Cardinal's secretary says legal grilling of victim was wrong

Education boss shocked

Cardinal George Pell's private secretary has told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to child sexual abuse that the Church's vigorous cross-examination of a victim during litigation was wrong, reports ABC Online.

The Royal Commission is examining allegations made by former altar boy John Ellis, who was abused by Fr Aidan Duggan in Sydney between 1974 and 1979. Mr Ellis failed in his attempt to sue the Church in 2007, with the Supreme Court ruling the Church was not an entity that could be sued. 

Dr Michael Casey, who is Cardinal Pell's private secretary, was the main contact point for lawyers defending the Church against the compensation claim from Mr Ellis.

Though a Church-appointed assessor concluded that Mr Ellis had most likely been abused, when the case came to trial, the Church decided to fight him on that.

In email exchanges with lawyers, Dr Casey said they should 'knock him (Mr Ellis) out.' Cardinal Pell now describes that as legal abuse.

Dr Casey yesterday faced hours of intense questioning about the Church's handling of the claim. 'I would have relied on the legal advice of our legal advisers,' he said.

'And my understanding, I certainly understood I was acting honestly and fairly and the issue of not admitting the abuse in Mr Ellis's case, I always understood it more as a matter of non-admission.'

He said it was Cardinal Pell, who was Sydney's Archbishop at the time, who directed the legal team to be aggressive.

The Royal Commission’s hearing in the case of St Ann’s Special School continued in Adelaide today.

The case of John Ellis is being heard concurrently in Sydney this week.

The Royal Commission heard evidence from Detective Senior Sergeant Walter Conte of the South Australian Police, including the nature of the liaison with the Catholic Education Office and the Professional Standards Office in the Archdiocese of Adelaide during the investigation of Brian Perkins.

His evidence also went to advice from SAPOL as to whether or not parents should be informed about the abuse allegations, and whether or not parents should contact the media, given the risk, he said, of a mistrial. The Matter became public around March 2002 which is when Archbishop Wilson sent a letter to all parents whose child had attended St Ann’s between 1986 and 1991.

Conte described the strong and positive relationship between the police and the Archdiocese in working on the St Ann's issues. 

Later in the day Alan Dooley, former director of the Catholic Education Office in the Archdiocese of Adelaide, gave evidence relating to his role in the Archdiocese and his responsibilities relating to the allegations at St Ann’s. Those responsibilities included planning the response to affected families, assisting with the conduct of inquiries by the Catholic Education Office into the circumstances surrounding the allegations made against Perkins 1986-91, establishing a formal point of contact for affected families and communicating with relevant bodies, including the Archdiocese, the Professional Standards Office and the South Australian Police.

Mr Dooley’s statement details how various parties were informed about the allegations, contact with families, the St Ann’s Taskforce (set up to manage the response to the incidents at the school), investigations into how the matter was handled at the time, and payments to former students who were affected.

Mr Dooley said the abuse which occurred at St Ann’s was shocking and appalling and the immediate handling of it in 1991 was unacceptable. The hearing continues.


George Pell's private secretary grilled over legal tactics in John Ellis case (ABC)

Email had tried to pin blame on John Ellis (The SMH)

Pell aide says court denial was wrong (The Australian)

Pell's legal view long held, inquiry told (The Brisbane Times)

Pell's legal view long held, inquiry told (The Australian)


Former Catholic Education Office boss 'shocked' to learn of abuse at St Ann's Special School (ABC)

SA Catholic official apologises to victims (The Herald Sun)

Family seek disclosure from Catholic Church (Newcastle Herald)

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