Cardinal George Pell says the Catholic Church leadership failed to protect children in a Victorian diocese but he accepts no responsibility for moving a pedophile priest.
Cardinal Pell said it was improper to assign responsibility to those like himself who were ignorant of the offending by priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale in the Diocese of Ballarat in the 1970s and 1980s.
“In the diocese of Ballarat certainly there was a gigantic failure of leadership,” Cardinal Pell told the child abuse royal commission from Rome.
Cardinal Pell, who was an adviser to the Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns between 1977 and 1984, did not agree the church collectively failed to protect children in the diocese during the 1970s and 1980s.
Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC said all parish priests, assistant priests, advisers and consultors collectively failed to protect children.
Cardinal Pell said that was a vast and misleading overstatement.
“Where there is evidence that people knew of misbehaviour, where they knew of a practical danger, they should have acted.
“We are not permitted to go beyond the evidence.”
Cardinal Pell said a universal failure would mean that everybody knew.
“A collective failure would be that primarily those with effective responsibility knew and did not act.
“For those who were ignorant, I think it is improper to impute responsibility to them.”
Cardinal Pell said the bishop had primary responsibility and others who knew about the complaints were also responsible, and there was some moral responsibility on those consultors who knew about complaints against Ridsdale.
But he excluded himself from responsibility as he was ignorant of the complaints against Ridsdale.
“When there is ignorance, when the ignorance is not wilful, when the ignorance does not represent somebody not doing their authority, I can’t see that responsibility can be imputed to them.”
Asked if he accepted any responsibility at all for Ridsdale being moved between parishes during the time he was a consultor, Cardinal Pell said he did not.