Dear George,

More bad news. When will it cease?


Source: Wikipedia

And this latest news has come towards the backend of your stellar career performance. You had only just escaped from your prison cell and from the indignity of a criminal record when another heavy body-blow has landed. At an advanced age, your career at the top appears to be in ruins. Where to for you from here?

“Surprised” doesn’t seem to capture the moment. I can’t help thinking you’ve often had difficulty during your long ecclesiastical career in the spotlight, striking the right note.

Disappointed – saddened – annoyed – depressed – traumatized – shocked – bloody angry – furious – wacked, crushed and gutted, perhaps ? I am wondering, George, how you really feel now that the redacted sections of the original report have been made so public. Your brief statement simply announced that you were “surprised by some of the views” of the Royal Commission and that its “views” were not supported by the evidence.

“Views”. A man in the street has views. Your mother had views. A social or political commentator expresses views. Any Tom, Dick or George can have views on any number of issues. The royal commissioners did not report their views – they made findings. The bad news is that the royal commissioners who were commissioned by Her Majesty to hear the witnesses, examine the documents, to analyse and assess the evidence have made disparaging findings about your integrity, your truthfulness, your character – albeit on the balance of probabilities.

Our system of law, whether criminal or civil, doesn’t deal in Truth or with certainties such as findings of innocence, any more than the modern sciences do. It leaves these matters to philosophy, to religion and ultimately to God. In making its orders and findings of fact, the law only strives for a comfortable state of satisfaction or contentment, and deals in probabilities and reasonable doubt –‘satisfied beyond reasonable doubt’ or ‘satisfied on the balance of probabilities’. Once the evidence had been carefully weighed, on the balance of probabilities, the commissioners found your evidence wanting.

A team of Her Majesty’s commissioned officers heard the evidence, listened attentively to what you (and others) had to say, and found that, on the balance of probabilities, they couldn’t trust that on your oath, you had been telling them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately for you (and for the Vatican – to say nothing of the little people in the pews), they found your evidence was implausible, untenable, unreliable, inconceivable and unbelievable. They found as matters of fact, and contrary to your denials, that they were satisfied that as a young priest in the Ballarat diocese and later as a bishop and archbishop in Melbourne, you played a part in the unholy, ghastly mess involving sexual abuse of children.

Child sexual abuse by the clergy had appeared on your radar as early as 1973. You were involved in moving Father Gerald Ridsdale (a known criminal) from parish to parish in the diocese of Ballarat – Mildura, Swan Hill, Warrnambool, Apollo Bay, Ballarat, Mortlake and on to Sydney in 1982. Ten years to ply his filthy trade, to torture little ones and their families. You received a complaint from a twelve-year-old boy about the suspicious and criminal behaviour of a Brother Ted Dowlan, and had neglected your duty to the community and the pupils at St Patrick’s school by simply ignoring the complaint. Shame! George, these are terrifying findings.

And then there was your failure to act to remove that nasty psychopathic parish priest, Peter Searson. In charge of the parish of Doveton for thirteen years. Numerous complaints of his criminal behaviour (rape, possession of guns, cruelty to animals, humiliation of his women parishioners, child sexual abuse) – a complete madman let loose to wreak havoc on the stunned people of God – and as the bishop in charge of that area, you failed to take steps to stand him down and report the complaints to the police. George, let’s not muck around. These damaging findings have to mark the end of your illustrious career. Where do you go from here?

Contrary to what you told them, the commissioners were satisfied that you knew from an early stage what was going on; you adopted an attitude of studied ignorance to avoid your pastoral responsibilities to the vulnerable lambs and their mothers; that you could have protected children from harm and you didn’t; that when you said that you had been deceived by your bishop and by other senior figures, you were not telling the truth; and that you were, though only in part, responsible for the terrible mental agony and torture suffered by innocent boys and girls, by their parents and grand-parents, their brothers and sisters. It’s horrible to contemplate, but you played a part in a criminal and corrupt institution. You were part of a God-forsaken clerical racket of protection and facilitation. Am I out of order, George, in thinking that with your religious background, you must feel a terrible failure, tormented by unimaginable guilt? The “views” of the royal commissioners about your behaviour as a pastor and about the quality of your evidence have proved devastating.

