George Pell was told about child abuse committed by a pedophile Catholic priest a decade before a police strike force was set up to investigate the man’s crimes, a royal commission has heard. The priest, John Farrell, was the subject of repeated allegations received by the church as early as 1984, but was jailed only after the strike force was set up in 2012 following media reports. Farrell is also alleged to have confessed during a meeting with three senior clerics to abusing five altar boys in the Armidale diocese in northern NSW in 1992, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard. One of the clerics, John Usher, later worked with Cardinal Pell as chancellor of the Sydney archdiocese.
Farrell, also known as Father F, was convicted in May of 62 offences against 12 victims.
Cardinal Pell, now a senior Vatican official, has been named in evidence during several hearings and has given evidence in person relating to his time in Ballarat, Melbourne and Sydney.
He is also under investigation by Victoria Police over child abuse claims he has described as “utterly false”, accusing the force of leaking details of its inquiry to damage him and undermine the work of the royal commission.
One of Farrell’s victims, who cannot be named, wrote to Cardinal Pell in 2002 when he was archbishop of Sydney “to bring to your attention the severe and prolonged sexual abuse I suffered” as an altar boy in the early 1980s.
The letter, tendered in evidence, names Farrell and says “I’m seeking further explanation of the manner in which the Catholic Church handled the incident” and its treatment of the priest.
Despite being told Farrell was abusing children, church officials in northern NSW allowed him to preach, moving him between parishes and then to Parramatta in western Sydney, the commission has heard.
“I’m prepared to meet with yourself or an appropriate person within the church … to discuss my situation in more detail,” said the letter to Cardinal Pell. A copy was sent to the then bishop of Armidale, Luc Matthys.
The victim later received a letter from Bishop Matthys saying “I am prepared to meet with you … to discuss these allegations” and that Farrell had been prevented from preaching in public since 1992.
Bishop Matthys, who then was directly responsible for Farrell, said yesterday: “I just took it that these things happened and they happened here.”
After meeting the victim he wrote again, saying: “I would again urge you to take this matter to the police. I believe the compensation matter may become clearer if you do.”
The next year Bishop Matthys sent Farrell for treatment with Encompass Australasia.
Following the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing, on which the above report is based, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released a number of previously unseen documents, including a letter Cardinal Pell wrote to the victim of John Farrell in June 2002.
“I cannot adequately express to you the sorrow and profound regret which I felt on reading your letter,” this said.
Cardinal Pell also said he had referred the allegations to the church’s Professional Standards Resource Group and encouraged the victim, who cannot be named, to report the matter to the police.
“I wish to assure you of my deep concern for the grave harm that appears to have been inflicted upon you and to offer you the help of the church for the future, the cardinal wrote.