Define 'complaint.' (UPDATED AGAIN)

Australia's ABC TV seems to have caught Cardinal George Pell of Sydney in a rather serious error. In a letter dated February 14, 2003, Pell wrote to abuse victim Anthony Jones to dismiss his allegation. Pell explained that he had received no other complaints against the accused priest, Fr. Terence Goodall, and that Goodall denied any wrongdoing. Yet on the same day, Pell wrote to another victim to verify his complaint against Goodall. And just three weeks before Pell wrote the letters, he had received a report from an investigator, Howard Jones, who urged him to accept the victims' allegations. Cardinal Pell's response is not reassuring:

[Pell] has today admitted that the letter to Mr Jones was badly worded. He says he made the mistake because he understood aggravated sexual assault to be synonymous with rape. The letter said: "No other complaint of attempted sexual assault has been received against Father Goodall and he categorically denies the accusation."

"Mr Murray was of the opinion that the complaint of attempted aggravated sexual assault cannot be considered to have been substantiated," the Archbishop wrote. Cardinal Pell says he did not agree with the investigator that Mr Jones's allegation of rape had been substantiated. "I accepted Howard Murray's two basic recommendations presented in January, 2003," he said today.

"The first one that Father Goodall be assessed for suitability to continue acting as a priest. This was done and then he was stood down from priestly activity. Secondly, that the allegations of both complainants had been sustained and that they be offered remedial assistance. However, I differed from Murray because I did not believe that there was sufficient evidence of rape where that was alleged.... [Mr Jones] was asking for $3.5 million in damages and I felt that that was a bit excessive, but if we could do something to ease his pain, his complaints were investigated thoroughly, substantially found to be true with that one exception and the priest was stood down."

In an interview to be aired on ABC Radio's AM program tomorrow, Cardinal Pell has been pressed on how he could dismiss the complaints on the grounds there were no other allegations of assault when he had confirmed he knew of another matter on the same day. "That was poorly put. I was attempting to inform him that there was no other allegation of rape," he said. "The incidents were run together. That was done badly."

What does the $3.5 million have to do with it? Read the rest right here.

UPDATE: ABC TV got hold of another letter from Pell to Jones, along with documents showing that Goodall admitted to assaulting a sixteen-year-old girl. Apparently the priest has not been laicized. Looks like the pope will have more to apologize for on World Youth Day next week. (H/T Abuse Tracker)

In the second letter obtained by Lateline Cardinal Pell once again contradicts the findings of the church's original investigation by layman Howard Murray into Mr Jones' claims of abuse. He wrote: "What cannot be determined by me, however, is whether it was a matter of sexual assault as you state, or homosexual behaviour between two consenting adults as maintained by Father Goodall. In the end it is a matter of your word against his." Documents from the case also show that senior church investigators were aware there were several complaints against Father Goodall.

UPDATE 2: It's getting worse. Australia's ABC News has received tapes of a police wiretap that recorded Fr. Goodall admitting to Anthony Jones that he did not tell a church investigator the two had consensual sex: "I certainly did not say it was consensual, I don't know where they got that from," Goodall says on tape. That doesn't square with Cardinal Pell's version. Striking a notably different tone, Pell says he was told by Goodall that the sex was consensual, and that he's willing to reopen the investigation "if this new information is verified" (Pell hadn't heard the tape yet). "I don't know who was lying," Pell explained. "It's very, very difficult to find out the truth in these situations."

A few questions: Pell now says that Goodall's statements to Jones "put my decision in quite a different light." When Goodall told his victim that "I certainly did not say it was consensual" to the church investigator, was he telling the truth? It seems likely that he was, given the investigator's recommendation to Pell that Jones's accusation be accepted as true. Presumably the investigator included this in his report to Cardinal Pell. So what was the basis for Pell's "disagreement" with the investigator? Pell told ABC that Goodall denied the charges to him personally, but Pell is very fuzzy on the details (he's not sure when, or how many times they spoke). Why would Goodall admit to having nonconsensual sex to a church investigator who, Goodall could safely assume, would report the information to Pell, only to turn around and tell his boss the opposite? Doesn't add up.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

Please email comments to letters@commonwealmagazine.org and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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