The ABC reporter who helped exposed child sex abuse allegations against George Pell has revealed people thought she would be happy he has died. Louise Milligan, who wrote Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell in 2017, admitted receiving messages that assumed she would feel ‘glad or relieved’ at his death.
Ms Milligan, who has interviewed many sexual abuse survivors, said they are still ‘hurting’ and would consider Pell’s death a ‘sombre occasion’. In 2018 he was found guilty of child sexual abuse, but the convictions were later overturned by the High Court of Australia.
Cardinal Pell, 81, died on after a cardiac arrest following hip surgery in Rome, the Vatican confirmed on Wednesday, a day after his passing. Instead of being pleased, Ms Milligan wrote ‘I just felt numb’ in an ABC article titled ‘Cardinal George Pell’s death isn’t the end or a celebration for child sex abuse survivors. It’s another hard day’.
However the reputation of Pell, Australia’s most senior member of the Catholic church who spent five years working directly under Pope Francis, was forever sullied by claims he covered up sexual abuse in the 1970s.
Among the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2020 was that Pell knew of child sexual abuse by clergy but did not take appropriate action to stop it. ‘The survivors and victims and complainants of child sexual abuse in the Australian Catholic Church will not dance on the Cardinal’s grave,’ Ms Milligan wrote.
One of several pedophiles Pell had authority to stand down was Peter Searson, priest at the Melbourne parish of Doveton. A delegation of Doveton parishioners took complaints to Pell when he was Auxiliary Bishop of the Melbourne Archdiocese that included Searson allegations of sexual misconduct.
She claimed that for survivors who suffered abuse within the Catholic church, and for those who made direct complaints against Pell himself, the Cardinal’s name still has the power to invoke ‘a shudder’. That is because Pell and the church made them feel ‘they didn’t matter at all’, she wrote.
They also said Searson carried a gun, showed children a dead body in a coffin and ‘stabbed’ a bird in front of them. But Searson stayed at his Doveton post for seven further years and allegedly abused more children in that time.
‘This story of Pell’s (mis)handling of Searson is but one of the many that surround this man and make victims feel so numb today,’ Ms Milligan wrote. On Thursday it was announced there will not be a state funeral for Pell in either Victoria or New South Wales, where he served as Archbishop of Sydney for 14 years.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet did however say a memorial service would be held in his honour at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. On Wednesday Ms Milligan tweeted that it would be ‘a very triggering day for a lot of people’.