March 26, 2014
CARDINAL George Pell personally endorsed his lawyers’ decision to dispute in court that a child victim had been sexually abused by a priest, despite himself believing the abuse had taken place, a royal commission has heard.
Giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the former Archbishop of Sydney said the decision was a legal “tactic” that he had been told was appropriate at the time.
The commission is currently investigating the case of a former altar boy, John Ellis, who unsuccessfully attempted to sue the church over his sexual abuse at the hands of a Sydney priest.
By defending the case, Cardinal Pell said he had wanted to discourage other abuse victims from taking legal action against the church’s trustees, which control much of the church’s wealth.
“So by having a vigorous defence, that would slow potential plaintiffs that they should think twice before litigating against the church?” senior counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness, asked.
“That they should think clearly. They should also consider the advantages of not going to litigation,” Cardinal Pell replied.
Under questioning from commission chair, Peter McClellen, the cardinal agreed he had long been concerned the Australian church might face similar abuse lawsuits to those in the US that had previously bankrupted dioceses.
“That is correct … I did not want that to happen just to us and if it was to happen, it was to happen justly,” Cardinal Pell replied.
The former archbishop, who is due to begin a new role overseeing the Vatican’s finances on Monday, also told the commission he now believed previous compensation payments to victims by the church were “inadequate” and should be revisited.
Cardinal George Pell’s evidence on John Ellis abuse case raises eyebrows in public gallery
March 26, 2014
STUNNED disbelief. That is how the evidence of Cardinal George Pell is being greeted in the hearing room in Sydney where he is in the stand for the second day explaining how he approached the case of abuse victim John Ellis.
The cardinal answers “yes” or “that is correct” to a string of questions by counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC about his instructions to solicitors who disputed in court that Ellis had ever been abused.
The senior churchman’s monosyllabic replies have the quality of a religious chant.
His argument that when the church went to court they were not denying that John Ellis had been abused but testing “the proof of the fact” had the quality of a medieval theological discourse on how many angels could dance on the head of a needle.
Well before the court case, the church had accepted that John Ellis had been abused from the age of 13 and had been severely emotionally and mentally wounded by that abuse.
When Pell said he was making a distinction between disputing and denying the claim of abuse one woman muttered sotto voce: “He will do well in Rome”.
Others turned to one another and raised eyebrows as high as they could be raised. Two church associates sitting rows apart turned and gave each other significant looks.
And so it went — the cardinal said several times that he had always told all involved: “We could not deny what had taken place.”
When asked by commission counsel if the effect on Mr Ellis of disputing the abuse and denying were the same he answered: “We were dealing with a senior brilliant lawyer and other lawyers” and added he thought Ellis would have understood the distinction at the time.
“I continued to be uneasy,” he confessed sounding a tad bemused by such an unfamiliar feeling.
He said he realises now that the dispute/denial was ill-advised and several times seemed tired and slightly confused over what exactly he was looking at.
But Cardinal Pell was certain again when it was put to him that he had instructed lawyers to dispute that John Ellis was abused. “Well I would prefer the term ‘putting it to the proof’ but I did (instruct).”
Cardinal George Pell regrets legal strategy used against victim John Ellis
The Sydney Morning Herald
March 27, 2014
Cardinal George Pell. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
”Do you understand now from your learning in the area of the effect and impact of child sexual abuse that the impact it had on John Ellis to have the very church he had gone back to dispute that he had ever been abused?”
The rain outside had streaked the windows with tears when Gail Furness, senior counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse suddenly turned the Catholic Church into a perpetrator.
In the front row of the public gallery, John Ellis, a man long ago abused by his parish priest, raised his left hand to his face like a shield as Cardinal George Pell began.
Cardinal Pell, as Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, had sanctioned a legal strategy that refused to recognise Mr Ellis had been abused, offered him derisory financial compensation and refused his offers of a settlement in the belief it would cause a rush of litigants demanding compensation payouts and subjected him to a long, demeaning legal case that left him bankrupt.
Cardinal Pell: ”I regret that.”
Ms Furness: ”Only regret, Cardinal?”
Cardinal Pell: ”What else could I say? It was wrong that it [cross-examination of Mr Ellis] went to such an extent. I was told it was a legally proper tactic, strategy.”
