George Pell conviction: Victims speak out

Phil Nagle was abused as a schoolboy in Ballarat. Picture: Jason South
Phil Nagle was abused as a schoolboy in Ballarat. Picture: Jason South

Child sexual abuse survivors and advocates have lauded the conviction of George Pell as a major turning point in the global abuse crisis gripping the Catholic Church.

Ballarat-born Pell was last year found guilty of sexually abusing two choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral during his time as archbishop of Melbourne in December 1996.

News of the conviction was met with grim approval in Pell's home town of Ballarat from victims of other clergy who abused children in the schools and parishes when the cardinal was a young priest.

People in Ballarat have never forgotten the day that Pell accompanied notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, his former housemate, to court in Warrnambool in 1993, when Ridsdale pleaded guilty to 30 charges of indecent assault, involving nine boys aged between 12 and 16.

"The conviction of Pell is a watershed day not just for the church but for Ballarat," said Phil Nagle, the victim of a clergy paedophile ring that would go unchecked by the church for more than 20 years.

"Pell was a larger than life figure when I was growing up ... he thought he was untouchable for years," Mr Nagle said.

"But we knew this was coming and we've all just all been here holding our breaths waiting for justice to be served."

George Pell outside court on Tuesday. Picture: Daniel Pockett

George Pell outside court on Tuesday. Picture: Daniel Pockett

Mr Nagle called for Pell to be defrocked immediately by the Pope.

"I want to see him get the harshest sentence possible for every crime he committed," he said.

"I want this to be a turning point and to finally see the Catholic Church be declared the criminal organisation it is, one that has actively hidden paedophiles for years, and for them to finally face the full weight of the law."

Mr Nagle was nine when Christian brother Stephen Frances Farrell who was teaching at St Alipius Christian Brothers Primary School began repeatedly sexually assaulting him.

On Tuesday, Mr Nagle was also quietly reflecting on his 12 fellow pupils who have killed themselves – out of a class of 33.

"I continue to speak out for my classmates who are not with us anymore, who couldn't be here, because they have decided to take their own lives. That's directly and indirectly. We are their voice.

Phil Nagle

A catalyst for Robert Walsh to report his abuse at the hands of disgraced Christian brother Robert Best and Ridsdale came when he saw a photograph of Cardinal George Pell accompanying Ridsdale to court in 1993.

He keeled over and vomited.

“It morally destroyed me,” he says. “When I saw the photo of Pell and Ridsdale I just had to suppress it to survive, I had to, so I did. It wasn’t until I started going to counselling that it all came flooding back to me.”

Mr Walsh said many survivors were still waiting on all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse to be implemented.

"Even after all this we're still fighting for our rights," he said

t is almost 23 years to the day since Chrissie Foster and her husband Anthony went to Pell to seek his help when she discovered her two young daughters were being raped by their parish priest, Kevin O'Donnell.

"I really can't quite believe it," Ms Foster said. "It's wonderful the truth has finally come out."

"It's astronomical.

"Everybody needs to understand that this means that somebody so high up in the church was an offender ... a child rapist and the organisation enabled him to remain in this position of power where he continued to protect other offenders for years.

"George Pell felt nothing for the children caught up in this mess because he was trying to protect himself."

Chrissie Foster

The Fosters rose to national prominence after they publicly accused Pell of stalling the family's compensation claim against the Catholic Church when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

One daughter, Emma, died by suicide at the age of 26, and her sister Kate now requires 24-hour care after she was hit by a drunk driver in 1999.

Ms Foster said the conviction should spell the end of the controversial Melbourne Response compensation scheme, devised by Pell, which capped payments to abuse survivors at $50,000.

"George Pell has attempted to shut down and silence victims for decades," she said. "That must end today."

"The wheels of justice have finally worked. But it can't stop here. We have to keep fighting to ensure that this never happens to another child again."

It is a bittersweet day for Ms Foster, as Anthony, a tireless and high-profile advocate for child sexual abuse victims, isn't here to see it. He died after suffering a stroke in 2017.

"I wish he could be here to see this, I know he is with me though," she said. "He would be saying justice has been served. He would feel vindicated at last."

Cathy Kezelman, a former GP who heads the influential Blue Knot Foundation representing adult victims of childhood trauma, also welcomed the convicition.

“For too long, hermetically sealed systems of power, such as within the Catholic Church have called the shots, protecting the church and themselves," she said.

“Cardinal Pell, like everyone, deserved a fair trial. He received it and was found guilty. Survivors also deserve a fair playing field. The crimes perpetrated against them have already violated them. To date, within the Catholic Church, it has been anything but fair, just, humane or moral.”

  • If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or beyondblue 1300 224 636.  Blue Knot Foundation 1300 657 380