The priests and brothers who preyed on children

By Beau Donelly, Jane Lee
Sydney Morning Herald
March 1, 2016

Convicted paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale giving evidence at the Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse.
Photo by Damian White

Cardinal George Pell (right) with now-disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale in 1993.
Photo by Geoff Ampt

Cardinal Pell said he had heard 'fleeting references' to former Christian brother Edward Dowlan which he concluded 'might be paedophilia activity'.

Father Kevin O'Donnell.

As Cardinal Pell appears before the royal commision to answer questions about his role in the Catholic Church's child abuse scandal, just who are some of the worst offenders in Victoria?

One Australia's worst paedophiles, former Ballarat priest Gerald Ridsdale has been convicted of 138 sex offences against children - some as young as four - involving more than 50 victims.

Ridsdale was ordained at St Patrick's Cathedral in Ballarat in 1961. The first complaint about his behaviour towards children was received by the church that same year. Ridsdale would continue to abuse children over the next three decades

Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns moved Ridsdale to a number of parishes around Victoria and Sydney amid abuse allegations against him over many years before Ridsdale asked him for leave in 1988 "so that I may be removed from the kind of work that has proved to be a temptation and a difficulty to me".

Cardinal Pell said he accepts no responsibility for Ridsdale's movements when he was a member of the College of Consultors, which advised the Bishop on movements of parish priests. Cardinal Pell said he was never told about Ridsdale's offending while he was in Ballarat, including as an adviser to Bishop Mulkearns from 1977.  

Ridsdale and Cardinal Pell lived together at the Presbytery of St Alipius in Ballarat in 1973.

Abuse victim David Ridsdale claimed he told Cardinal Pell about abuse at the hands of his uncle Gerald Ridsdale in 1993 and that the Cardinal tried to bribe him, saying "I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet." Cardinal Pell denies that this ever happened.

In 1993, Ridsdale made his first court appearance on child sex offences. He was accompanied by Cardinal Pell, who later said he regretted doing so.

Ridsdale, who also allegedly abused children in New South Wales and the US, will be eligible for parole in 2019, when he will be almost 85 years old.

Monsignor John Day

Mildura sex offender Monsignor John Day was a senior priest in the Diocese of Ballarat. He died in 1978. He never served time in jail for his offences against children.

The royal commission has been told a 1971 police investigation found that the senior priest, who was active until the 1970s, had molested children in Victoria over 13 years.

Cardinal Pell told the commission this week that Monsignor Day's case made him aware of sexual abuse among clergy, but that he didn't recognise signs of abuse by Christian Brothers in Ballarat, where he served as assistant parish priest from 1973-83.

The royal commission heard last year that former Mildura policeman Denis Ryan had investigated allegations against  Day of child sexual abuse while under pressure from his superiors to stop.

His superiors later took over the investigation and cleared Day of any wrongdoing. Victoria Police tried to force Mr Ryan to transfer to another station in 1972, and he ultimately resigned from the force.

Victoria Police has since apologised to former detective over the cover-up.

Ryan, who wrote a book about his struggle to bring Day to justice, believes the priest sexually abused more than 100 children.

When Day died, Bishop Ronald Mulkearns said he had "faithfully fulfilled his ministry in God's name".

Brother Gerald Leo Fitzgerald

Brother Gerald Fitzgerald was appointed as a Christian Brother to East Melbourne in 1921 and held a number of positions around Victoria until the mid-1970s.

In 1962 he became the grade 3 teacher at St Alipius Boys' School in Ballarat. He was part of the clergy paedophile ring that worked at the primary school. It included Christian Brothers Edward Dowlan, Stephen Farrell and Robert Best, as well as paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, who was the school's chaplain. All, except Fitzgerald, were later convicted of sex crimes.

Fitzgerald died in 1987 while being investigated but was never charged.

Data produced to the royal commission shows 15 male victims made a claim of sexual abuse against Fitzgerald for the period of 1950 to 1975. The average age of victims at the time of the abuse was eight.

The data shows the first alleged incident occurred 30 years after he became a priest, at 48 years of age.

A number of former students of St Patrick's College and St Alipius Boys' School have given evidence that students and some staff members were aware of the risk of sexual abuse by clergy, including Brother Fitzgerald.

On Fitzgerald, Cardinal Pell told the royal commission this week: "I think it [used to be alleged] when some of the boys were leaving, he'd given them a kiss ... The general conviction was it was harmless enough."

Fitzgerald stayed at St Alipius until he was forced to retire in 1975. An internal Catholic report said he went into the school's dormitory to play with boys.

Brother Edward Ted Dowlan

Dowlan was jailed in 1996 for sexually abusing 11 boys at four Christian Brothers schools. In 2015, he was jailed again after being convicted of abusing 20 boys. County Court judge Richard Smith said at the time that Dowlan had preyed on vulnerable boys over a 14-year period at six different schools. 

Judge Smith said Dowlan had been in a position of authority and trust and believed he had "some right of entitlement" to abuse the boys in appalling circumstances because he had power over them and they were unable to resist him.

