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Diocese of Geraldton Bishop speaks out about Cardinal George Pell’s death, & support for sexual abuse victims

Jessica MoroneyGeraldton Guardian
Cardinal George Pell at the Holy See Press Office, Vatican city in June 2017 after being charged with historical  sex offences.
Camera IconCardinal George Pell at the Holy See Press Office, Vatican city in June 2017 after being charged with historical sex offences. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Catholic Bishop of Geraldton Michael Morrissey has urged victims of child sexual abuse within the church that it’s never too late to speak up and break the silence in the wake of the sudden death of Cardinal George Pell.

Cardinal Pell died on Tuesday from complications following hip surgery in Rome, at the age of 81.

He had been a priest since 1966 and became a cardinal in 2003. Prior to that, he has been Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001 and Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014.

In 2018, Cardinal Pell was convicted of molesting two teenage choirboys while he was the Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, but continuously protested his innocence.

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He served 13 months of his six-year sentence before the High Court quashed his convictions in 2022.

Bishop Morrissey met Cardinal Pell for the first time as a young priest when he was an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne between 1987 and 1996 and found him affable and “easy to talk to”.

Bishop Michael Morrissey is head of the Geraldton Diocese of the Catholic Church.
Picture: Geraldton Diocese
Camera IconBishop Michael Morrissey is head of the Geraldton Diocese of the Catholic Church. Credit: Supplied/Geraldton Diocese

“I met him after I became a bishop in 2017. I was in Sydney and he’d come to visit from Rome, I met him briefly and said hello,” he said.

“He was interested in justice . . . he was deeply concerned about refugees treatment and being put in camps.”

Despite the claims Cardinal Pell was aware of but didn’t take action to stop child sexual abuse by clergy, Bishop Morrissey said his death would have minimal impact locally.

“His influence in this area would have been minimal, he didn’t give direction or guidance,” he said.

Bishop Morrissey said there would be different reactions in the community — some would be saddened, others like himself would be shocked. He said victims of sexual abuse might find the death a burden because of the publicity surrounding the Cardinal.

“If anyone is experiencing any difficulty or holds any concerns, they are welcome to contact the (Catholic Church’s) WA Professional Standards Office,” he said.

“I’ve had to deal with situations and with many people sadly it takes a lot of courage to come forward and speak.”

Bishop Morrissey said he cared for the people more than he cared for the church, and hoped people lived their life rather than let a terrible experience control it.

“I would encourage them to go to the Professional Standards Office, or if they could, go to the police for the matter. I would not make any judgement,” he said.

“Any situation like that is traumatic and is something that should never happen whether it’s someone inside a church or out in the public. To think that it’s OK to do something entirely inappropriate with people under the age of 18 it simply shouldn’t happen.”

“Don’t put it off, even if the person is deceased it’s important they come forward.”

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