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Cardinal George Pell freed after conviction overturned (April, 2020)
01:52 - Source: CNN
Brisbane, Australia CNN  — 

Nearly three years after the release of a damning national report into child sexual abuse, the Australian government has published dozens of previously redacted pages of text relating to Cardinal George Pell.

Three unredacted reports published Thursday reveal for the first time the commission’s findings into what Pell knew about allegations of child sex abuse committed by priests decades ago in the Australian state of Victoria.

The commission found that, as early as 1973, the former Vatican Treasurer “was not only conscious of child sex abuse by clergy but that he also had considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.”

The commission’s findings had been redacted to avoid prejudicing a trial involving Pell on five charges of child sexual assault allegedly committed in the mid-1990s. Pell was convicted in December 2018, but the decision was overturned by Australia’s High Court in a unanimous ruling by the full bench of seven judges in April.

The redacted pages appeared in the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Assault, which was published in December 2017. Black lines obscured multiple pages of Case Studies 16, 28 and 35, which examined allegations of abuse in the Diocese of Ballarat, the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and the church’s mechanism to address assault claims.

Large portions of the report relate to one of Australia’s most notorious pedophiles, Gerald Ridsdale, who is serving a 34-year prison sentence for a string of child sex attacks spanning decades. In 2017, the commission found former Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew about Ridsdale’s offending from 1975 and failed to stop it. Instead, he moved him between parishes, which gave the priest access to more victims, the commission found.

For a time, Pell served under Bishop Mulkearns as one of his consultors, a small group of priests tasked with advising the bishop on the movement of parish priests and other matters.

Pell has consistently denied ever being involved in any decision to move Ridsdale. In a statement to the commission in May 2015, Pell said, “I would never have condoned or participated in a decision to transfer Ridsdale in the knowledge that he had abused children, and I did not do so.”

The unredacted report released Thursday said the commission was “satisfied” that in 1973 Pell had “turned his mind to the prudence of Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camps.” It said the most likely reason for this was the possibility that “if priests were one-on-one with a child then they could sexually abuse a child or at least provoke gossip about such a prospect.”

“By this time, child sexual abuse was on his radar,” the unredacted report said.

The reports released Thursday also said Pell should have acted sooner to advise Archbishop Frank Little to remove Father Peter Searson, a parish priest who had been accused of a litany of abuse.

The commission previously concluded that a “prevailing culture of secrecy” existed under Little, who was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1974 to 1996. Little ordained Pell as an Auxiliary Bishop in 1987 and put him in charge of the Southern Region of Victoria, which included the parish of Doveton, where Searson worked. When Pell replaced Little as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 he placed Searson on administrative leave. Searson was never charged with child sexual abuse and died in 2009.

Pell declined CNN’s request to comment on the unredacted reports.

The release of the unredacted documents is another marker in the decades-long Catholic Church sex abuse scandal that has devastated thousands of lives in Australia and around the world.

Launched by the Gillard government in 2012, the Australian inquiry heard thousands of allegations of child sexual assault committed by people in positions of trust in a range of institutions from schools to care homes, churches and youth detention centers. It described the scale of the abuse as a “national tragedy.”