The Royal Commission into institutional child sex abuse leant so far leftwards that it threatened to fall over. Like the Tower of Pisa, the Commission needs some remedial work to prop it up. Chris Friel probes the Get Pell fiasco.
The Royal Commission as a Weapon
Chris S Friel
The Get Pell shot-gun has two barrels, Operation Tethering, the fishing expedition that looked for abuses that the Cardinal himself had committed and, set up at roughly the same time, the Victorian and then Royal Commissions into institutional child sex abuse that focussed on places where Pell lived, Ballarat and Melbourne. This essay will take a look at one aspect of a report on the latter.
The Cardinal was acquitted by the High Court of Australia last month and so the Royal Commission released its previously unredacted sections.i These include references to Pell in “Case 35”on the Archdiocese of Melbourne that among other things relate how he handled Peter Searson when in1989 he received a delegation from concerned teachers. My focus will be the way the commissioners tried to support their findings in the light of the evidence. I will explore the question of whether that evidence was weaponised as part of the Get Pell project.
Reading through the report there is no doubt that it is Archbishop Little who is damned for his abject failure to protect children. But as the Twittersphere was quick to point out, the then Auxiliary Bishop was criticised too. One example suffices to make the point:
This is KEY. The commission found “It was incumbent on Pell … with responsibilities for the welfare of the children … to take such action that [pedophile] Father Searson be removed or, at least, a thorough investigation be undertaken.” Searson died in 2009 without facing charges.i
In response, Pell made a statement that included the following:
As an Auxiliary Bishop in Melbourne 1987-96, Bishop Pell met with a delegation from Doveton Parish in 1989 which did not mention sexual assaults and did not ask for Searson’s removal. Appointed Archbishop of Melbourne on 16 August 1996, Archbishop Pell placed Fr Searson on administrative leave in March 1997 and removed him from the parish on 15 May 1997. iii
Pell expressed surprise at the findings, but in truth they were eagerly awaited by his opponents who correctly sensed that the unredacted version was like Hamlet without the prince. Thus, Louise Milligan had a couple of chapters on the episode in her book, and she was ready with a thread when the full version was finally released.iv