’t remember? Well, the whole world ain’t that gullible,” abuse survivor Tim Lane said.
This was the day Cardinal Pell said the line that will potentially be remembered most.
Here’s the line of questioning:
A: “It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me.”
Q: “What wasn’t of much interest to you, Cardinal?”
A: The suffering of course was real and I very much regret that, but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated.”
It’s worth noting, Cardinal Pell told the royal commission he had the “full backing” of Pope Francis.
By day three, survivors who travelled to Rome to be in the room while Cardinal Pell gave evidence said they were fed up with his testimony and wanted to take their complaints to the Pope themselves.
During the testimony, the royal commission heard about a world of “crime and cover ups”.
- Cardinal Pell said he was not properly or adequately briefed by the Catholic Education Office or Archbishop about abuse in Ballarat or Melbourne
- The senior counsel assisting the inquiry dismissed those statements
- He was questioned about Father Peter Searson who was accused of sexually abusing children
- The inquiry also heard Searson held a knife to a young girl’s chest and told her: “If you move, this will go through you”.
Cardinal Pell said he had no recollection of a meeting in which a list of complaints made by children was raised that included fear of sexual abuse, Searson hitting children and concerns he was dangerous.
Cardinal Pell said it was a “disastrous coincidence” that four or five child sexual offenders ended up being placed in Ballarat East in the 1970s.
One of those men was Gerald Ridsdale. One of his victims was his nephew David Ridsdale, who was in Rome and whose lawyer spent time questioning Cardinal Pell on day four. The lawyer focused on David Ridsdale’s claim Cardinal Pell tried to bribe him to remain silent.