What did Cardinal George Pell know about allegations of child sex abuse within the church?
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What did Cardinal George Pell know about allegations of child sex abuse within the church?

New allegations of alleged conspiracies, cover-ups and broken lives have emerged, with questions about what Pell knew about paedophilia in the Catholic Church before he become Archbishop of Melbourne.

When the Most Reverend George Pell was still Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, he had the passing acquaintance of a priest in his region called Father Noel Brady. Brady is now parish priest at Resurrection Kings Park, a thriving western suburbs community where he ministers to a distinctly multicultural group of worshippers. He is an understated man and he blanches from any colourful descriptors of Pell or indeed of Pell's motives. Brady says he prefers to stick to the facts. And the facts he alleges fly in the face of everything Pell now says about what he knew about paedophilia and how he handled it in the Catholic Church before becoming Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.

Brady was ordained a priest in 1992 and his first parish, where he worked as assistant priest, was St Mary's, Dandenong, in Melbourne's outer south-east. Dandenong was in the southern region for which Pell was responsible for ministering as auxiliary bishop. Brady was appointed to St Mary's on July 8, 1992, and that date is significant, he tells me. About four months after Brady arrived at the parish, he says a young couple who were parishioners came to see him after Mass.

Cardinal George Pell at a mass held by Pope Francis at St Peter's Basilica in 2015.

Cardinal George Pell at a mass held by Pope Francis at St Peter's Basilica in 2015. Credit:Getty Images

They were extremely concerned about the husband's brother, who lived a bit further out in Narre Warren. The young man was a victim of Father Kevin O'Donnell and Brady went to see him. "I will never forget walking around the property with [him] and the telling of his story reducing us both to tears," Brady later wrote.

O'Donnell was by then a retired priest who was still living in a house on Church property in Dandenong. "It was awkward to say the least," says Brady of the living arrangement – particularly since O'Donnell was good friends with Brady's superior, the parish priest. In a 1989 confirmation ceremony video at Sacred Heart in south-west Melbourne's Oakleigh, where O'Donnell was ministering at the time, Pell praised O'Donnell and another priest "for all the work they are doing here".

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Louise Milligan, author of 'Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell'.

Louise Milligan, author of 'Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell'.Credit:Simon Schluter

There is no evidence that Pell knew it as early as 1989, but O'Donnell was a dreadful man, who later pleaded guilty to abusing eight, and then a further 12, children over decades at pretty much every parish he went to. His most well-known victims, and certainly the most tragic story associated with him, are Emma and Katie Foster.

The Foster sisters' lives derailed after their abuse at Sacred Heart Primary in Oakleigh to the point that Emma died of a drug overdose in 2008 and Katie, drinking to numb the pain of her abuse, walked in front of a speeding car in 1999 and was left with permanent physical and intellectual disabilities. Their parents, Chrissie and Anthony Foster, have been ardent campaigners for justice; they later described Pell as having a sociopathic lack of empathy in his dealings with them. But Brady, on the other hand, was very empathetic and was disturbed by what he heard about O'Donnell. "I eventually met 10 or 12 of his victims," Brady says. "I helped them and I told them to go to the police."

Back in 1992, Brady made a bold decision for a Catholic priest at the time. He decided not to be silent. "I spoke out about it at Dandenong in Mass in November 1992 and I was given a round of applause," Brady says.

Emma Foster receiving her confirmation certificate from then Bishop George Pell at Sacred Heart Church in Oakleigh, Melbourne, in 1993. Emma died from a drug overdose in 2008.

Emma Foster receiving her confirmation certificate from then Bishop George Pell at Sacred Heart Church in Oakleigh, Melbourne, in 1993. Emma died from a drug overdose in 2008.

In 1994, two years after his appointment, a parishioner made a complaint to head office about Brady for, the parishioner said, the heretic charge of questioning the virginity of Mary. "I got a phone call from George," Brady remembers. It was a Friday and Brady says he had a lunch and a dental appointment that day, so he made time to call Pell back later on the Friday. The parishioner's complaint turned out to be false, and Pell, Brady says, soon discovered that.

