Church denies contriving to deny abuse

A senior Catholic Church official has denied he contrived a tactic to support the church’s legal dispute that former altar boy John Ellis was never abused.


Michael Casey had been asked by then archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, to check whether or not the internal church process had found in favour of Mr Ellis’s complaint of abuse by a priest at Bass Hill in Sydney in the 1970s.

Dr Casey, Cardinal Pell’s private secretary, told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse he was shown a June 2005 email from him to the church legal team which said the church-appointed assessor did find “on the balance of probabilities” Mr Ellis was abused by Father Aidan Duggan.

However, the email went on to say that the director of the Public Standards Office, Michael Salmon, had mentioned there were reservations about Mr Ellis’s evidence and that as such the church authority had discretion to reject the assessor’s findings.

Dr Casey wrote the church was in a position in which “we can say the archdiocese has never accepted that Fr Duggan was responsible for the abuse Ellis alleges he suffered, either under the Towards Healing process or at law.”

On Friday, the hearing returned several times to the email, with commission chair Justice Peter McClellan pointing out that what Dr Casey had written was at odds with what Mr Salmon had told the commission.

Mr Salmon has said that he never doubted John Ellis’s claim, but that someone else had expressed reservations.

Dr Casey said it was possible he had misunderstood Mr Salmon, but that “I took care to try and capture it.”

Justice McClellan: “Dr Casey you knew when you were writing this document that the church was seeking to see whether or not it could legitimately defend (the Ellis law suit) by rejecting Mr Ellis’s story didn’t you?”

Dr Casey: “Yes. Yes your honour.”

When it was put to him by Justice McClellan that he had “worked very hard to contrive a way in which the church could deny the truths of Mr Ellis’s account”, Dr Casey replied that he did not “wilfully and untruthfully” misrepresent what Mr Salmon told him.

Monsignor John Usher, who became chancellor of the archdiocese in 2005, said he could not understand why the Towards Healing process in the case of Mr Ellis had taken so long.

Mons Usher, who had been heavily involved in a precursor to Towards Healing, said his approach to abuse victims was pastoral and abuse victims were usually believed and not asked to sign deeds of release.

He said Dr Pell approved the approach.

Dr Casey earlier said that when he advised Dr Pell that Mr Ellis was in an extremely fragile state, and his health was deteriorating, the cardinal advised: “We should leave it for a few months and then see where we are”.

Dr Pell is expected to give evidence on Monday.