Special series: Inside the Cardinal George Pell investigation - Part 2 The decision that angered detectives
In coming weeks Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic, is expected to find out if police will press charges against him for child abuse allegations concerning up to ten victims over four decades. He has always strongly denied the allegations. However, it’s an unprecedented scandal that has struck at the heart of power in the Holy See where is in charge of finances.
In part 1 of this special series about the child abuse allegations, concerning the third most powerful figure in the Vatican, Byline has revealed the secret police raids carried out on Melbourne barrister offices days before Cardinal Pell cancelled his trip home to Australia in 2015.
In part 2 of this series, Melbourne-based investigative journalist Lucie Morris-Marr, who first broke the world exclusive story of the allegations last year in Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper, reveals for the first time the sudden and controversial leadership shake up of SANO Taskforce in July last year which sent shockwaves among detectives and child abuse advocates.
Exclusive by Lucie Morris-Marr
He’s the top detective who led the investigation of allegations of child abuse against one of the most powerful figures in the Vatican.
But Byline can exclusively reveal Detective Senior Sergeant Michael Dwyer was removed involuntarily from his role as head of SANO Taskforce within Australia’s Victoria Police after he compiled the first dossier of allegations against Cardinal George Pell.
Dwyer, who has helped secure convictions of many paedophile clergy including Father Gerald Ridsdale, is now working in another role within Victoria Police after being suddenly “rotated out” as head of SANO in July last year.
His team of over 20 full-time detectives based in offices on Spencer Street, Melbourne, were left shocked and angry with sources telling Byline many speculated whether “outside pressure” led to Dwyer being removed from his role.
“Maybe he was doing his job too well,” a source says, “They had no reason to take him off SANO. He was shocked as much as we were because he was doing a fantastic job in terms of management of his team and investigating the very difficult subject of child sexual abuse.
“And most of all he had overseen the first brief of evidence on Cardinal Pell which had involved a huge amount of work with alleged victims and witnesses.”
Dwyer was removed from his post five months after it emerged that SANO had secretly been investigating Pell, 75, for over a year regarding allegations that Dr Pell had abused up to ten boys over four decades.
Charges regarding the allegations, which the Cardinal strongly denies, could possibly be made in coming days or weeks. He is residing in an apartment in the Vatican in Rome where he will learn his fate.
“Sometimes senior people working on child abuse investigations get removed on health and safety grounds and to give them a break,” a source said.
“But Dwyer apparently wasn’t given much of a reason except they wanted to rotate him without notice to another position.”
At the time SANO were waiting to learn whether they could fly to Rome to charge Pell.
The Office of Public Prosecutions later announced they could not recommend either way whether charges should be made.
However, last month it emerged the OPP had finally recommended police could charge Pell in light of further evidence gathered by SANO and detectives are expected to decide either way in coming days or weeks.
Byline has learnt it had been a “hunch” by hugely experienced and “well regarded” Dwyer which first prompted his team to start looking into Pell, who strongly denies the allegations.
“He just said to the team one day over two years ago ‘let’s start looking at Pell’ because some information was coming to light that prompted him to feel it was a valid line to investigate.
“It wasn’t some kind of witch hunt conspiracy like some media commentators have wrongly claimed.
“Dwyer had no agenda other than to do his job properly in regards to child abuse no matter who the suspect might be.”
After Dwyer’s sudden departure, leading child abuse advocates were also left stunned having formed a good working relationship with Dwyer.
Leonie Sheedy, the chair of Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN), told Byline she was “very disappointed” by Dwyer’s sudden departure last year and revealed she had even put his name forward for a prestigious police award for his hard work.
Other admirers of Dwyer also put him forward for the award but sources say his superiors at Victoria Police did not back the entry.
“Since his departure our relationship with SANO hasn’t been the same, in fact I haven’t heard from them,” Sheedy told Byline.
“I have no idea why they would remove such a great leader and someone who cared about maintaining good relationships with advocates.”
Dwyer’s former role is currently being held by Detective Acting Senior Sergeant John Radi.
When SANO Task Force was established in 2012 Dwyer was placed at its helm from the start.
“He created SANO really - it was all this vision in terms of its direction, the team, everything,” a source said.
The aim of the task force was to investigate historic and new allegations that have emanated from the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into child sex abuse involving religious and non-government organisations.
The task force was based within Victoria Police's Crime Command and comprises specialist sexual assault detectives, has also co-ordinated investigations emerging from the Royal Commission.
When the new squad was announced Victoria Police explained how Dwyer was picked for the job after working in the Sexual Crimes Squad. He had already been working closely with the parliamentary inquiry for the previous five months.
Detective Superintendent Rod Jouning, head of the Sexual and Family Violence Directorate, said its purpose was to ensure that all reported matters were thoroughly investigated.
"The Parliamentary inquiry - and recent publicity around the federal Royal Commission - has prompted a number of new complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse which demand the most thorough investigation,” he said at the time.
However, when SANO was founded detectives didn’t expect to later find themselves investigating Australia’s most senior Catholic.
If the Cardinal is charged it will be a huge embarrassment for Pope Francis who gave great responsibility to Pell as “Secretariat for the Economy.”
In effect he is in charge of all the Vatican’s finances and a hugely powerful figure.
Cardinal Pell has previously shown an unwillingness to return to Australia to give evidence in the Royal Commission, instead participating via video-link from a central Rome hotel claiming poor health prevented travel.
Last month Dr Pell said he was “hanging in there’’ awaiting the decision of Victorian Police on whether he will be prosecuted over the historic child-sex charges.