"After he conducted his heresy trial," Brady says Pell made a startling comment. "He said to me, 'You've been speaking out about sexual abuse at Dandenong and you should not be doing that.' He then said either, 'You are too close to the scene' or 'You might be too close to the scene.' " Brady can't remember which of the two versions it was, but he believes that is immaterial.

"I said, 'George, you cannot be more wrong, more so in Dandenong than anywhere'." Brady meant Pell could not be more wrong in his assessment that he, Brady, should not be speaking about this scourge and it was particularly vital to speak out about it in Dandenong. Brady wanted his parishioners to know they were believed and that if they had a complaint he could be trusted to help them manage it. Brady believes Pell's warning connoted first that Pell was trying to shut down discussion by him of child sexual abuse, and second that he knew there were issues with O'Donnell, who was on the "scene" in Dandenong.

He can pinpoint the date exactly. "I can pinpoint it exactly because I said in relation to the heresy allegations, 'I have been at Dandenong two years to the day and you hardly knew I existed, and then one complaint and I am summoned on the same day.' "

So, in 2015, when Brady realised this information about Pell was significant, he went back to his dentist – one of the appointments he had had that required him to delay returning Pell's call – and asked if there was any way of checking his records for July 8, 1994. There was. "They said, 'You had two procedures done and you paid the bill in cash,' " Brady says.

[In 1994, Pell] said to me, 'You've been speaking out about sexual abuse at Dandenong and you should not be doing that.'

Father Noel Brady, former assistant priest at St Mary's Dandenong

Back in 1994, Brady ignored Pell's warning not to speak out at Dandenong about sexual abuse. He thought it crucially important that he did. And as it happens, two months after the conversation he recounts with Pell, on September 7, 1994, Victoria Police charged O'Donnell with 32 incidents of indecent assault at four parishes.

Brady had always shaken his head at the way that Pell had spoken to him back in July 1994, but it wasn't until June 2015 that he felt compelled to do something about it. Jesuit priest and social commentator Father Frank Brennan had written a piece for the Australian Jesuits' magazine Eureka Street that was republished in The Australian. It was headlined "Call Off the Cardinal Pell Witch-Hunt".

Brennan is no great fan of Pell's, but he has frequently written of his dismay at the way he has been treated by some commentators. "Many Australians are baying for Pell's blood," Brennan wrote. "It's time for a dispassionate consideration of the facts." As part of that dispassionate consideration of the "facts", Brennan said this: "Between 1987 and 1996, Pell was an auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Frank Little in Melbourne. Pell has constantly claimed he knew nothing of abuse in those days and was therefore in no position to do anything about it. No evidence has been produced proving that Pell knew anything at that time."

Reading this made Brady sit upright. He searched his conscience and decided it was best he put his knowledge on the record. So, Brady wrote to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I have that letter, and the replies to Brady from Darren Latimore, the Australian Federal Police officer who is seconded to the commission to work with victims and also other witnesses. "[Brennan's] article contained an assertion that George Pell did not know anything about clergy sexual abuse in Melbourne until he became Archbishop in 1996 [July]," Brady writes. "I know that not to be true … My only motive is the truth be known and the chips then can fall where they may."

Brady was never called to give evidence. He was verbally told that the commission was very busy, had an awful lot of potential witnesses, and had to make a judgment call on who to fit in or leave out. Another royal commission source suggested it could have been an oversight by the legal team and there were "any combination of reasons, not always good ones, why some things have been overlooked because they deal with a vast amount of information from many, many sources".

Brady's ears pricked up again when he watched Pell give evidence to the royal commission from Rome in February 2016. He wrote to Latimore again: "Having listened to the evidence given by George Pell to the royal commission, I think the point raised in my email still has some relevance." Again, the commission did not call him as a witness.

Father Noel Brady did not approach me; I found him. He thought very carefully about contributing his conversation with Pell to my book about Pell. But he says he is committed to the truth. "People can handle the truth," Brady says. "It's the cover-ups that really hurt."

