Melbourne education officials reject Pell claims on priest

Former Catholic education officials in Melbourne have rejected Cardinal George Pell’s statement that he was not made fully aware of an abusive priest.

Four officials testified earlier this week at Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

When Cardinal Pell came to Melbourne as an auxiliary bishop in 1987, Fr Peter Searson was terrifying children at the parish of Doveton.

Fr Searson, who died in 2009, killed a bird in front of children, showed them a dead body in a coffin, held a gun to the heads of parishioners, threatened to stab a child and repeatedly molested youngsters during Confession.

Melbourne’s Catholic Education Office took complaints to then-Archbishop of Melbourne, Archbishop Frank Little, but nothing was done.

Then-Bishop Pell reportedly received a delegation of teachers complaining about Fr Searson in 1989 and another of parents in 1991.

Fr Searson was eventually suspended in 1997, a year after Cardinal Pell became archbishop.

This came after the priest bashed an altar boy whose parents went to police.

Earlier this year, Cardinal Pell told the royal commission that when he was auxiliary bishop, staff from the CEO didn’t give him a full account of allegations about Fr Searson.

The cardinal said the office had given him “no adequate background briefing on the long-term problems at all”.

The cardinal said he believed CEO staff deceived him because they feared he “would not accept the status quo”.

He said this was done to protect the office and Archbishop Little.

Former deputy director of the Catholic Education Office Peter Annett testified that he was shocked, disappointed and angry that the cardinal had referred to inaction by the CEO.

Msgr Thomas Doyle, former executive director of the Catholic Education Office, told the commission Cardinal Pell’s evidence that he was deceived by education office staff was wrong.

Contrary to Cardinal Pell’s claim, Msgr Doyle said the CEO would have welcomed his assistance in removing the priest.

But a former principal at the Catholic school in Doveton, Graeme Sleeman, strongly rejected the claim that dealing with Fr Searson was the top priority of the Catholic Education Office.


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