David Marr at the Guardian Australia suggests that George Pell kept shtum about those child-rapey priests because if he hadn’t he would have remained an obscure priest instead of wafting to the glorious elevation of cardinal.
Had young Pell made it his business to find why the paedophile Father Gerald Ridsdale was being shifted from parish to parish in the 1970s – in later years by a committee on which he himself sat – he might well be living the twilight years of his career not in Rome but the seaside parish of Warrnambool.
From Pell’s evidence on the second day of his Roman cross-examination there emerged a picture of an ambitious and capable young priest who decided, early on, to steer clear of this dangerous issue.
On Monday Pell admitted knowing bits and pieces about some of the offenders and some of their crimes in Ballarat. He earned credibility for that. But on Tuesday he swore blind he knew nothing about the worst of them all: Ridsdale.
His bishop never told him.
But the devastating admission drawn from Pell by Gail Furness SC, counsel assisting the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, was that he never bothered to ask.
“It was a sad story and of not much interest to me,” he told the commission. By the late 1970s he was a busy priest running the Catholic Institute of Education. “I had no reason to turn my mind to the evils Ridsdale had perpetrated.”
Except that he still sat on the committee moving Ridsdale around Ballarat, leaving – as he admits now – fresh victims behind every time and finding new ones in every new parish.
Pell never asked anyone, it seems, why this priest was shifted every couple of years, from Apollo Bay to Inglewood to Edenhope to Bungaree to Kangaroo Flat to Mortlake and, finally, to a desk job in Sydney.
Hey maybe the guy just liked a bit of variety.
Was I alone in wishing Furness would ask: should they call the cops? Pell answered the question unasked. “I’m not sure at that stage there was even a civic responsibility to report such a crime.”
The cardinal was speaking from the heart. By the look of things he has failed to convince the royal commission that he did his duty by the children of Ballarat. But he has surely convinced them of his loyalty to the hierarchical church.
“A priest has a moral responsibility to do what is appropriate to his position,” he declared in the last minutes of his evidence.
Spoken like a true god-obeyer.