Ronald Mulkearns, bishop accused of child sex abuse cover up, dies

The Guardian
April 4, 2016

One victim, Stephen Woods, said former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns should get only a ‘small, modest funeral’ out of respect for the abused.

Ronald Mulkearns, who was bishop of Ballarat during some of the worst episodes of child sex abuse perpetuated by priests, has died aged 86.

Mulkearns, who had colon cancer, died on Monday morning, the Catholic diocese of Ballarat said.

The child abuse royal commission has heard that Mulkearns, who was bishop between 1971 and 1997, knew the paedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale and others were sexually abusing children and moved them between parishes. He also destroyed documents in Ridsdale’s file, the commission heard.

One victim, Stephen Woods, who was abused as a child in Ballarat, said on Monday the church should not stage a high-profile funeral for Mulkearns.

“The most sensitive route for the Catholic church in Ballarat now is to have a very modest funeral, where it is recognised that the legacy of this man is one of trauma and devastation of individuals, of families and of communities,” Woods told Guardian Australia.

Mulkearns gave evidence before the royal commission into institutional responses into child sexual abuse in February after the head of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan, refused to accept an application from Mulkearns’ lawyers that he was too ill to give evidence.

McClellan required Mulkearns to give evidence via videolink from his nursing home. When he appeared before the commission later that month, Mulkearns told the commission he had retired early in part due to his failure to get to grips with the prevalence of offending.

“I certainly regret that I didn’t deal differently with paedophilia,” he told the commission. “We had no idea, or I had no idea, of the effects of the incidents that took place.”

The commission heard that Mulkearns was involved in decisions to move suspected paedophiles between parishes rather than report them to police or expel them. A royal commission cannot prosecute people, but it can refer matters to police for further investigation.

Woods said it was a relief that Mulkearns had been made to face the commission before he died, though he claimed in many of his answers not to recall key pieces of information.

“The royal commission showed us that even when you are old and ill, you still will be held accountable by authorities that have courage, the sort of courage that Mulkearns did not show, not to his victims and not to their families,” he said.

When Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, gave evidence before the commission in March, he laid a lot of the blame for the church’s failure to address child sexual abuse on Mulkearns.

“The responsibility lay with the person who did not act when he should have and that would certainly seem to have been Bishop Mulkearns for sure,” Pell told the commission.

Leonie Sheedy, who heads the Care Leavers Australia Network for survivors of abuse within foster care and orphanages described Mulkearns as “one of the worst enablers of paedophiles in the church’s history”.

“He failed to report any crimes,” she told Guardian Australia. “He failed to acknowledge that so many priests were abusing children despite the complaints made to him. He knew the reputation of a list of paedophile priests, but the reputation of the church was foremost in his mind.”

The royal commission into institutional responses into child sexual abuse was established in 2013 by the then Labor government to investigate how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse. Its work is expected to continue until 2017.


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