May 7, 2020

Cardinal George Pell is cross-examined by Peter O’Brien at Child Abuse Royal Commission

royal commission, lawyer

Peter questions Cardinal Pell during the Royal Commission in Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse

In March 2016, Peter O’Brien assisted in questioning at a Sydney hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.

The unredacted transcript of George Pell’s testimony at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse in 2016 has finally been released, now that his criminal matters have finished. It reveals that Pell was aware of child sexual abuse in parishes he worked at or had responsibility for. Peter O’Brien questioned Cardinal Pell while assisting the Royal Commission.

You can see the Royal Commission’s version of that day of testimony here

Following is the  transcript of the cross-examination of Cardinal George Pell that he conducted :



MR P O’BRIEN: Q. Cardinal, my name is O’Brien. Can you see me?


I represent a fellow by the name of [BWF]. If you look at your pseudonym list there, you’ll see his name

Yes, I do.

The evidence before this Royal Commission is that he was the middle of three brothers at St Patrick’s College in 1973 and 1974 when Brother Dowlan was teaching there, do you understand that?

I do.

It seems uncontroversial that his younger brother was beaten so seriously and so alarmingly and the injuries so apparent that his mother complained to the headmaster, Brother Nangle, about his treatment. Do you understand that to be the evidence?

I do. I do. It’s very sad.

The evidence also from [BWF] is that at 14 years of age he came to learn of the bashing and such was the knowledge of Brother Dowlan’s abuse of children, and of sexual abuse and molestation of children within the school population, the student population in particular, that hecame to understand correctly, as it turned out, that his younger brother had been beaten and sexually abused. Do you understand that to be his evidence?

I do.

He said to this Royal Commission, and it’s in paragraph 12 of his statement, but I’m conscious of the time and I’ll simply read it to you because I’m sure you are familiar with it:

I was still very upset about what happened to [BWG] so that same week during some free time I went to the Presbytery on the corner of Sturt St and Dawson St to seek out Father George PELL who was a well known influential priest in the area. I wanted someone of authority outside of the school to know about what was happening there and someone who would be able to do something about it. I knocked on the door and someone answered the door but I cannot  remember who it was. I asked to see Father George PELL and that person went to get him. I was angry about the situation and also frightened and nervous about approaching a high ranking priest such as PELL. Because I was so nervous I just blurted out to PELL that DOWLING –[that should be “Dowlan”:] had beat and molested [BWG] –[his brother] — and demanded to know what PELL was going to do about it. Pell became angry and yelled at me, “Young man, how dare you knock on this door and make demands.” We argued for a bit and he finally told me to go away and shut the door on me.

You’re aware that that’s his evidence?

I am aware that that is his evidence.

And your counsel, during cross-examination of Mr [BWF], my client, suggested that you were not living at the presbytery – and that’s the case, isn’t it?

I was neither living at the presbytery nor working at the presbytery, so that if anything like this happened, it didn’t happen with me.

You see, that presbytery that you were living in, it was St Alipius presbytery, and that was about 2 kilometres down the road or 2 kilometres away from St Patrick’s Cathedral Presbytery; is that right?

That was where I slept at night. That was where I was almost never present during the day.

The presbytery at Ballarat was a large presbytery containing about five to eight priests at any one time; is that the case?

I’m not sure whether there were as many priests at that stage, but it is a big two-storey house.

It had an office, dining room and meeting room as at 1973/1974; was that the case?

That is correct.

You’ve given evidence in these proceedings over the course of these last few days that it was not uncommon from time to time for priests in the same area to socialise together; is that right?

I don’t know whether I have given that evidence, but there was some socialising between priests, but rarely inthe middle of the afternoon.

Well, the evidence from Mr [BWF] is that this happened after school, maybe at 3 to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Are you suggesting that in your work, with all those various hats that you were wearing – founding member of the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria, the Vicar for Education for the Diocese of Ballarat, a member for the Ballarat College of Advanced Education, or even just as a friend or acquaintance or socialising with other priests, you had no cause at all to be at that presbytery, only a limited number of kilometres – less than two – from the place at which you were living?

I was hardly ever in the cathedral presbytery. I was not – I did not go to the cathedral many times a year. You listed the list of things in which I was involved. I regularly worked right through the afternoon until the evening meal. I was certainly not present at the cathedral presbytery for this alleged incident, and I was hardly there, ever, at all.

You could never say in 1973 or 1974 that you were not there at the presbytery at the cathedral – you could not give that evidence, surely.

I could not say with mathematical clarity that I was never at the – at the cathedral, but I was almost – the cathedral presbytery, but I was almost never there.

You see, you’ve given evidence during these proceedings over the last few days that your memory in relation to the events of some 40 years ago might be playing false, to use your words. Is that the case?

Only in – when I said that about particular circumstances, I stand by it. I have got no such ambiguity about the non-existence of this incident.

You see, you’ve said that particularly in relation to the complaints made to you about Brother Dowlan in 1973 and 1974.

