The man who is now Australia’s most senior Catholic failed to remove a priest who teachers said posed a danger to children at a Melbourne primary school, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

Cardinal George Pell, who was then a bishop, was told in the early 1990s about Father Peter Searson, who was suspected of sexual molestation and seen visiting the boys toilets several times a day, the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into abuse in religious organisations has heard.

A group of teachers from Holy Family school at Doveton visited Pell, who was then bishop for the southern area of Melbourne, to make the complaint, former teacher Carmel Rafferty told the inquiry on Wednesday.

“The principal authorised the three year five and six teachers to make a deputation to the area bishop for the south eastern area at the time, who was Bishop Pell, to advise him of danger to children and the need to remove the priest,” she said.

Asked if anything happened after the visit to Pell, Ms Rafferty said she did not hear about anything happening.

The inquiry has previously heard the church took 15 years to deal with Searson, who is now deceased.

Ms Rafferty said there was a culture of “collusion, cover up and gross negligence” throughout the Catholic system.

A former principal of Holy Family, Graeme Sleeman, also complained about Searson and says the Catholic Church destroyed his name and integrity because of it.

Mr Sleeman resigned from the school because nothing was being done about Searson.

He said he was unable to get another job as a teacher.

The inquiry also heard former Archbishop of Melbourne Frank Little became hostile and evasive when confronted with an allegation of abuse involving another priest, Father Wilfred Baker.

Former priest Phil O’Donnell told the inquiry he became aware Baker was grooming a young boy and alerted his parents.

The parents spoke to Archbishop Little about the matter as did a magistrate and a lawyer, Mr O’Donnell said.

“It is fair to say that they received a very cold welcome,” he said.

Mr O’Donnell said the parents described the response from Archbishop Little as “evasive” while a lawyer and magistrate also went and saw the archbishop and he was “hostile” towards them.

Archbishop Little, who died in April 2008, said he did not believe the allegations, Mr O’Donnell told the inquiry.

Baker was jailed for four years with a non-parole period of two years in 1999 after he admitted sexually abusing eight boys between the ages of 10 and 12 between 1960 and 1979.

Mr O’Donnell said the Archdiocese of Melbourne had known about allegations of sexual abuse by clergy since at least the 1950s.

(Source: The Age)

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