Europe Intelligence Wire
October 15, 2002
(From The Independent)
Byline: Mike Corder in Sydney
AUSTRALIA’S MOST senior Roman Catholic cleric, George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, has been cleared of child sex abuse by an internal church inquiry led by an independent judge.
Archbishop Pell denied molesting a 12-year-old boy on several occasions in 1961 at a camp on Phillip Island, when he was a trainee priest.
The results of an inquiry by a retired Supreme Court judge, Alec Southwell, were posted on the church’s website yesterday. He reported that he was “not satisfied that the complaint has been established”.
Archbishop Pell said he was grateful that the inquiry had exonerated him and that he had relied on prayer to get him through the past few months. “When a person is under extreme pressure, personal values may crumble,” he told reporters in Sydney. “However, my Catholic convictions sustained me during these dark weeks.”
The judge said that given the delay between the alleged abuse and the complaint being made earlier this year it was impossible to produce evidence to support the allegation.
Mr Southwell also cited Archbishop Pell’s vehement denial of the allegations and “some valid criticism of the complainant’s credibility” as factors in his judgment.
The inquiry included closed-door hearings in Melbourne from 30 September to 4 October.
Archbishop Pell was voluntarily suspended as Sydney’s archbishop immediately after the allegations were made. He described the claim as “a smear of the most vindictive kind”.
Peter Ward, a lawyer for the accuser, whose name has not been released, said his client was satisfied with the inquiry and would not be taking the allegations further.
Archbishop Pell was appointed in May last year. Earlier this year, he was quoted as saying at a conference in Canada that abortion was a worse crime than child abuse by priests. He said he had been quoted out of context and released a statement saying child sexual abuse was a grave moral scandal, as was abortion.
He admitted on a current affairs programme that he had offered a family thousands of dollars after their two daughters had been sexually abused by a priest for six years. He denied that the money was intended to buy the family’s silence, saying it was meant as compensation.
Pell cleared of any wrongdoing
ELEANOR HALL: The Catholic Church’s Internal Inquiry into sexual abuse allegations against Sydney Archbishop George Pell, has cleared him of any wrongdoing. Inquiry Chair, retired Supreme Court Judge Alec Southwell, said many of the witnesses who testified against George Pell were “impressive”, and spoke with a “clear recollection” of events. But Mr Southwell also said Archbishop Pell spoke honestly in denying the claims, and ultimately he could find no clear evidence to uphold the complaint, as Rafael Epstein reports.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: In the sometimes controversial career of Archbishop George Pell, no event has rocked the church as much as the claim he abused a choirboy at a Church camp in the 1960s. He even stepped aside from his Archbishop duties in Sydney while the inquiry proceeded.
But even though retired judge, Alec Southwell, said he could find few flaws with the man alleging he was abused, Alec Southwell said he knew an adverse finding would, in all probability have grave indeed, devastating consequences for Archbishop Pell. Lawyer for the man claiming abuse, Peter Ward, says his client now feels vindicated.
PETER WARD: Delighted with the finding. My client feels vindicated, and I want to emphasise that the proceedings were extremely fair, and the report of the Commissioner in my view, was extremely balanced.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: He seemed to accept a lot of the evidence made by your client, but came up with the final conclusion that there was no finding of a proper complaint against Archbishop Pell. Why are you happy with that?
PETER WARD: Basically, he has indicated that he accepts the submission of Mr Toby QC of Council that the complainant when giving evidence of the molestation gave the impression that he was speaking honestly. However, he added that he accepted that his Grace, the Archbishop was also telling the truth, and he came to the conclusion on the basis that there’d been a 40 year gap since the hearing, and he was not satisfied that the complaint was made out.
But I want to make a couple of points very quickly. Initially it was said that the complaint was vindictive. The report clearly disputes that assertion. It also accepts that the complainant was attempting to be truthful, and in our view, it was a very balanced judgement.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Are you going to take this further? Is there any possibility?
PETER WARD: Absolutely not. The complainant wants closure, he’s had his opportunity, he has had a fair and equitable hearing, and he will now just let it go, let it go.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alec Southwell said there was no evidence of any malice or spit on behalf of the complainant toward either Archbishop Pell or the Catholic Church. But he said while the man’s credibility was the subject of a forceful attack, he said there was sufficient evidence of dishonesty in the man’s criminal past to demonstrate that his evidence had to be scrutinised with special care.
The fact that your client’s history, his criminal history was released by somebody to the media, that had been an issue for you in the past. Does this finding clear that up at all?
PETER WARD: Oh, no. See, one has to distinguish the fact that his criminal history was released was a disgrace, however, the actual hearing, the in camera hearing, was conducted with integrity and fairness. So we are still annoyed by the leakages, but the actual substance of the hearing was fair and equitable.
ELEANOR HALL: Peter Ward is the lawyer for the man who made the accusations against Sydney Archbishop George Pell who was, today, cleared of the charges. Rafael Epstein with our report.