There was – obviously, with Mr Green, the exact circumstances were recounted. I have no such recollection. The fellow who was with him says he doesn’t remember it, and he thinks he would have if it was said —

I’m not talking —

Let me make it clear —

Sorry to interrupt you. I don’t want to talk about Green at the moment. I’m talking about [BWF] and the complaint that he says he made to you at the presbytery at the cathedral, and I want to specifically ask you whether or not it’s the case that you simply deny this having happened, or whether you can’t recall it?

I deny it completely and explicitly, and just as a brief parenthesis, I want to say that my attitude to this is entirely different from my attitude to the evidence given by Mr Green. This is — ridiculous. The suggestion that I would speak like that to a young person in distress is absolutely false.

I want to take you to exhibit 28-107. I’ve given some notice that you might receive that. Hopefully you have it there?

I haven’t yet.

It’s a statement, just so that you’re aware when you get it, from a witness named [BWM]. [BWM] was the ex-wife – if you go to paragraph 3 – of [BWF]. Do you see that?

I do.

Cardinal, have a look at that paragraph carefully. You’ll see that [BWF] and [BWM] separated in late 1990s. Can you see that in paragraph 3?


If you turn to paragraph 26, the last paragraph, it reads:

I am not on good terms with [BWF] and I have no interest in assisting him or in speaking to him. I have not spoken to [BWF] personally or through our daughters this year. [BWF] sent me a letter for my birthday, but I put it straight in the bin.

Do you see that?

I do.

So this is the ex-wife and they’ve obviously departed with some acrimony. She gives an account in paragraph 11 about early in their relationship, in the late 1970s, an incident involving Brother Dowlan. Do you see that?

Yes, I read paragraph 11.

She then goes on to give an account of what he said to her about what had happened to his brother and what he had  done about it. At paragraphs 14, 15 and 16, if you’d care to have a look at it, she says that in the late 1970s her then husband, with whom now she has no liaison or no friendship, no reason to assist, told her of this involvement with you when he was 14 at St Patrick’s College. Do you see that?

Yes, I’m aware of it. I can’t put – remind me of the paragraph.

It’s paragraphs 14, 15 and 16.


She says in paragraph 14, to paraphrase, he wanted to deal with it with someone at the school. No-one was listening to what he was saying. He went to the Catholic church to see George Pell. He can’t recall exactly what words were said to Pell but it was a hostile exchange.

He said to me, “Pell said something about [BWG] being beaten as well as other things that had happened to him.” I don’t recall what the other things were. [BWF] told me Pell said something like, “This wouldn’t have happened” or, “This is none of your business”, and told [BWF] to go back to school.

Do you see that?

I certainly do.

It’s corroboration, is it not, that he complained to his wife in the late 1970s, only a matter of years after the event had taken place, about what he said to you.I want you to reflect now and think whether this might not have indeed occurred.

That this might not have?

That this in fact did occur.

No, it certainly did not occur, and it’s quite clear why it didn’t occur. I’m not disputing the evidence of his wife.

No, it’s unchallenged?

He might have had a fantasy —

It’s unchallenged?


That evidence is unchallenged and uncontradicted –except by you.

MR DUGGAN: I object to that.

MR P O’BRIEN: I withdraw it.

THE WITNESS (PELL): The point at issue, at last – I don’t want to interrupt – the point at issue is the truth of the claim and the truth of whether he spoke to his wife about it. If she says that he made such a claim, that very well might be correct. The fact is that there is no foundation in reality for that, because I just was not at that building, and whether that is something that he has imagined, a fantasy or something else, I’m at a loss to understand that, but it did not occur and I was not at that building, hardly ever, and certainly not for any such incident. It might have happened with some other individual, but it certainly didn’t happen with me.

MR P O’BRIEN: Q. You did, on your own account during the proceedings this week, concede that you received a complaint from a school boy at St Patrick’s College – that’s the case, isn’t it?


And you said in your evidence, transcript page 16241:

He — Being the boy who complained to you — recollected it years later, but I remembered him as a good and honest lad and I didn’t think he’d be telling – I couldn’t remember the actual incident, but I didn’t think he’d be telling lies .

Do you mean to say by that that you didn’t have a recollection about it until he told you?

I didn’t have a recollection of him speaking to me very briefly and fleetingly about an accusation about Dowlan.

When did this boy come to you and complain to you about Dowlan?

He never came to me and complained. We happened to be together and he just mentioned it in passing.

When did he come to tell you about this complaint? When did you come to know that this complaint had been made, or these conversations —

He just mentioned it casually in conversation. He never asked me to do anything. It wasn’t technically – well, I suppose it was technically a complaint, a lament, but entirely different from this alleged event, of which I had no part.

So it was clear that in 1974 that you received a complaint from a student at St Patrick’s. Why is it that you’re on the record in 2002 saying that you did not have any idea of rumours about Dowlan’s misbehaviour and molestation of children, to that effect?

Actually, because he only reminded me of what he’d said to me later.