Father Noel Brady, who says he was warned by George Pell not to speak out about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Father Noel Brady, who says he was warned by George Pell not to speak out about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Credit:Darrian Traynor

There are other evidentiary alarm bells that suggest Pell knew about O'Donnell long before Pell became archbishop in 1996. These lie first in the minutes of the Melbourne Curia – the diocesan governing body – from the early 1990s. In among the discussions about whether kissing the crucifix during what's known as the Veneration of the Cross could spread HIV, and talks about a PR strategy for "special issues" (that's the euphemism they used for sexual abuse of kids) and undertakings to keep written discussions of special issues to a minimum (lest they be discovered in legal proceedings), are a number of references to Pell's work.

They show Auxiliary Bishop Pell was a committed and detail-focused local bishop who was regularly involved in priest and parish matters in his region. In the minutes from April 1991, there are two relatively oblique references to O'Donnell. The first is headed "Oakleigh Parish": "Bishop Pell said that Father Kevin O'Donnell is happy to stay alone in the parish, provided adequate supplies can be arranged." During the next April meeting, that sentence is amended. "[The reference] should read: 'Bishop Pell said that Father Kevin O'Donnell is prepared to stay alone in the parish, provided adequate supplies can be arranged'."

So, what was that all about? Well, two documents give a clue. And they suggest Pell was a kind of fixer in the whole O'Donnell saga. The first is a meeting many years later between Pell's later lawyer, Richard Leder, and a Father John Salvano. Salvano was assistant priest to O'Donnell. Salvano couldn't bear O'Donnell. It says in the typed notes of this conversation that Salvano had four or five meetings with Pell's colleague, the Archdiocesan Vicar-General Hilton Deakin, as Leder wrote, "re unhappiness". Salvano was unhappy with the "way [O'Donnell] treated children, women", said O'Donnell was "an abusive personality" and "I found his behaviour around children quite inappropriate". He said while he never saw anything happen, O'Donnell would "focus on a couple of kids at a time", brought one boy on a holiday to Queensland, gave kids money and Salvano "had a gut feeling all was not right".

While initially nothing happened after Salvano's discussions with Deakin, he notes that eventually "something did". "Because they sent Pell to see Kevin [O'Donnell] and confront him. Then [O'Donnell] retired. My understanding is that it was a forced retirement.

"I know he was not happy about retiring."

According to Salvano's account to Pell's lawyer, Pell was part of the reason O'Donnell was no longer at Sacred Heart Oakleigh and in fact was at a house in Brady's parish in Dandenong.

In 1999, Salvano gave more detail of what he had told the hierarchy about O'Donnell in a statement to a solicitor representing Chrissie and Anthony Foster, parents of Emma and Katie. Salvano, who is now Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, looked over the statement for Chrissie Foster some years later and agreed to her making it public.

Salvano had an awful time working with O'Donnell. In his approaches to Deakin about O'Donnell, he cites cases of serious violence – O'Donnell punching Salvano and having him in a headlock – guns and ammunition being kept all over the presbytery, large amounts of parish money being given to boys, boys constantly being present – day and night – and O'Donnell "mauling" boys in his presence: "Physical contact with the boys in an inappropriate way by hugging them, holding them around the shoulders or waist." Salvano thought it "incongruous for a man [O'Donnell] who was otherwise so cold and aggressive and not demonstrative."

He described the behaviour to Deakin as "highly abnormal" and believed boys had keys to the presbytery and let themselves in at all hours. Deakin informed Archbishop Frank Little. Salvano also told Deakin he believed O'Donnell was "emotionally dependent" on the boys. Chrissie Foster's solicitor notes at the end of the record of interview that Salvano became quite tearful having relived the O'Donnell years.

The Salvano statement also says that, despite the eventual decision to retire O'Donnell, the first response of the hierarchy via Deakin was to offer to find alternative accommodation for Salvano. Salvano refused – primarily because he was concerned about the situation between the children and O'Donnell. Katie Foster was abused during the seven-month period between when Salvano first began to raise the alarm and when Pell came and got O'Donnell out. Chrissie Foster believes Little, Deakin and Pell were "responsible for the abuse which took place in those seven months by Father Kevin O'Donnell, who had an insatiable sexual appetite for primary school-aged children which spanned the 50 years of his priesthood". And after they participated in the process of getting O'Donnell out? There is no evidence to suggest that any of them ever went to Victoria Police about O'Donnell.

