Former choirboy’s father sues Melbourne Archdiocese, George Pell

Former choirboy's father

A former choirboy’s father who says his son was sexually abused by Cardinal George Pell has launched civil action, aiming to sue the Catholic Church and Pell.

In 2018, Pell was found guilty by a County Court jury of abusing two teenage choirboys in December 1996 when he was the Archbishop of Melbourne. He had pleaded not guilty and maintained his innocence.

Those criminal convictions were then unanimously quashed by the High Court in 2020.

All seven of Australia’s most senior judges hearing his case found there was a “significant possibility” an innocent person was found guilty at trial.

Pell, who had spent over a year in jail, was released from prison in 2021.

The criminal trial

At the criminal trial, one of the former choirboys gave evidence alleging he and his friend were abused by Pell after a Sunday Mass.

The second choirboy – who never made any allegations against Pell – died from an accidental drug overdose in 2014.

In 2020 the ABC reported the “former choirboy never mentioned the incident and denied being sexually abused when he was asked point blank by his mother several years after the abuse occurred”.

“It’s devastating to watch your child spiral out like that. It was very hard to watch,” the mother told the Australian current affairs TV programme, Four Corners.

Their son, a heroin addict, died of a drug overdose in 2014 but it wasn’t until a year after his death, when the other victim made a formal complaint about the abuse, that the family realised what had happened to their son. It fell to his friend to explain what allegedly happened to both of them in the room at the rear of the cathedral in December 1996.

Civil claim lodged

The anonymous deceased man’s father has now lodged a civil case against the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and Pell.

The father says his son became withdrawn as a teenager, had problems at school and began using drugs. As an adult, he had stints in jail.

“Really, I do blame George Pell. I feel that he has taken my son away from me,” the father said after Pell was initially found guilty in 2018.

“And it’s not only me but it’s his sister and his mother. We’ve all missed out on him. Why? Why?”

Shine Lawyers on behalf of the claimant are suing Pell and the Archdiocese of Melbourne for “damages for nervous shock” relating to finding out about allegations of sexual abuse.

They claim Pell and the Archdiocese were negligent, resulting in injuries, loss and damage.

The claim alleges Pell is liable for the claimant’s mental injury because it is reasonably foreseeable that he would suffer nervous shock from learning of the alleged abuse.

The claimant and his solicitors say the Archdiocese breached a duty of care to the claimant, and this caused his injury.

He claims to have suffered nervous shock arising from learning of allegations his son had been sexually abused.

He has suffered from chronic adjustment disorder and persistent complex bereavement disorder, with mixed anxiety and a depressed mood, court documents claim.

He is claiming general damages, special damages and seeking compensation for “past loss of earning capacity and past and future medical and like expenses”.

The sum he is seeking will be revealed if the matter goes to trial before a judge.

Shine Lawyers Chief Legal Officer, Lisa Flynn, said the criminal case and the High Court decision would not affect the civil proceedings.

“The High Court made some decisions in relation to the criminal prosecution against [George] Pell, our case is a civil case against George Pell and the Catholic Archdiocese. There are different paths to justice,” she said.

No evidence to support the original account

In summing up the criminal case, Professor of Law Frank Brennan pointed out that, in relation to the criminal case against Pell, all seven Justices, individually and collectively unanimously agreed that there was the significant possibility that an innocent person (Pell) had been convicted.

“The court ­ordered that Pell’s “convictions be quashed and judgments of acquittal be entered in their place”.

“The complainant is left to get on with his life as best he can, wondering what was the point of this protracted legal trauma,” wrote Brennan in The Australian.

“The tragedy of this case for everyone, including victims and complainants (and most especially this complainant), is that an ordinary police investigation would have highlighted these problems with the complainant’s account.”

The High Court concluded that there was no evidence that the altar servers went to their room to disrobe prior to returning to the sanctuary in order to assist in clearing away the sacred vessels and other objects.

“In the end, there was just not the evidence to support the complainant’s account.

“There never was,” concludes Brennan.


Suicide help

If you or anyone you know needs support, call:

  • Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Healthline – 0800 611 116
  • Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Sex abuse help

Contact one of these specialised organisations for support:

  • ACC sensitive claims funded counselling options.
  • NZ Police to report an incident of abuse.


Additional reading

News category: Palmerston, Top Story, World.