Cardinal Pell says staff to blame for offers

QUESTIONED: Cardinal George Pell leaves the royal commission after giving evidence. Picture: Sahlan Haye

QUESTIONED: Cardinal George Pell leaves the royal commission after giving evidence. Picture: Sahlan Haye

CARDINAL George Pell says he knew nothing about ‘‘grotesque’’ compensation offers made by the Catholic Church to the victim of a paedophile priest and he blames staff for the aggressive handling of the case.

On his first day before the royal commission into child sexual abuse, Dr Pell said that if former altar boy John Ellis had been paid $100,000 to settle his abuse case it would have been ‘‘an excellent outcome’’.

The church eventually spent $1.5million aggressively defending the 2004 case brought by Mr Ellis, who was sexually abused by Bass Hill priest Father Aidan Duggan in the 1970s, from the ages of 13 to 17.

Dr Pell, the former Archbishop of Sydney,  repeatedly denied knowing Mr Ellis had sought $100,000 in compensation, contradicting the evidence previously given to the commission by former key advisers.

He said Professional Standards Office director John Davoren was ‘‘muddled’’ and the former vicar-general and chancellor of the Sydney Archdiocese, Monsignor Brian Rayner, had ‘‘continually got hold of the wrong end of the stick’’.

His private secretary, Dr Michael Casey, was only surmising, he said, when he told the commission last week his boss would have known what money an abuse victim was offered, and every other witness who said they told the cardinal Mr Ellis had asked for $100,000, were all mistaken.

Dr Pell also denied knowing the church had at first offered $25,000, then $30,000 to Mr Ellis, describing the sums as ‘‘mean’’, ‘‘grotesque’’ and ‘‘totally inappropriate’’.

He blamed Monsignor Rayner for not keeping him informed about the case, contradicting the monsignor’s earlier evidence that Dr Pell was told of all offers made to and by Mr Ellis.

Dr Pell said he ended up asking Monsignor Rayner to leave his job because it was ‘‘completely beyond him’’.

Despite having read Mr Ellis’s complaint, discussed the case with other bishops and engaged law firm Corrs Chambers Wesgarth to defend the case, Dr Pell told counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness SC, he never asked why attempts to settle the case through the church’s Towards Healing system had failed.

‘‘I realise I should have done more in that direction,’’ Dr Pell said. AAP

PHILIP WILSON

PHILIP WILSON

 THE Archbishop of Adelaide has agreed the Catholic  Church’s response to sexual abuse claims at a special school should have begun  a decade earlier than it did.

Former Hunter priest Archbishop Philip Wilson told the Adelaide hearing of the royal commission he would have expected his predecessor to have put in place processes in 1993, which he himself instigated after learning of the abuse in late 2001.

‘‘If the matter was known, it should have been dealt with in all the formal ways that are required,’’ he told the commission yesterday.

It is investigating Adelaide’s St Ann’s Special School and its bus driver, Brian Perkins, who sexually abused intellectually disabled children between 1986 and 1991.

Archbishop Wilson was asked how he would deal with the allegations he was confronted with in  2001.

‘‘Please God, it will never happen again but I would hope that if it did, that we would have learnt by experience now of how to handle these situations with the best possible outcome for the families and victims.’’

He agreed with counsel assisting, Sophie David, that families of students could have been told of the claims as early as 1991 instead of 2002.

Archbishop Wilson was the final witness at the hearing.  AAP