Pell has never admitted any personal liability in this, nor any other child abuse cover-up. In some cases, he has alleged a conspiracy of others. Deakin, who is not a friend of Pell's and disagrees with many of Pell's positions, has been more forthcoming. In late 2015, he agreed that as a member of the Curia of the Melbourne Archdiocese, he belonged to a culture "motivated by a desire to protect the Church's reputation", that "collectively forgot about the primary need to protect children". He admitted the archbishop had "secret files" and said he was instructed to only tell Little verbally, when they were alone, about these cases.

But he also said they had "covered up especially the evil deeds of certain men against children … There were meetings, for instance, where everybody voted on things; like, for instance when a priest was moved or retired, it was because of ill health or something, when in fact it was because of child abuse."

There is another person who says she and her family bore the brunt of Pell's efforts to sweep the abuse problem under the carpet during his reign as auxiliary bishop and, again, lecturing a priest about not getting involved. Her story has also never been told. Her name is Eileen Piper. Her history is strange and tragic.

When I first meet her in 2016, Eileen Piper is 91 – a sprightly woman who seems about 10 years younger. She has dancing eyes, claps her hands in exclamation, calls you "darling" and insists on feeding you tea cake she's baked that morning. Eileen has been holding on to her story about Pell for more than 20 years and has faced the sort of tragedy that would make many others collapse into bitterness.

She and her husband struggled to have children and eventually adopted two. One was her daughter, Stephanie. Eileen and her husband were committed Catholics; Eileen was the proud sister of a monsignor, Kevin Toomey. Stephanie, too, was very active in the life of the parish of St Christopher's, Syndal, in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. "She had very strict morals and she wasn't a worldly type of girl," Eileen remembers.

But when Stephanie was a teenager in the 1970s, she came into the orbit of one Gerard Mulvale. Mulvale was a Pallottine brother who became a priest. He was based at the Syndal parish and would run the youth groups. While Eileen had had some concerns about Mulvale at the time, it wasn't until 1993, when Stephanie was 32, that Eileen says she realised that the concerns were well founded.

Stephanie attempted to take her own life. And when she did so, she told her mother what she had been hiding for many years: that she had been a repeated victim of Mulvale – culminating in a final incident in which Stephanie said she had been locked in the boot of his car and later savagely raped. "It was torture, what he put Stephanie through. And the fear, the fear … he strangled her with fear," Eileen says, looking off to the side sadly, "and she didn't want to tell us what was happening."

Mulvale eventually pleaded guilty to the abuse of one boy in Stephanie's youth group and was convicted of abusing another. A fourth complainant – a girl in the youth group – pulled out of the police prosecution. Stephanie also made complaints to both the police and the Catholic Church's Special Issues Committee about Mulvale, but her mother says she was belittled and not believed by the man who took her statement for the Church, the now-deceased Vicar-General of the Melbourne Archdiocese, Gerry Cudmore.

After leaving the interview with Cudmore in 1993, Stephanie broke down crying and said, "What's the use? Nobody will believe me." In August 1993, the committee found Stephanie's allegations could not be substantiated. In November of that year, Stephanie made a complaint to the Victoria Police Rape Squad. Mulvale has always strenuously denied the rape, and even made complaints, from prison, to the Victorian Ombudsman when Eileen later went to the media.

When Stephanie went to police, Mulvale was charged with rape and he was later charged with offences against the others. One of the other boys, Neil Bourke, who was dying of AIDS during the trial, made a statement saying Stephanie had made the whole thing up and, while he was a victim of Mulvale, she was not. Bourke retracted the statement during his court case, saying a Pallottine priest at Syndal instructed him to sign a statement for the Church: "The object of this letter was to make Stephanie the villain," Bourke told the court.

In 1993, the court heard, Bourke received a letter from Cudmore, thanking him for signing the statement. In January 1994, before the case even got to trial and she could give evidence, Stephanie took her own life. "She gassed herself at two o'clock in the morning," Eileen sighs. "She was a terrible mess, poor darling. She never really had any chance of living a normal life."

