Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Pell abuse saga reeks of incompetent policing

  • 29 July 2016


Wednesday night's ABC 7.30 program carried allegations against Cardinal George Pell which, if true, are devastating: life ruining for victims like Damian Dignan and Lyndon Monument; confronting for all citizens committed to the wellbeing of children; and earth shattering for Catholics who still have faith in their church.

The ABC report is also troubling for those of us concerned about due process and the rule of law — not as academic notions for lawyers but as the secure bulwarks of a society in which everyone's rights and interests are protected.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can all say it would have been better if onlookers like Les Tyak in the Torquay Surf Club claiming to have credible evidence of unseemly behaviour by an adult like George Pell towards children went to the police promptly, rather than waiting 30 years. As it was put on 7.30, 'One summer day, [Mr Tyak] says he witnessed a strange incident, so strange it later compelled him to go to police.' The incident is alleged to have occurred in the mid-1980s. Mr Tyak went to the police in 2015.

George Pell has been the focus of attention, like no other, during the long running Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He has been grilled publicly for days on end about what he knew and did not know about abuse committed by others when he was a priest in Ballarat and when auxiliary bishop in Melbourne.

The Commission has been so focused on Pell that they decided to make the abuse of the late Fr Peter Searson their primary focus when investigating the abuse by Melbourne priests. This was not because Searson was the worst abuser, but because he worked in the region of the Archdiocese where Pell had supervision as auxiliary bishop.

The commission went to great lengths to reconvene and to call witnesses from the Catholic Education Office to highlight that there was no deliberate attempt to keep information from Pell. In the course of the inquiry, it became clear that the officers from the Catholic Education Office did not provide Pell with detailed information about Searson's wrongdoings. They saw no point.

So then the focus moved to Pell's rationalisation as to why he was not given relevant information. Whether or not that rationalisation was correct was a matter of intense media interest, though a matter of minimal forensic importance.

So now before the royal commission reports