The judge described Dowlan's offending as brazen and said he did not believe he was remorseful.

Dowlan's first appointment was as a grade 5 teacher at Ballarat's St Alipius Boys' School. In the 1970s he worked at St Thomas More Boys' Regional College in Nunawading and St Patrick's College in Ballarat. He served as deputy headmaster of Cathedral College in Melbourne and also worked at St Mary's in Geelong, Catholic Regional College in Geelong, and St Vincent's Special School.

Data produced to the royal commission shows the average age of Dowlan's victims was 11. Dowlan was thrown out of the Christian Brothers order in 2008. He changed his name by deed poll to Bales in 2011.

Father Paul David Ryan

The first allegation of child sex abuse made against Ryan was in 1976, within a week of him being ordained in Ballarat.

He was jailed in 2006, aged 57, after pleading guilty to assaulting an altar boy in his parish house.  

The convicted priest told the royal commission last year that former Ballarat Bishop Mulkearns knew about him in 1977 and "buried his head in the sand" about sexual abuse in the Ballarat diocese.

In 2012, the mother of one of Ryan's victims accused Bishop Mulkearns of shuffling him between parishes where he continued to prey on victims.  

Ryan was sent to the US in 1977 and 1979, returning after three child sex abuse allegations emerged. In Victoria, he was sent to Warrnambool, Terang, Penshurst and Ararat.

On Ryan, Cardinal Pell told the royal commission he had an "unusual style". 

"I was never particularly supportive of his vocation," Cardinal Pell said.

Brother CCK

Brother CCK joined Christian Brothers Novitiate in 1960. The first child sex abuse complaint against him was made two years after he took his vows, aged 22.

He is the subject of the highest number of proven complaints against a single Christian Brother in Victoria and/or Tasmania.

The church has paid survivors of 37 child abuse claims $3.5 million in compensation, and three others $350,000 in civil claims. The alleged abuse occurred between 1963 and 1987.

CCK taught at number of schools in Victoria and Tasmania, including St Alipius Boys' School in Ballarat from 1968 to 1973.

Brother Stephen Farrell

The first allegation of child sexual abuse against him was made the year of his vows, aged 20 years old.

He was convicted of nine counts of indecent assault in 1997 against two boys at St Alipius Boys' School in Ballarat and given a suspended two-year prison sentence.

In 2013, he was sentenced to three months prison for another indecent assault against a boy at the Ballarat school.

He told the royal commission in a private hearing that when Ballarat Superior Brother Paul Nangle raised abuse allegations against him, he gave him a "long cuddle" of support and walked out of the room.

Brother BWX

Within two years of his first appointment in Perth in 1958, BWX admitted ordering at least seven boys to undress in his house, where he spoke of the function of genital organs and indecently assaulted them.

BWX worked at St Patrick's Province in Brunswick, St Joseph's Christian Brothers College Warrnambool, in the Diocese of Ballarat, and St Kevin's College in Toorak. In 1994, Brother BWX was sent to the US for treatment for child abuse incidents.

In 2003, during an interview with Towards Healing, BWX said he was warned seven years earlier by the then principal of St Joseph's not to "go one to one with boys or touch their genitals".

Data produced to the royal commission reveals two people have made claims of child sex abuse against Brother BWX, which occurred between 1961 and 1976.

The first allegation refers to a claim against him when he was 22 years old, four years after professing his vows.

Brother CCJ

Internal church documents reveal concerns about Brother CCJ's behaviour dating back to the early 1970s, soon after he began teaching in Victoria.

In 1981, he was recorded as spending a "considerable amount of time counselling the boys" and the following year he was moved to St Patrick's College in Ballarat.

In 2005, Brother CCJ pleaded guilty to 10 charges of indecent assault against students at Trinity College in Brunswick in the 1970s.

Data produced to the royal commission shows 17 people made a claim of child sexual abuse against him for the period from 1971 to 1983 (94 per cent were male, 6 per cent female).

The first allegation relates to abuse that occurred two years after he professed his vows, aged 22.

Father Kevin O'Donnell

O'Donnell is subject to the largest number of complaints to the church's internal compensation scheme, Melbourne Response. O'Donnell is a former parish priest at Sacred Heart Primary School in Oakleigh.

All 50 complaints against O'Donnell - relating to abuse between 1944 to 1992 - were upheld. The Melbourne Response has paid about $2.2 million in compensation and counselling costs to O'Donnell's survivors as of March 2014.

Other complaints against O'Donnell were settled outside the Melbourne Response.

He was charged with 49 child sex offences in 1995 and pleaded guilty to 12 counts of indecent assault. He was sentenced to 39 months' imprisonment.

O'Donnell died in March 1997, about four months' after his release from prison.

Two of his victims, Emma and Katie Foster, were repeatedly abused by O'Donnell at primary school. Emma later took her own life, and Katie is in a wheelchair after being hit by a car. They are the children of prominent survivors' advocates Chrissie and Anthony Foster.



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