Bourke was devastated. "I felt that [my Church] statement drove Stephanie to suicide," he later told the court, admitting that the guilt of this had driven him, too, to attempt suicide soon after. With Stephanie's death, the rape case against Mulvale collapsed.

Eileen Piper with a picture of her daughter, Stephanie, who committed suicide after being sexually abused.

Eileen Piper with a picture of her daughter, Stephanie, who committed suicide after being sexually abused.Credit:Michael Clayton Jones

Eileen's husband was also sick at the time and he died that year, too. After their deaths, but before Mulvale was brought to court, Eileen went to look after her brother, Monsignor Kevin Toomey, who was in poor health. She was at Toomey's house in Mount Eliza in outer Melbourne one day when, she says, the telephone rang. Eileen says on the other end was Pell. "Kev said that 'the big boy' was coming down," Eileen remembers. At that time, Pell was based in Mentone, about half an hour from her brother's home, but she says he seemed to arrive very quickly at Toomey's door. "And I saw George Pell beckon with his hand, to tell me to go out, to get out of the room."

Eileen did what she was told. "I sort of skittled into the bathroom, which was the adjoining room." She was shocked by what happened next. "I heard George Pell say to my brother, 'Don't you dare have anything to do with your sister's case, now that's an order.' "

Pell left. "I came out of the bathroom crying, breaking my heart. Because I thought he was threatening Kev not to do anything about Stephanie, I was getting no help."

But fortunately for Eileen, she says her brother chose to ignore the orders of his regional bishop and to stand by his sister. "Kevin was beautiful, and he told me not to be upset, he would support me in any and every way I needed him and he would be there … we appeared in the court, we went together."

Eileen today is furious that Pell tried to bully Toomey over his niece's case. "The Church let Kevin down," Eileen says of her brother, whom she now regrets gave his life to the institution. "He worked so hard for the Church and to be told to do that, to save them, at my expense, it makes me feel that the Catholic Church," she shrugs darkly, "has got a lot to answer for.

"It destroys your faith in the Catholic Church. They're there as a beacon of right from wrong, but to me, it's manufactured. There's nothing really deeply genuine about it at all. It's just surface. It's all on the surface."

Later, Mulvale wrote a letter to Pell while he was Archbishop of Melbourne. It was sent from Ararat prison. Curiously for the time, hen archbishops were typically referred to as "Your Grace" or "Archbishop" in correspondence – particularly from a more junior priest and convicted criminal – Mulvale was more familiar. He began his letter "Dear George".

Eileen had been in the media talking about Stephanie's case and Mulvale was most upset about it, saying she "appears to be taking her place in the line-up for a compensation payout". There is zero remorse in the letter for any crime he committed – two of which he had been found guilty of – but he is full of righteous anger at the grieving mother of a young woman who had killed herself after alleging that he raped her. One might think an archbishop who was doing his job as a Christian and an effective leader might have reminded Mulvale, a convicted sex offender, to come off his high horse and get his priorities right. Eileen obtained a copy of Mulvale's letter, but she has no idea whether "George" ever replied.

Eileen has never forgotten Pell's conversation with her brother that day, but fearing it might hamper her attempts to get justice for Stephanie, she has never spoken out about it before now. It is contained in a statement she has written which has been used in correspondence with the Catholic Church as she fights for an apology for Stephanie. "He has hurt me. It's a wound that won't heal, until I can get justice for Stephanie," Eileen says as the dark cloud lifts from her face and she breaks into an almost beatific smile. "I hope I can live long enough to do that."

Eileen, seeking justice for her daughter, went through Melbourne Response, an internal church redress scheme for child victims of sexual abuse, but Pell's special commissioner, Peter O'Callaghan, QC, found an "inherent improbability of a brutal rape as alleged". As of early 2017, the Melbourne Archdiocese stood by that position, despite the Pallottine order paying Eileen $20,000 in an ex gratia compensation payment in 2002. Earlier this year, at the royal commission, Archbishop Denis Hart said he would "pray" for Eileen, but would not overturn the ruling.

Author's note: Cardinal Pell did not respond to questions about Noel Brady, Eileen Piper or any other allegations outlined in this article.

Edited extract from Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, by Louise Milligan (MUP, $34.99, eBook $16.99), out on Monday.

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