Priest's sad story 'not much interest to me' says Pell

CARDINAL George Pell has repeatedly denied direct knowledge of the abuse committed by one of Australia's worst paedophile priests, Gerald Risdale.

Cardinal Pell was asked about a handwritten note relating to a council meeting for the diocese of Ballarat at the Royal Commission into child abuse.

The note contains a reference to Risdale being appointed to Apollo Bay, in Victoria's south.

Cardinal Pell is asked whether the document suggests Bishop Ronald Mulkearns and  Monsignor Leo Fiscalini moved Father Ridsdale to Apollo Bay with knowledge of an earlier abuse complaint about him, the ABC reported.

Cardinal Pell says from the mid-'80s onwards, sending priests off for "counselling or medical help" was "a topic of fairly regular discussion at the bishop's conferences".

He admits the pattern of Ridsdale's movements between parishes was "somewhat unusual", even by the "standards of the time".

"In those times if it was a first offence they would have thought that there was more justification in them being sent away for counselling,'' Pell is asked.

Cardinal Pell says the abuse was never brought to his attention.

"I couldn't say that I ever knew that everyone knew. I knew a number of people did. I didn't know whether it was common knowledge or whether it wasn't. It's a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me."

That last remark sparked loud gasps.

"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," he explained.

Cardinal Pell was pressed on whether he had a responsibility to ensure the safety of children.

"Well, an individual can only do what it is possible to do and everybody has a responsibility to try to preserve the moral health of the community in ways that are real and practical," he says.

He says while priests are responsible for their own parishes, they have "an entirely different and diminished level of responsibility" for areas outside their leadership.

Cardinal Pell became a consultor in January 1977, when he was still in Ballarat East. He was appointed to assist and advise the bishop.

"Obviously a consultor had an obligation to be as well informed as could be reasonably be expected and - I'm sorry, I'll leave it at that," he told the commission.

"A consultor doing his job properly would want to know why Ridsdale had so many moves, wouldn't he?" council assisting asks.

George Pell maintained he was never told about Ridsdale's offending.

"It probably would be possible to imagine a greater deception but it's a gross deception," he says.


Cardinal Pell says Ridsdale was moved due to "difficulties" but there was never a mention about paedophilia or other crimes.

Counsel assisting says it is "just not true" that Ridsdale's behaviour was a secret, and that it was common knowledge in at least two parishes.

"I wasn't suggesting for a minute that it wasn't known amongst the people you have listed. I was speaking generally.

"It wasn't known to me and I believe it wasn't known to quite a number of others," Cardinal Pell responds.

Cardinal Pell told the Commission that Bishop Mulkearns and Monsignor Fiscalini knew of complaints against Ridsdale at the time, but repeated that they did not share their knowledge with him.

"At the time, what we knew was that he wanted to take a course of spiritual and intellectual and personal renewal," Cardinal Pell says.

When pressed further on his knowledge, he said:

"I'd like to remind Your Honour of course we are talking about a different age. There was no social media, I don't think there were mobile telephones, we are talking about a country diocese.''

"There was certainly not the flow of information in society that there is now. And certainly on a topic like this there were enormous social inhibitions on discussions such matters."

Paul Levey gave a statement saying he was sent to live with Ridsdale at Mortlake in 1982, when he was 14. Mr Levi says he was sexually abused just about every day.

Cardinal Pell says it is a "terrible and sad story" and that it was "imprudent" and "most unusual" for any priest to live with a child in a presbytery.

He says if he had known a child was living with a priest he "would have wanted to know why".

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