I can’t remember exactly, but it was after that -after that publicity.

Dowlan was charged in 1993, he was convicted and sentenced in 1996. Was it after 1996?

I’m – I’m just struggling as to when – it might have  been after 2002: I can’t remember just – it – it was ina – in a magazine or in a paper that was sent to me where he had made this claim.

THE CHAIR: Q. Cardinal, what did that boy say to you?

He – he said something like, “Dowlan is misbehaving with – with boys.”

That was a very serious matter to be raised with you, wasn’t it?

Yes, in – that is – that is the case.

What did you do about it?

I – I didn’t do anything about it.

Should you have done something about it?

Well, I eventually did. I eventually inquired of the school chaplain.

What about at the time you received the allegation from the boy, didn’t it occur to you —

It would have been fairly close together.

Well, you didn’t go straight to the school and say, “I’ve got this allegation, what’s going on?”

No, I didn’t.

Should you have?

With the experience of 40 years later, certainly 9  I would agree that I should have – should have done more.

Why do you need the experience of 40 years later?Wasn’t it a serious matter then?

Yes, but people had a different attitude then. There were no specifics about the activity, how serious it was, and the boy wasn’t asking me to do anything about it, but just lamenting and mentioning it.

Cardinal, you and I – –

It was quite unspecific.

Cardinal, you and I have had this discussion on more than one occasion. Why was it necessary for people to ask you to do something, rather than for you to accept the information and initiate your own response?

Obviously, that – that is not – not the case, and myresponsibilities as an Auxiliary Bishop and the director of  an educational institute, an Archbishop, obviously I was  more aware of those obligations in those situations thanI was as a young cleric, but I don’t – I don’t – I don’t excuse my comparative lack of activity, the fact that I only went to the school chaplain and inquired what was the truth of these rumours.

MR P O’BRIEN: Q. When you went to the school chaplain, the school chaplain said to you something to the effect that the Brothers were aware of it and were dealing with it; right?

That’s correct.

Okay. You know that there was a number of civil actions commenced against the Christian Brothers over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s; correct?

I’m aware of that.

And you know that there was a great deal of interesting whether or not the Christian Brothers knew of the abuse by Dowlan within the school at St Patrick’s at the time it was occurring; correct?

That’s – yes.

And as late as last week, the headmaster at Patrick’s College in 1973/74, Brother Nangle, denied any knowledge or denied having received any complaint or knowing of any rumours associated with alleged molestation or sexual offences against children by Dowlan. Are you aware of that?

I – I haven’t studied the evidence in detail, but I am aware of that.

And he was interviewed by a number of officers from the insurance companies, he was interviewed by police officers and by lawyers all the way until 2004 and, again, in every single instance he denied having any knowledge, denied having received any complaint about Dowlan’s molestation of children; do you understand that?

I – yes.

So why on earth, Cardinal, didn’t you take the information that you had about the complaint that had been made to you by this St Patrick’s school boy in 1973 to the police, to the investigators, to the insurance companies or to the Christian Brothers themselves? Why do we hear about it this week for the first time?

That is because I had no idea that the Christian Brothers were covering up in the way in which it’s now apparent, and I did – as I repeat again, I mentioned it to the principal and he said the matter was being looked after, and I presumed that it was being looked after appropriately, not just denied.

You had essential – –

And this man – –

You had – –

I’m sorry, the only other thing.

Go ahead.

May I just say, by way of completion, and also I was aware that at the end of that year Dowlan was shifted. Now, in the light of subsequent events, that was radically insufficient, but at that time that was regarded – given the unspecified nature of the accusations, I thought that was – well, that was something that was fair enough.

Well, Dowlan went on to sexually abuse children in a teaching capacity all the way through to 1985 – dozens of them. Do you understand that?

I do.

You could have done something which would have put a stop to that, potentially, couldn’t you?

No, with due respect, I think that’s a vast overstatement. I did take the opportunity to ascertain the reliability of the rumours. I was told there was something in them and that it was being dealt with.

In addition to that, and lastly, I put this you: you had information about the knowledge that the Christian Brothers ought to have had in 1974 and you withheld that from the investigative process, of claims taken by people, children, who had been sexually abused at St Patrick’s College in 1973 and 1974 by Dowlan, and you withheld it?

I didn’t withhold any such meagre information as I had. If I had been asked, I certainly would have proffered that view. And any contribution that my evidence might have made was, I would suggest, not over significant and somewhat minimal.

You are in the business, Cardinal, I suggest even now, and you have been for the last four decades, of trying to minimise your own involvement. You have pointed the finger at other people and you are, therefore, in light of that, also prepared to deny the truthful accusation made by my client against you.

There is no truth in the accusation that your client has made against me, as far as it attaches to me. To my mind it is demonstrably false because I was never at that building. He either fantasised it, or it’s some other person, or it is a misstatement. It was – it is quite false.

MR P O’BRIEN: Very well, I’ll leave it there.

Call Now Button