Ballarat Bishop "Moved Paedophile Priest Overseas"
By Barney Zwartz
December 7, 2012
|Tim and Helen Watson. Photo: Justin McManus|
BALLARAT Catholic bishop Ronald Mulkearns repeatedly and knowingly moved a paedophile priest around his diocese and overseas, where he constantly found new targets, the mother of one victim said yesterday.
Helen Watson's explosive testimony to the state inquiry into clergy child sex abuse came as the parliamentary committee left Melbourne for the first time and heard from victims in Ballarat, the epicentre of the paedophile crisis, where up to 50 victims have taken their own lives. One of them was Peter Watson, abused at 15 by Father Paul David Ryan, and dead by his own hand at 24.
Before her evidence, her husband Tim at her side, Mrs Watson told Fairfax: ''For years I was in shock, and I couldn't be angry at anyone. Now, I have the anger and can be a strong voice for victims. I've got fire in my belly this afternoon.''
She told the inquiry that each time his abuse of children in the Ballarat diocese became known, Ryan would be sent to the US, and when allegations surfaced there, he would be sent back to Australia. He was sent to the US seven times, and in 1993 was considered beyond help by a program in Mexico for clergy sex offenders.
Ballarat was home to the notorious paedophile ring operating at St Alipius Primary School of Christian Brothers Robert Best, Stephen Farrell, Edward Dowlan and Gerald Fitzgerald, plus priest Gerald Ridsdale. All were convicted except Fitzgerald, who died while being investigated.
Quoting police evidence given at Ryan's 2006 trial in Warrnambool, Mrs Watson said Bishop Mulkearns was well aware of Ryan's offences in Australia and the US. Money was sent from Ballarat to the US for financial settlements for two of Ryan's victims there - $25,000 each.
Ryan was ordained in Ballarat in 1976, and there was an allegation of child sex abuse in his first week. He was first sent to the US in 1977 and again in 1979, returning after three child sex abuse allegations emerged. In Victoria, he was sent to Warrnambool, Terang, Penshurst and Ararat, where he abused Peter Watson in 1991.
He was removed from ministry in 1996 but the church paid for him to do a doctorate in the US, Mrs Watson said. He was jailed for a year in 2006 for assaulting two altar boys.
Mrs Watson said her son's identity was only confirmed in 2005. After he disappeared, she became distressed, but then-Ballarat bishop Peter Connors told her there were no records about Ryan and offered her counselling. When she later needed more counselling, she said he told her the church had no money and that she had to take some responsibility for her own healing.
''Meeting with Bishop Connors, I was humiliated. His arrogance towards me was despicable,'' she said.
Peter Blenkiron, spokesman for the 45-strong but expanding Ballarat and District Survivors Group, said the inquiry's presence in Ballarat was ''another Eureka Stockade moment, a massive day'' for the town. ''But instead of being about gold and greed and licences, it's about the greed of the Vatican protecting their gold-lined vaults. Rifles were used at the stockade, but we are using truth to fire the bullets.''
Mr Blenkiron will give evidence when the inquiry returns to Ballarat next year. He said 25 American victims of Ryan were joining the group, and one hoped to come to the inquiry.
All three witnesses who gave their evidence in public - a fourth did so privately - thanked the committee and said how important it was that it came to Ballarat.
Representing a church bereavement group that expanded to support victims, Carmel Moloney said the Catholic hierarchy had a ''mediaeval mindset'' in which the main virtue was obedience. ''Good men have tried to address this and have been sidelined,'' she said.
Philip Nagle, who was abused by a Christian brother when he was nine, told the inquiry of being bullied and intimidated into signing an agreement with the church after the church lawyer threatened him that if he did not sign then any compensation claim would be tied up in the courts for years.
''Every compensation agreement should be reviewed,'' he said.
Comment is being sought from the church.