By Barney Zwartz
March 7, 2019 — 11.55am
The claims were lurid and unverified so Helen Last, the counsellor hired by the Catholic Church in Melbourne to assist victims of clerical abuse, agonised before reporting them to her superiors.
It was 1996 and the newly appointed archbishop, George Pell, had just set up the Melbourne Response to handle the rising numbers of sex abuse claims received by the archdiocese.
An ex-seminarian known as ‘‘Joe’’ came forward alleging that Pell and several other priests had, 10 to 15 years earlier, been having sex with Mannix College trainee clerics at ‘‘parties … involving young men’’.
Joe was not a strong witness. He wanted $20,000 for compromising photographs that appeared to be of Pell and others engaged in sexual acts, but could not produce the negatives. Despite this, Ms Last felt she could not dismiss Joe’s allegations.Add to shortlist
She reported the claims to her superior and also to the vicar-general, Monsignor Gerald Cudmore (who died in 2007).
‘‘He was shocked, and said, ‘We have to do something,’ ’’ she said.
Ms Last says she developed suspicions about Pell very early during her work with the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
She heard many stories from victims of clergy sexual abuse in different parishes, especially that Pell knew what was happening and was protecting priests who were abusing children.
‘‘It was alleged to me early that Pell was among a group of offenders from Ballarat to Melbourne. They were part of the Ballarat organised clerical offending, which extended down to Laverton and around Melbourne.’’
While the credibility of the claims made by ‘‘Joe’’ were never substantiated, a detailed memo of the ex-seminarian’s allegations, seen by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, demonstrates that the church was aware of complaints about Pell’s character dating back more than 20 years.
Helen Last says she had suspicions about George Pell for years.
In light of Pell’s conviction for sexual abuse of two choirboys in 1996, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald believe there is public interest in revealing the trail of complaints that have dogged the cardinal’s career.
If the ex-seminarian’s claims are included, there are nine known allegations about sexual misconduct against Pell, ranging from exposure to assault, although only two – his sexual abuse of the choirboys – have been upheld by a court.
Rumours have surrounded the cardinal, especially among survivors of abuse and their advocates, for many years. Some of the allegations might seem preposterous at first, but the same argument was made by some about the choirboy’s claim that he and another boy were assaulted more than 20 years ago. This makes the other allegations more relevant.
Ms Last’s contract was terminated in May 1997 as a result, she claims, of her defying explicit instructions from archbishop Pell and then vicar-general Denis Hart to stay away from the Doveton parish, which suffered six paedophiles in succession as parish priest or assistant priest.Victorian police in Rome on October 19, 2016. This is an excerpt of the 42-minute interview.
One Doveton priest was the deranged Peter Searson, who wandered the Catholic school in military clothing, sometimes carried a gun, stabbed a bird with a screwdriver and tortured a cat. He was also molesting many children.
A teacher at the time, Carmel Rafferty – whose attempts at whistleblowing ended her career in Catholic education – said a delegation went to Pell, Searson’s bishop, to share their concerns, but these were dismissed. Pell told the royal commission that this was because he was deceived by archbishop Frank Little and the education office.
After she was sacked and the pastoral response office closed, Ms Last set up In Good Faith and Associates to support survivors. She also set up the Melbourne Victims’ Collective, which has 120 members who complain they were traumatised by the Melbourne Response.
‘‘I believe Pell set up the Melbourne Response partly to protect himself. I believed that from the beginning … He had no understanding of victim care,’’ she says
Ms Last believes the Melbourne Response files should be subpoenaed and the decision in each case examined.
In 2015 she submitted her correspondence with the church over the ‘‘Joe’’ memo to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
It is believed that ‘‘Joe’’ has not pursued the matter. The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have been unable to contact him.
The new Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter A. Comensoli, says he does not know of any other historical accusations from Pell’s time in Melbourne, apart from those that had already been before the court.
‘‘No. Only the Ballarat one and the trial’s not going ahead. There’s nothing in his files, and our files stop with when he finished up here.’’
However, correspondence seen by this masthead shows the independent commissioner, Peter O’Callaghan, QC, investigated the seminary allegations, asking Ms Last to send him ‘‘the remainder of your files … as quickly as possible’’.
Approached last week, Mr O’Callaghan said that because the matter of Pell remains before the courts, ‘‘I must not and will not make any comments on the matters you raised’’.
Pell, who is to be sentenced next week, maintains his innocence of all claims and will appeal his conviction of sexually assaulting the two choirboys at a hearing set down for June 5 and 6.
One of the three men who have claimed Pell touched them improperly in Ballarat swimming pools in the 1970s intends to sue the cardinal for damages, and the other two are expected to give evidence in that case.
The ‘‘swimming pool’’ trial did not go ahead after the judge ruled certain evidence was inadmissible.
Then there is the allegation that Pell fondled a boy at a camp at Phillip Island in 1961. In his 2002 investigation on behalf of the Sydney archdiocese, retired Supreme Court judge Alec Southwell found both the boy, Phil Scott, and Pell to be credible witnesses. He also found the complaint could not be established.
In 2016 Torquay resident Les Tyack went public with allegations he submitted to the royal commission and to the police that he saw Pell expose himself for many minutes to three boys at the local surf lifesaving club in the 1980s.
In the pre-trial hearing for the second Pell trial, which was eventually abandoned, the prosecutors outlined claims from a Victorian man who told police that in 1975 or 1976, when he was 10, he slipped off Pell’s shoulders while playing in a lake near Swan Hill and made accidental contact with the priest’s erect penis. Pell was alleged to have told the boy: ‘‘Don’t worry, it’s only natural.’’
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have been told other allegations have been made to the royal commission, but the commission will not release its own findings about Pell until the appeal against his conviction has been heard.
Pell is due to be sentenced on Wednesday, March 13, and is now on remand.
The current Melbourne Response independent commissioner, Jeff Gleeson QC, was not available for comment.
The Catholic Church declined to comment.
It is now emerging that Pell was like O’Brien and McCarrick – and had a long history of having sex with seminarians, priests and lay men.
And Like McCarrick – but unlike O’Brien – he also engaged in sex with minors.
It is very rare for a man or a cleric to begin their sexual abuse activity in later life.
Normally there is a long history.
And now with Pell it seems that he abused boys as a priest in Ballarat and later in Melbourne – but also had a sexually active life with seminarians and priests over many decades.
And high ranking clerics in Australia and Rome knew all about his sexual predatorship and turned a blind eye and allowed him to climb up the church and to become Number 3.
Any man with a long history like that would be well able to make sure the coast was clear in the sacristy, have his member out and into the choir boys mouths with the greatest of efficiency and skill.
He was a practised expert and it would have been all over before the poor boys realised it.
Let those who still defend Pell know that they are defending a man who made it his business to pounce on children; seminarians and priests – and then deny everything that happened in his life.
But of course there are still blind, brainwashed RCs who choose to deny it all.
How would they feel if they themselves or their sons and nephews were part of Pell’s sea of victims?
ANOTHER TRAGIC SUICIDE AT MAGHABERRY PRISON
Paul McConville, father of poor Daniel McConville, who died in Maghaberry has informed us of another death in the prison. Paul says
“Another death in maghaberry 23year old found hanging took to hospital died in hospital on remand just a week what is that man ( the governor) getting an award for? This is getting of hand. Absolutely disgusting”
CONTRIBUTED BY AN ATHEIST READER