I know that I don’t have to tell you that the Vatican will not be happy. One of its most influential cardinals has been caught in the eye of the storm. The Commission has delivered him a truly awful character reference – failing to tell the truth; part of a clerical cabal of serial offenders and body guards; avoiding your pastoral responsibility; neglecting your duty and trying, by studied ignorance, to distance yourself from the shit coming down the pipeline. It’s to be hoped you won’t be lining up any time soon with the other members of the all-masculine College of Cardinals to elect the next bishop of Rome. As Eddy Obeid knows, such a reputation as you now have follows you round and clings to you like a bad smell. And I imagine you might find it difficult to preach the Jesus Gospel until your “surprise” wears off and we all settle back into our routine.

To tell you the truth, George, our church is on its knees and those of you who have been in charge apparently have no idea what to do. Some of us are surviving by putting our head in the sand and hoping the stink will eventually dissipate. Some of us are still trying to defend the indefensible.- though the bishops and prominent laymen who were so willing to talk after your High Court acquittal have all gone to ground. What can they say? Some of us are denying the bleeding obvious or blaming the messenger. Others are leaving in disgust when confronted with systemic corruption worse than we have associated with banks and big businesses, with elements of the police force and the mafia. And others of us are hanging on by our finger tips to our faith in Jesus and the honourable traditions of our faith, even though our leaders, the Pope and his Vatican officials, seem to be missing in action. Heaven help us. We’re in a mess, and unfortunately you have been found to have made a significant contribution. We are not happy, George.

We are now all curious to know whether you intend to take up where you left off, and slot back into your public role. Do you plan to continue to play a part on the national and international stage in the cultural and theological wars. What contribution remains for you to make?

And I suppose you’re wondering, like all of us, what Rome is going to do. Remove you from the College of Cardinals? Reduce you to the lay state (which, as all laypeople know, would be a horrible fate)? Send you off into exile – to a monastery somewhere perhaps? Or into the desert? Or reinstate you to your prestigious Vatican posts? Let you live out your final years under the shadow of St Peter’s as Cardinal Law of Boston did? Or ignore the whole catastrophe in the hope that it will go away? You shouldn’t hold your breath, George. Rome has refined delay to an art form.

In the meantime, from all reports there will be much to occupy your time. Victims are lining up for compensation. I hear that the Supreme Court has established an Institutional Liability List to process the volume of claims flooding into the system. I suppose “the views” of the royal commissioners will find their way into the evidence to support these victims of clerical sexual abuse in their search for some sort of justice.

Look, George, in the circumstances, it’s probably best, for you and all of us, especially for the traumatized members of your Church, if you take off the robes and rings, put on some sack-cloth, accept the findings of the Commission with all the dignity you can muster, and disappear into a retirement village.

I suppose you are aware that I have never been a fan of yours. However, truly, I have never, and now do not wish that any harm come to you in your twilight years. And I hope we can together wish the victims of institutional abuse healing, justice and peace.

I remain,

Yours ontologically,

Chris Geraghty.


Dr Chris Geraghty is a former priest of the archdiocese of Sydney, a retired judge of the District Court of NSW, and the author of a recent publication, Virgins and Jezebels – the Origins of Christian Misogyny.

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24 Responses to CHRIS GERAGHTY. Pell Again

  1. stuart lawrence says:

    George PELL has a friend in the murdoch press and gerald henderson

  2. Raymond Brindal says:

    Dr Geraghty, does not the sum of the findings of the Royal Commission into George Pell’s action and behaviour amount to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Or am i over-reaching?

  3. Michael Flynn says:

    May I ask Chris if you have been invited to address the St Thomas More Society in Sydney ? The topic could be selected in conversation with the President of the society. No need to talk about Cardinal Pell. The Motu Proprio ” Vos estis lux mundi ” of new norms for the whole Church regarding abuse could be found in L’Osservatore Romano Friday 10 May 2019 on page 3. You could talk about the investigation of bishops. You would be a qualified person suitable to me but perhaps not the ACBC for the involvement of the laity. At 80 when Cardinal Pell loses his vote a new cardinal may be interested in the application of the new norms in Australia. Are you a member of the St Thomas More Society ? There is a plea for Catholic lawyers to join in the society web site

  4. Angela Finnigan says:

    There is a Church out there that’s much better than this and it will survive because it’s full of grace and truth. The purging is the work of God, the cruelty is from those who’ve turned their backs on their faith, gained authority and hidden their criminal behaviour. Thank you for your article Chris, I pray that the institutional Church would speak as clearly to this issue as you have and repent and believe in the Gospel, so that we of faith can trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church (I believe this) and not careerists and criminals.

  5. Andreas Wagner says:

    Dr Geraghty, I salute you on this article, you are a MAN. In these times of deceit, fraud, greed and untold depravity reported frequently, you had the courage to “say it as it is”.

