June 26, 2020

Covering Up Allegations Of Sexual Abuse: An Interview With Prof Michael Salter

In this podcast AC and MS discuss the question why would you “cover-up” allegations of child sexual abuse?

The question is asked in the wake of the publication of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s report in which it is revealed that it determined that Cardinal George Pell had known of clergy paedophile activity at least as early as 1982 and possibly earlier.

The findings concerning the Cardinal who was last month acquitted of charges of child sexual abuse by the Australian High Court had been redacted until Pell’s court processes had run their course to avoid prejudicing the proceedings.

The findings relate to Cardinal Pell’s conduct as a priest in the Victorian diocese of Ballarat, where numerous cases of paedophile activity by Roman Catholic clergy occurred in the 1970s and ’80s. The Commission rejected Cardinal Pell’s evidence that he had not been told that the paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale was being moved from his parish because of child sexual-abuse complaints. The Commission said that it was “implausible” that the then Bishop of Ballarat did not tell Pell and others in a meeting the real reason for Ridsdale’s move. The failure of Pell and others to advise the Bishop in relation to Ridsdale was unacceptable, the Commission said.

What Cardinal Pell knew about Ridsdale taking boys on trips in 1973

[Gerald] Ridsdale was appointed assistant priest at Ballarat East in 1972. In January 1973, Father Pell was appointed assistant priest at Ballarat East. He lived in the Ballarat East presbytery with Ridsdale for nine or 10 months in that year.

While at Ballarat East, Father Pell heard that Ridsdale had taken groups of boys away on camps, including overnight trips. Cardinal Pell accepted that, because of the Monsignor Day scandal, child sexual abuse was at least on his radar. In submissions, he also accepted it was clear that ‘momentary thought’ was given to the matter of Ridsdale taking boys away on camping trips.

We are satisfied that in 1973 Father Pell turned his mind to the prudence of Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camps. The most likely reason for this, as Cardinal Pell acknowledged, was the possibility that if priests were one-on-one with a child then they could sexually abuse a child or at least provoke gossip about such a prospect.

By this time, child sexual abuse was on his radar, in relation to not only Monsignor Day but also Ridsdale. We are also satisfied that by 1973 Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy but that he also had considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Final Report

The  Royal Commission has also found that Pell failed to act on complaints about paedophile clergy in Melbourne in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he was an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, and later when he was Archbishop.

In a statement, Cardinal Pell, who is now living in a Sydney seminary since his release from prison, said that he was “surprised by some of the views of the Royal Commission”, particularly the findings concerning Gerald Ridsdale. “These views are not supported by the evidence”.

In their examination of possible answers AC and MS discuss:

  • an institutional culture that prioritises reputation, prestige or loyalty to the institution above the individual
  • strong personal relationships between adults within institutions, or conflicts of interest for individuals in institutions
  • Culture can suppress disclosure of abuse for example out of concern that it may bring shame (real or imaginary) on to the family or community

More episodes

Load more