Cardinal Pell not only blamed his lawyers at the royal commission but dropped his trusted private secretary in it, saying Dr Michael Casey was ”muddled”.
The drama of his first appearance on Monday was largely absent. The victims of child abuse and their supporters attended, but seemed to have left their anger at home and listened as the Cardinal gave evidence for nearly five hours, occasionally jeering at his answers.
Their louder outbursts came as Cardinal Pell struggled to explain he had come to personally believe that Mr Ellis had been sexually abused by Father Aidan Duggan but documents showed he directed the Melbourne law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth to refuse to acknowledge the truth of his claims while the matter was before the Court of Appeal.
He also had a few sharp comments about the legal fraternity, blaming the welter of litigation about predatory priests in the US on the numbers of American lawyers and even seemed to lament they did not labour under the constraints faced by a Cardinal.
Cardinal Pell regrets cross-examination of abuse victim John Ellis
Emily Bourke reported this story on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 12:10:00
Audio file – click to start:
ELEANOR HALL: Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric has told the child abuse Royal Commission that, from what he called a “Christian point of view”, the Church did not deal fairly with former altar boy and abuse victim, John Ellis.
Cardinal George Pell conceded that it was a mistake to not enter into mediation at the start of the legal process which was so damaging for Mr Ellis, but he maintained he was not responsible for making that decision.
The World Today’s Emily Bourke has been monitoring the hearing and joins us now.
Emily, it’s the second day in the witness box for Cardinal Pell. What was the focus of the counsel assisting’s questioning today?
EMILY BOURKE: Well the inquiry is really drilling down into just how closely involved Cardinal Pell was in directing the course of the litigation when Mr Ellis tried to sue the Church.
While Cardinal Pell endorsed the overall strategy, he says he wasn’t involved in each and every legal manoeuvre.
Now Cardinal Pell said that he instructed his legal team to resist the case and, based on that, the lawyers then vigorously defended and defeated the Ellis matter, but that came at enormous cost to both to the Church and to Mr Ellis.
The approach included Mr Ellis being cross examined for days over the fact of his abuse.
Cardinal Pell has told the inquiry from a Christian point of view, he doesn’t think they dealt fairly with Mr Ellis, but he said that the legal team acted honestly.
He was questioned by senior counsel assisting Gail Furness about the decision to challenge the truth of Mr Ellis’s story of abuse.
GEORGE PELL: I was told that what was being proposed was not only proper legally but not unusual.
GAIL FURNESS: What about morally, Cardinal?
GEORGE PELL: Well, I have explained my moral doubts about it, but the lawyers… anyhow I did not believe they would suggest anything to me that was improper.
GAIL FURNESS: Do you understand now the impact it had on John Ellis to have the very Church that he’d gone back to in Towards Healing dispute that he had ever been abused?
GEORGE PELL: I do.
GAIL FURNESS: And what do you have to say about that?
GEORGE PELL: I regret that.
GAIL FURNESS: Only regret it, Cardinal?
GEORGE PELL: What else could I say? It was wrong that it went to such an extent.
ELEANOR HALL: And that’s Cardinal George Pell under questioning by Gail Furness.
Emily, Cardinal Pell disputed the accounts by others within the Church that he had day-to-day running of the case, so has his testimony today helped to shed any light on who and what was driving the strategy of the Church’s legal team?
EMILY BOURKE: Yes, quite.
Cardinal Pell says he was puzzled by why Mr Ellis and his legal team were trying to pursue the trustees of the Church, because in law, the trustees were not and are not responsible for the actions or indeed the misconduct of priests and they can’t be held liable; they can’t be sued.
Cardinal Pell went further to say he didn’t think he was dealing with entirely reasonable people in the Ellis team, and that’s despite evidence showing that Mr Ellis had firstly tried to settle his case for $100,000 and then put forward an offer of compromise for $750,000.
But the Church put forward no counter offer, and while Cardinal Pell has admitted on reflection that it was a mistake not to mediate, he also said that he thought Mr Ellis was seeking millions of dollars.
Now, it would seem from the testimony today that the legal advice to Cardinal Pell, which he accepted, was that there was no need to give any ground, no need to even try to enter into negotiation with Mr Ellis because the Church was on firm legal ground. They had a strong case and would likely win.
