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Cardinal Pell gets it, says abuse survivor after meeting

Phil Nagle arrives at the Quirinale hotel in Rome to hear Cardinal Pell's evidence (PA)

A survivor of child abuse has said that Cardinal George Pell “gets it” after a meeting with the cardinal in Rome.

Phil Nagle, who was among a group of child abuse survivors who met Cardinal Pell this morning, told reporters: “We talked about the future not the past… I think he gets it.”

Nagle said Cardinal Pell had discussed ways in which the Church could do more to help survivors of child abuse.

“We talked about counselling, we talked about care, we talked about what the future’s going to be for our survivors and how the Church is going to help with that, from George’s level down,” he said.

Nagle was abused by a priest at a school in Ballarat in the 1970s. At the time, Cardinal Pell was Ballarat’s episcopal vicar for education. The cardinal has repeatedly said that he did not know the extent of abuse and thought it was being dealt with by others.

The meeting came after Cardinal Pell’s fourth and final session of giving evidence to the Australian royal commission on child abuse.

During the session last night, Pell said he had “no idea” about a cover-up of sexual abuse by the Christian Brothers in 1970s Ballarat.

He told the commission that a schoolboy had informed him about an abusive member of the Christian Brothers, Edward Dowlan. But Cardinal Pell said that he assumed that the Christian Brothers were dealing with the case.

Giving evidence via video link, the cardinal was pressed on the Dowlan case by commissioner Justice Peter McClellan.

Cardinal Pell said a boy had told him “something like ‘Dowlan is misbehaving with boys’.” He added that the boy had been “lamenting” the abuse rather than asking him to do anything about it.

McClellan asked: “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?”

Cardinal Pell admitted that he could have done more. “I … don’t excuse my comparative lack of activity,” he said. But he repeated his claim that he thought the Christian Brothers already knew and were taking action.

The cardinal was also questioned about a case from 1991 involving another abusive former priest, Peter Searson. The cardinal said: “I believe that there was an investigation by the Catholic Education Office, there was an investigation by Minter Ellison and I was satisfied that the matter was in hand.”

Cardinal Pell has faced a total of about 20 hours of questions over four days.

At a press conference after the final hearing, he said: “I hope that my appearance here has contributed a bit to healing, to improving the situation. All the leadership of the Church in Australia is committed to avoiding any repetition of the terrible history of the past and to try to make things better.

“I was born in Ballarat. I’m very, very proud of my Ballarat connections. I grieve for the suffering of the people whom I regard as my own people.”

Cardinal Pell was asked whether he thought the media scrutiny of his case had amounted to a “witch-hunt”. He replied: “I think I will leave you to work that out.”

The group of survivors have asked to meet Pope Francis. They say they are waiting to hear whether their request will be granted.

UPDATE: After meeting the group, Cardinal Pell said :“I have heard each of their stories, and of their sufferings. It was hard: an honest and occasionally emotional meeting.

“I am committed to working with these people from Ballarat and surrounding areas. I know many of their families, and I know of the goodness of so many people in Catholic Ballarat, a goodness that was not extinguished by the evil that was done.”

The cardinal said he would continue to work with the group, especially in collaboration with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. “One suicide is too many,” he said.

Cardinal Pell suggested that Ballarat could become a pioneering centre of help for survivors. He said he supported the idea of “a research centre to enhance healing and to improbve protection.,” though he added that he did not know whether it would be feasible.

The cardinal said: “I owe a lot to the people and community of Ballarat, I acknowledge that, and with deep gratitude.

“It would be marvellous if our city became well-known as an effective centre and example of practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse.”