Cardinal George Pell knew about multiple priests in the Ballarat diocese who had committed serious child sexual offences as far back as the early 1970s, royal commission documents reveal.
He was not misled by his superiors in Ballarat or Melbourne about their knowledge of the crimes, and repeatedly failed to inform appropriate authorities.
After three years, the final report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was tabled in federal parliament on Thursday morning, and released in full to the public.
FOLLOW THE CASE:
FROM 2015 ROYAL COMMISSION HEARING | Full wrap of the eight-day hearing in Ballarat/Melbourne
FROM 2016 IN ROME
FROM PELL'S LATEST COURT CASE | A 'devastating' ruling: Ballarat survivors react to George Pell's acquittal
Three parts were released with redactions removed - book two of Volume 16, which focused on the Catholic Church; Case Study 35, on the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and Case Study 28 - Catholic Church authorities in Ballarat.
The reports followed years of hearings and analysis in the royal commission, including in Ballarat - hundreds of witnesses provided submissions, including survivors of abuse.
Cardinal Pell was among the witnesses, giving evidence twice - once in Sydney in 2014, and once from Rome in 2016.
BALLARAT REACTS: Read the full impact from today
The royal commission's findings were released in November 2017, but included redactions in the two case studies and in Volume 16.
These redactions include testimony from Cardinal Pell about his time as a priest in Ballarat, and his experiences, from 1977 onwards, on a number of church administrative bodies and councils where paedophile priests were discussed and moved, in Ballarat and Melbourne.
The redactions were made to avoid influencing future criminal trials - Cardinal Pell was eventually convicted for child sexual abuse, but later acquitted by the High Court in April 2020.
The unredacted sections of the report include exchanges between Cardinal Pell and royal commission lawyers, and revelations on who knew what about priests raping children among administrative staff, including Cardinal Pell, and what their reaction was at the time.
The priests named in Case Study 28 include Christian Brothers Gerald Leo Fitzgerald, Stephen Farrell, Edward Dowlan, Peter Toomey, and Brother 'BWX', as well as Monsignor John Day, Gerald Ridsdale, Paul David Ryan, and Robert Claffey, from the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat.
The redactions begin on page 27 in the executive summary, from the subheading "What Father Pell knew" in the Fitzgerald case.
Fitzgerald taught at St Alipius Primary School in Ballarat East from 1962 until 1975 - dozens of his victims have since come forward alleging abuse.
Cardinal Pell told the commission he had heard about students "swimming naked with Brother Fitzgerald' and Fitzgerald "kissing some of the boys" - he said it was 'common knowledge and the general conviction was, it was harmless enough".
He considered Fitzgerald "eccentric", and told the commission there was a danger in "imposing contemporary attitudes to events over 40 years ago".
The royal commission rejected this, stating clergy had a responsibility to ensure to ensure their Brothers and fellow clergy act protectively towards children in their care, regardless of whether parents or others were accepting of the activity.
"A specific request or accusation should not be required for the Church to act protectively towards children in its care," the report states.
"The conduct was occurring while the children were under the direct care and supervision of the Church.
"We reject the submission that Brother Fitzgerald's conduct was only wrong by contemporary standards.
"Father Pell said he had no jurisdiction 'in any sense' over the Christian Brothers. It was not unreasonable for Father Pell, as a diocesan priest, to believe it was not for him to raise the conduct of Brother Fitzgerald with the provincial."
Dowlan was part of a notorious paedophile ring involving the clergy in Ballarat, abusing boys at St Patrick's College.
"Counsel Assisting (the Royal Commission) asked Cardinal Pell when he first heard of Christian Brothers in Ballarat offending against children," the report states.
"He responded, 'That's a very good question. Perhaps in the early 1970s I heard things about Dowlan' at St Patrick's College."
It's noted Cardinal Pell was told by "one or two students, and one or two priests" about Dowlan's sexual behaviour with minors in the early 1970s, and it was not specific.
"Cardinal Pell told the chaplain at St Patrick's College, Father Brendan Davey, about the rumours he had heard about Dowlan," the report states.
"Cardinal Pell did not tell Brother Nangle or Bishop Mulkearns about what he had heard."
However, the unredacted report states an event described by a witness, who as a teenager went to St Patrick's Cathedral to speak to Cardinal Pell about his suspicions with Downlan in 1974 - the priest who answered the door, who the witness said was Cardinal Pell, got angry and told him to go away.
The report concludes the witness may have spoken to a different priest, as Cardinal Pell was based at St Alipius at the time.
"However, while we accept that (the witness) genuinely believes he spoke to Father Pell, we are not satisfied he did. We do not know the identity of the priest he did speak to," the report states.
The report does include testimony from witness Timothy Green, who said he spoke to Cardinal Pell at the Eureka Swimming Pool in late 1974.
Mr Green said he told Cardinal Pell "we've got to do something about what's going on at St Pat's" - he said Cardinal Pell asked him what he meant and Mr Green said "Brother Dowlan is touching little boys", to which Cardinal replied "don't be ridiculous" and walked out.