In essence, there was no need, no appetite to try to find some compromise with Mr Ellis.
GEORGE PELL: I was continually mystified, perhaps even exasperated, by the fact that three senior lawyers would continue to attack the role of the trustees. Our people were saying that they had no hope whatsoever of winning that and therefore, I suppose, I viewed every approach they made, to some extent, through this prism that, well, we’re not really dealing with entirely reasonable people.
GAIL FURNESS: You use the word “attack”, Cardinal. Weren’t they only exercising the ordinary legal right of everyone in the community to take legal action?
GEORGE PELL: I wasn’t disputing their right to do so; I had in my own mind that it was inexplicable and unwise. I couldn’t understand why senior lawyers were persisting in this course.
ELEANOR HALL: That’s Cardinal George Pell.
Emily, yesterday’s hearing exposed for the first time the extraordinary wealth of the Sydney Archdiocese and showed how that balanced against the financial compensation paid to victims.
Was Cardinal Pell asked about that?
EMILY BOURKE: Yes, well yesterday’s evidence uncovered indeed the sizeable assets and the multimillion dollars funds held by the Church just in Sydney, as well as the fact that it enjoys tax-free status, and that its assets are valued at cost rather than market rate, so the wealth may in fact be greater than the books show.
The business manager of the Sydney Archdiocese Danny Casey told the inquiry yesterday that it might be fitting that the Church review the compensation payments that have been made to victims so far.
Justice Peter McClellan put the same question to Cardinal Pell and here was his response.
PETER MCCLELLAN: He agreed with the suggestion that the moral thing to do was to go back and revisit those amounts.
GEORGE PELL: Yes.
PETER MCCLELLAN: Do you share that view for everyone who’s been processed through Towards Healing previously?
GEORGE PELL: Perhaps not for everyone. We certainly did in this case and certainly I have made a decision that, according to the prevailing norms, we were not to be ungenerous.
PETER MCCLELLAN: Mr Casey was talking about the past, what you’d done previous to 2007, and expressed the view that the Archdiocese should go back and look again at what had been paid previously to make sure that it met the moral obligation of the Church.
Do you share that view?
GEORGE PELL: Yes, I do now. We didn’t at that time systemically revisit every case.
ELEANOR HALL: That’s Cardinal George Pell, under questioning from Justice Peter McClellan.
Emily Bourke our reporter at that Royal Commission.
Cardinal George Pell tells Royal Commission he never told church lawyers to deny sex abuse of altar boy John Ellis
March 26, 2014
WHAT is the difference between disputing and denying? Quite a lot, according to Cardinal George Pell today.
He said that he had never told the church’s lawyers to deny that former altar boy John Ellis has been sexually abused by a priest when he sued the Sydney Archdiocese. He only accepted legal advice that they make Mr Elllis “prove” it.
Cardinal Pell said he had already accepted a Catholic Church report that Mr Ellis was telling the truth about his abuse as a teenager but Mr Ellis was questioned for four days about it during the case in 2004.
The cardinal said it had been a legal strategy suggested to him by the church’s lawyers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, to “put Mr Ellis to the proof” of his claims of sexual abuse.
Counsel assisting the royal commission, Gail Furness SC, said: “The effect of disputing the abuse occurred was precisely the same on Mr Ellis, was it not, as denying the abuse occurred?”
Cardinal Pell: “I would not draw that conclusion.”
Ms Furness; “You are making a distinction, are you, between disputing that something occurred and denying it?”
Cardinal Pell: “Yes, very definitely.”
Ms Furness asked him what he thought the effect on Mr Ellis would be when the church he had believed in all his life and had gone to for help when he confronted the abuse, denied it and cross-examined him about it in court.
Cardinal Pell: “I regret that.”
Ms Furness: “Only regret it cardinal?”
Cardinal Pell: “What else could I say? It was wrong that it went to such an extent. I was told it was a legally proper tactic, strategy.”
Cardinal Pell is in his second day in the witness box. If his evidence does not end today, he will be recalled tomorrow afternoon.
He is expected to then head for Rome and the Vatican where he has been appointed head of their finances.
The hearing continues in Sydney