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Cardinal George Pell Knew of Clergy Sex Abuse, Australian Report Finds

That conclusion was reached in 2017 by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which issued a lengthy report on the victimization of children within the Catholic Church and other institutions in Australia. But its findings about Cardinal Pell were redacted from the original report to avoid prejudicing potential jurors in the cardinal’s pending trials on sexual abuse charges.

Cardinal Pell, who had been the Vatican’s chief financial officer and an adviser to Pope Francis, was found guilty in 2018 of sexually abusing two 13-year-old boys in 1996, making him the highest-ranking Catholic leader to be convicted of a crime in the church’s sexual abuse crisis. But Australia’s highest court overturned the conviction last month, saying that there was “a significant possibility” that he was not guilty.

That decision cleared the way for the release of the Royal Commission’s findings about Cardinal Pell from its 2017 report, which were made public on Thursday.

The commission found that the cardinal had been “conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy” as long ago as the 1970s, when he was a priest in the diocese of Ballarat, and that he had failed to report priests who were suspected of abuse.

In Ballarat, the future cardinal worked closely with another priest, Gerald Ridsdale, who was later convicted of sexually abusing 65 children from the early 1960s to the late 1980s. The report found that Cardinal Pell was aware that Mr. Ridsdale had taken boys on overnight camping trips, and that the issue of clergy sexual abuse was “on his radar” at the time.

The commission, which interviewed Cardinal Pell in preparation for its report, said it was difficult to believe his claims that his superiors in the church had deceived him about Mr. Ridsdale’s guilt and that of another priest accused of abuse.

Cardinal Pell said in a statement that he was “surprised by some of the views of the Royal Commission about his actions” and that those views were not “supported by evidence.”

The commission’s 2017 report found that tens of thousands of children were victimized in churches, schools and other Australian institutions over a period of decades. Survivors of clergy abuse, many of whom were dismayed by the reversal of Cardinal Pell’s conviction, said on Thursday that they took comfort in the release of the commission’s findings about the cardinal.

The newly released material included an account by Timothy Green, who said that in 1974, when he was 12 or 13 years old, he told the future cardinal that another priest had been abusing boys. Then-Father Pell replied, “Don’t be ridiculous,” according to Mr. Green.

“It is utterly heartbreaking that his complaint was not acted upon,” Vivian Waller, a lawyer whose firm represents Mr. Green and hundreds of others who have filed abuse claims against the Catholic Church in Australia, said in a statement.

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