  6. Ed Cory says:

    In an authoritarian environment, you don’t get on by rocking the boat, and George certainly ‘got on’. Clearly, George was one of those that saw priesthood through careerist eyes, and prioritised career over compassion, and certainly in these aspects, over Christianity and Christ-like behaviour.

    This example alone is surely a most compelling argument for major reform of clerical appointments, including the real (not nominal) involvement of the lay community in both the appointments and the oversight arrangements.

  7. Chris, I would like to know why the Royal Commission says George knew about Gerry Ridsdale from 1973. You might email a reply to me. I myself first learned about Gerry’s sexual attraction to little boys at much the same time as Ron Mulkearns, in 1975. I had no notion of the actual damage he had done. I thought he made a pass at a kid and the kid told mum, and mum told the policeman.
    Re sending Gerry to Sydney in 1982, that was to the Catholic Enquiry Centre away from contact with kids. You are inaccurate about the shifting eg. Mildura was in 1961, when George was in the seminary.

  8. Terry Fox says:

    As a prince of the church, Pell’s primary motivation was always to protect the good name of his principality, and hence his own good name. All other considerations – such as Christ-like love, compassion and the thirst for justice – were of little consequence.

    Thanks Chris.

  9. Andrew Collins says:

    To those who say that Pell was merely a junior priest during his time in Ballarat, I wish to remind them of the following. He was officially an assistant priest, but despite this, he was one of the most hightly educated priests in the diocese, having been educated in Rome and at Oxford. He was so highly thought of that he was appoiunted to the Bishops Consultors committee, despite there being more experienced and older priests. The Bishop also appointed him as the episcopal vicar for education in the Ballarat diocese from 1973 until 1984, and he was director of the Aquinas campus of the Institute of Catholic Education (1974–84), now ACU. If you can run a tertiary education campus and be in charge of education for nearly half the state, then you are certainly not a junior priest.
    Now remember that he was from Ballarat. He knew families here, and never mentioned to them that he knew that thier children were being abused. He never helped those children. He lived at St Alipius, on the same grounds as the school. Its not a big area. He lived with Ridsdale and Ridsdale said in court that Pell had walked in on him raping a child (as reported in Herald Sun).
    At no stage, even up to today, has he reported to police what he knew. It was always illegal to rape children. At no stage did he help the children, tell the parents or warn those in the towns where offenders were moved to. Yes the same can be said of others like Fr Adrian McInerney, but Pell rose through the ranks and still did nothing. And as for the allegations against him, I count over 12 people who allege he abused them. At what number does this cause people to be concerned? Child sexual abuse ir nearly impossible to prove in court, because there are hardly ever witnesses or evidence. Its one word against another, and sadly the word of clergy is stronger than those of a child or an adult that suffers from problems resulting from the abuse.

  10. Passionately written Chris. Well expressed.

    I think Pell’s biggest mistake was to dismiss the families of the victims (like the Fosters) as trouble makers, instead of co-victims who were looking to him, as their pastor, for sympathy, support and comfort – and decisive action.

    He did not allow himself to be moved by the indescribable pain of the parents whose child had become drug addicted, or who had committed suicide, or who had become mentally ill because of the crimes of his aberrant clergy.

  11. Gavin O'Brien says:

    A very powerful letter indeed.As a ‘tribal Catholic’ who attended Catholic boarding schools all my school years from 1st grade to Year 10; under Nuns, some obviously in the wrong job, Brothers, who on occasions were brutal, also in the wrong job , Priests who thought they were somehow special through ordination, a mother who could see no wrong with their excesses despite our frequent protests. I often wonder why I remain a Catholic. I have concluded that my allegiance is belief in the message of love from Jesus of Nazareth , who preached loudly against such abuses in his time, so nothing is new. I have just completed reading a history of the Catholic Church, so I think I have a deeper insight now. The moment it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the rot set in. There are numerous examples of abuse of power/privilege by the hierarchy and clergy since the time of Constantine . The sexual abuse scandal should come as no surprise as it represents poor training and preparation of clergy in seminaries going back centuries. The subservience of the laity, also going back centuries is a crying shame . No wonder the clergy and hierarchy were able to get away with it . They could do no wrong because they had the power and a direct line to God!
    I despair of the hierarchy accepting responsibility in my lifetime.Only a complete collapse of membership will bring them to their knees. No finances- no Church!

  12. Gerry Leahy says:

    Thanks Chris for your masterly nailing of the lying and hypocrisy of Pell whose arrogance was already well known and detested.

