News

STATEMENT OF CARDINAL GEORGE PELL

Katrina Lee,
20 Aug 2014

Any suggestion that Cardinal Pell failed to draw attention to Mr O'Callaghan's report (or somehow attempted to conceal it) is false.  In fact, in his evidence to the inquiry, Cardinal Pell drew attention to Mr O'Callaghan's investigation into Fr Searson.  In section 8 of his submission to the inquiry he said:

However, that position changed in August 1996 when I became archbishop and was made aware of new allegations that Searson had physically (not sexually) assaulted a child.  In line with my usual practice, I referred the matter to the Independent Commissioner who inquired into the allegations.  The Victorian police were also notified of the allegations by the child's parents at around the same time as the notification to the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

In 1997 the Independent Commissioner investigated the two allegations against Searson from 1985. In February 1998, the Independent Commissioner upheld the complaints.  The Independent Commissioner asked both victims to consider going to police.  They refused and only agreed to engage with Mr O'Callaghan on the basis of strict confidentiality.  The Independent Commissioner respected their wishes.  Acting on the findings of the Independent Commissioner, I withdrew Searson's faculties in July 1998 and asked him to resign which he did, effective 14 August 1998. 

Searson's faculties were never returned contrary to one or two media reports

Cardinal Pell's written submission to the Victorian Inquiry both confirmed the existence of Mr O'Callagahan's investigation and that the Independent Commissioner upheld the complaints against Searson. It is worth repeating that Fr Searson was placed on administrative leave at the beginning of this process.
 
Cardinal Pell's submission was and remains publicly available and can be found at 

http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Submissions/Cardinal_George_Pell.pdf
(see Section 8)

In his oral evidence, which supplemented his written submission, the Cardinal correctly observed that Fr Searson was not ever subject to a criminal conviction in relation to child sexual abuse. In December 1997 Searson was placed on a six month good behaviour bond after pleading guilty to physically assaulting a 12 year old altar boy.  Cardinal Pell's oral evidence regarding Fr Searson was given in the context that he had already drawn the VPI's attention to Mr O'Callaghan's investigation and report (and had done so publicly).
 
The statement made in Victorian Parliament today, if reported accurately in the media,  is wrong and particularly disappointing, given that Mr McGuire was a member of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry that heard Cardinal Pell's evidence and received his submission. We call upon Mr McGuire to reconsider his incorrect comments and appropriately apologise on the record in Parliament.

ENDS