Catholic Bishop Cared Little for Children and Left Them in Danger, Royal Commission Finds
By Melissa Davey
December 5, 2017
|The former bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, knew and did nothing about the sexual abuse of children in his diocese, the child sex abuse royal commission has found. Photograph: ABC|
Children were sexually abused over many decades by notorious paedophile priests within the diocese of Ballarat largely because the bishop at the time, Ronald Mulkearns, had little concern for children, deliberately left them in danger, and failed to investigate or report offenders to police.
This was a key finding from a report on Catholic church authorities in Ballarat published by the child sex abuse royal commission on Wednesday. The report is the result of public hearings held in three parts in 2015 and 2016 in Ballarat and Sydney.
The hearings examined the response of the congregation of Christian Brothers in the St Patrick’s province of Ballarat and the Catholic diocese of Ballarat to complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse by Christian brothers, clergy and other religious staff.
“There is no doubt from the many documents which are in evidence that, at various times, Bishop Mulkearns, the bishop of Ballarat, knew or strongly suspected that these priests had sexually abused children in the diocese,” the report said.
“His concern was overwhelmingly about protecting the reputation of the church and avoiding scandal. There was little evidence that he was concerned to protect children from these priests.”
Mulkearns died last year aged 85. He managed the diocese from 1971 and during a time when numerous notorious paedophiles, including Gerald Ridsdale, Robert Best and Edward Dowlan, were found to have been abusing children. Australia’s most notorious paedophile, Ridsdale, has been convicted of sexually abusing 65 children, although his victims are believed to run into the hundreds.
Most survivors who gave evidence about Ballarat said they were sexually abused by Ridsdale, and the commission found his conduct was the source of gossip among priests and in the community. Despite this, he held 16 appointments over 29 years as a priest. His appointments were typically short, and when allegations against him were made, he was often transferred to a new role or location.
Commissioners were satisfied that “by late 1975 Ridsdale had admitted to Bishop Mulkearns that he had offended against children and that Bishop Mulkearns knew that Ridsdale’s conduct was known to the police in Bendigo and it is likely he knew of the general talk in the community about Ridsdale”.
Despite being aware of allegations about Ridsdale, Mulkearns did nothing when a 14-year-old boy, Paul Levey, was sent to live with Ridsdale in the Mortlake presbytery in 1982 for more than six months. Levey gave evidence to the commission that he slept in Ridsdale’s bedroom and that he was sexually abused “all the time, just about every day”.
“We are satisfied that, by about April 1982, Bishop Mulkearns knew that Mr Levey was living with Ridsdale in the presbytery at Mortlake,” the report said.
“He knew that the boy’s mother was concerned about the situation and sought his assistance, but he ignored her. By this time, Bishop Mulkearns knew of Ridsdale’s admission of offending against boys. It is inconceivable that it would not have occurred to him that Ridsdale should not have had a boy living with him and that the boy was, at least, at risk of sexual abuse by Ridsdale.
“Bishop Mulkearns’ response to Mr Levey living with Ridsdale in the Mortlake presbytery demonstrated a total absence of concern for the welfare of that boy. Bishop Mulkearns deliberately left Mr Levey in danger.”
The commission conducted a data survey of all Catholic church authorities in Australia, including the Christian Brothers and the diocese of Ballarat, which examined all known claims and substantiated complaints received by church authorities between January 1980 and February 2015.
The survey found 140 people had made a claim of child sexual abuse against priests and religious staff of the Ballarat diocese. Ninety per cent of all claims were made against seven priests, who were each subject to three or more claims of child sexual abuse.
The highest number of claims of child sexual abuse were made against Ridsdale, with 78 substantiated or alleged abuse claims against him.
The royal commission will table its full, final report to the governor general on Friday 15 December. The government has not said when or if it will be made public.