  13. Pete Rogers says:

    Great Letter Chris. Since Pell has come out of Jail he has been all about Self. I wonder if Pell has ever reflected on all the Clerics Parishioners and the Most Important us the Survivors the Impact of his Denial has and is still Causing. Pain and Suffering.
    The Truth is out now, it cannot be covered up.
    Maybe Pell’s Biggest Hurt is he will never be Pope what a Relief.
    Peter Rogers. Former Benedictine Monk who saw the Light and Left and Found Freedom.

  14. Malachy McGrath says:

    Much of what Geraghty says is thought provoking. However he has oversimplified a very complex matter, and has failed several tests both of law and Galilee theology. Looking at what Pell was confronted with in the 70/80s as a junior priest through the prism of 2020 corporate governance doesn’t help. What was left out of the redactions was what Pell did to change the scenery once he became Archbishop. Swiftly. A junior bishop in an archdiocese is just that – a junior bishop. A junior priest under Mulkearns was a minor individual in every sense of the notion.

    • Richard Ure says:

      The standard you walk by is the standard you accept. Surely this applies particularly for a priest who thinks they have a red frock in their knapsack.

  15. Fosco Ruzzene says:

    Dear Greg,

    I am one of those people who in the late 60’s, early 70’s joined the Exodus from so called “Catholicism” after years of childhood brainwashing in the name of “catholic education”. As it has turned out just about everybody else eventually did likewise. A friend captured the times for all of us – “it’s when I left the church that I saw the light”.
    For those of us who grew up in Melbourne, Cardinal (then Father) Pell first appeared during the reign of the Stalinist Pope John Paul 2 (now Saint Pope John Paul), and Cardinal Ratzinger (now emeritus Pope Benedict) who had just come from the Inquisition. The Saint and the Inquisitor were purging the progressives. Pell was a conservative. He was on television, talk-back radio, print media every visible place preaching the Vatican line. But he wasn’t really talking to us. We were not the dispensers of career lollies. Father turned into bishop, turned into archbishop, and then turned into cardinal. I never met Georg Pell, we lived in different universes. In my universe the future Cardinal was neither friend nor foe. Someone, at some time, did capture the man for all of us: “if what Pell says is Catholicism, then I am not a catholic nor do I want to be”.
    The Stalinist, the Inquisitor and the Cardinal may indeed be doing the handwork of the Lord: freeing people from Vatican-ism. It’s over! Will the last to leave please blow out the candle.

  16. Mark Porter says:

    George thought he was God.

  17. Steve Jordan says:

    Thanks, Chris. You have the legal and clerical experience to say it as it is, with regard to George Pell.
    What a huge expense it has been to the investigatory division of the legal system to have this declaration made by the Royal Commission. Had even a small part of this money been spent in prevention, how many lives would have been different and better.
    Has it all finished now? Not by any means. There are myriad civil cases to wind their way through the courts. Perhaps the Victorian DPP will re-instate the charges from George’s time as a young priest in Ballarat; any real physical courage will be shown by the witnesses prepared to be cross-examined for, say, 2 days, about horrific events in their past, where they were the victims, having to re-live all that while being forensically questioned by one of the best QC’s in the land.
    Can’t the law provide a better way of going about this?

  18. Allan Behm says:

    And, Dr Geraghty, to think that I was wanting to know what you really thought. This is a judgement and a half.

  19. John Edwards says:

    Thank you Chris, a magnificent summary of a flawed individual who has wreaked havoc far and wide by his sins of omission and, sadly, commission.
    John Edwards

  20. Trish Martin says:

    Chris this is a brilliant piece of writing. You have stated what many of us victims of clergy abuse have wanted to say in clear, eloquent language, and it needs to be forwarded to the Vatican State because I suspect that Pell’s lies were due to his loyalty to canon law rather than the judicial laws of our country. The Vatican god is a very strange god and Jesus Christ can only weep for the criminal mindset that has allowed for the destruction of innocent lives in their thousands throughout the world over the years. As a prince of this rogue Church culture it would be better for Pell to defrock himself and seek to heal the damages done to the reputation of the our holy Mother Church.

  21. Diana Barry says:

    I would like you to consider the idea Chris that Pell probably doesn’t believe in Christianity: how else could he do what he’s done and stay sane.

  22. Dear chris I write as your ontogical brother to second your considered
    Summaery of my Corpus Christi brother Big George.
    Surely he can find like Jerome a cave among the desert nettles.

  23. Wayne McMillan says:

    Chris, I don’t think anyone can say anymore than what you have just said about George. Let’s hope George finally does the right thing and resigns as a Cardinal. I look forward to reading your latest book. Thank you for your thoughts.

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