The royal commission accepted Mr Green's evidence, though Cardinal Pell said he had no recollection of the event.
One of Australia's worst paedophiles, Gerald Ridsdale was jailed for repeated child abuse while he was a parish priest, with dozens of victims across western Victoria.
In the royal commission, his crimes and their effects are detailed, and Cardinal Pell is recorded as giving evidence about Ridsdale's "camping trips" with children in 1973.
"While at Ballarat East, Father Pell heard that Ridsdale had taken groups of boys away on camps, including overnight trips," the report states.
"Cardinal Pell accepted that, because of the Monsignor Day scandal, child sexual abuse was at least on his radar.
"In submissions, he also accepted it was clear that 'momentary thought' was given to the matter of Ridsdale taking boys away on camping trips.
"We are ... satisfied that by 1973 Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy but that he also had considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it."
As a member of the Council of Consultors, aiding Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, Cardinal Pell said he was "deceived" by the bishop about Ridsdale's conduct.
"It does not logically follow that a bishop would deceive his appointed consultors, particularly given that it would be likely that they would find out elsewhere," the report states. "Furthermore, given that Cardinal Pell would have been surprised if Bishop Mulkearns had deceived him, it is likely that he knew of Ridsdale's sexual transgressions.
"Cardinal Pell gave evidence that the bishop did not give the true reason for moving Ridsdale - namely, his sexual activity with children - and that the bishop lied in not giving the true reason to the consultors.
"We do not accept that Bishop Mulkearns lied to his consultors. ... It is inconceivable in these circumstances that Bishop Mulkearns deceived his consultors by not telling them the true reason. There would be little utility in doing so. The secret was out in at least two parishes by 1978 ... however, he said that in the period 1977 to 1979 he never heard anything in relation to the misbehaviour of Ridsdale."
The report details several consultors meetings, of which Cardinal Pell was part of - several times it is noted that while he knew about Ridsdale being moved from parish to parish, "it certainly was not stated that those difficulties touched on paedophilia and crimes," he told the commission.
A meeting in September 1982 is included - "Cardinal Pell accepted that three of the seven consultors (in the meeting) knew of complaints about Ridsdale at the time of the meeting, and two had significant knowledge," the report states.
"Cardinal Pell agreed that it was necessary to move Ridsdale from Mortlake because of the knowledge among parts of the community, as well as three of the consultors, about child sexual abuse by Ridsdale in Mortlake."
The following exchange between Cardinal Pell and the commission is included.
"Q: So what do you say you knew in 1982 about Ridsdale?
"A: I knew nothing about his paedophilia. I knew that he was a somewhat difficult person and obviously that he had been shifted around quite a bit. There were other priests who were shifted perhaps not as frequently as him but for one reason or another moved frequently."
In a statement to the media on Thursday , a spokesperson for Cardinal Pell said he was "surprised" by "some of the views" of the Royal Commission.
"These views are not supported by evidence," the statement reads.
"He is especially surprised by the statements in the report about the earlier transfers of Gerald Ridsdale discussed by the Ballarat Diocesan Consultors in 1977 and '82.
"The Consultors who gave evidence on the meetings in 1977 and 1982 either said they did not learn of Ridsdale's offending against children until much later or they had no recollection of what was discussed.
"None said they were made aware of Ridsdale's offending at these meetings."
The report noted a discussion between Cardinal Pell and another priest at a funeral at St Patrick's Cathedral, where Cardinal Pell allegedly said "I think Gerry's been rooting boys again", referring to Ridsdale, was "unlikely to have occurred".
"It is likely that (the witness) overheard the conversation; however, that conversation was not between the priests he nominated and was not in the context of that particular funeral."
The report also dismissed claims that Cardinal Pell attempted to bribe one of Ridsdale's victims in a phone conversation.
The witness told the royal commission he had phoned Cardinal Pell in 1993, seeking a "private process" to get assistance, when Cardinal Pell told him "I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet".
The commission stated "we are not satisfied that Bishop Pell said the words attributed to him or otherwise sought to obtain Mr Ridsdale's silence. It is more likely that Mr Ridsdale misinterpreted an offer by Bishop Pell to assist as something more sinister. There is no compelling reason for the then bishop to make such a statement."
Cardinal Pell said between mid-1971 and 1972 (while an assistant priest in Swan Hill) he probably heard gossip that Monsignor John Day was accused of pedophile activity and it was a "great scandal".
He agreed that because of this scandal, child sexual abuse was on his radar.
Two other Ballarat priests, Ryan and Claffey, had chapters in Case Study 28 which focused on them.
Those chapters were initially redacted, but have now been fully released.
Ryan was sentenced to jail for sexual abuse in June 2019, while Claffey was handed an extra 15 months to his sentence in July 2019.
Following Cardinal Pell's acquittal, the redactions were no longer needed to protect potential juries, as all three cases were now completed.
You can also read the full Case Study 28 report below
Affected by this story? There is help available.
You can phone the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault, in Sebastopol, on 5320 3933, or free-call the crisis care line 24 hours on 1800 806 292. Or phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380, or Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277.
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thankyou very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.