Catholic Archdiocese denies trying to save Cardinal George Pell amid conflicting accounts

BEHIND BARS: John Joseph Farrell won't be eligible for parole until 2033. Photo: Barry Smith

BEHIND BARS: John Joseph Farrell won't be eligible for parole until 2033. Photo: Barry Smith

The former chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney denied he was trying to save Cardinal George Pell from embarrassment by sticking to his claim about a paedophile priest in the face of conflicting accounts, a royal commission has heard.

In the final day of an inquiry into convicted paedophile John Joseph Farrell, Monsignor John Usher insisted the priest never admitted to crimes against children at a 1992 meeting.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard the meeting was attended by Mgr Usher and Fathers Brian Lucas and Wayne Peters in response to concerns about Farrell raised by the then Bishop of Armidale, Kevin Manning.

When the ABC's Four Corners program made inquiries about the meeting two decades later, the three priests consulted each other and agreed they did not recall Farrell admitting to sexually abusing children, the inquiry heard.

A letter from Fr Peters, written eight days after the 1992 meeting and tendered in evidence, records Farrell saying: "There had been five boys around the age of ten and eleven that he had sexually interfered with in varying degrees in the years approximately 1982 to 1984 while he was the assistant priest at Moree."

Royal commission chairman Peter McClellan asked Mgr Usher whether he was trying to protect the Cardinal by continuing to say Farrell had made no admissions at the 1992 meeting. Mgr Usher was asked about a diary note he made after attending a separate meeting with Farrell in which he wrote: "A seven point plan was presented to (Farrell) following CSA."

Mgr Usher told the commission CSA stood for child sexual assault but said the purpose of that meeting was to determine whether or such a crime had occurred.

Evidence before the commission is that Mgr Usher told an independent investigation headed by Antony Whitlam into the matter in 2012 that he "could not recall" what he meant by the reference in the diary note.

In a statement given to the NSW Police's Strike Force Glenroe in 2016, Mgr Usher said the diary note referred to a previous child sexual abuse against Farrell.

The commission has heard Strike Force Glenroe has investigated Mgr Usher and others over whether they allegedly failed to report Farrell to police.

Farrell was sentenced to a minimum jail term of 18 years in May after being convicted of 62 offences involving 12 children in Moree, Armidale and Tamworth between 1979 and 1988.

The hearing has adjourned.

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