Ballarat Catholic Diocese Catastrophic, Abuse Royal Commission Finds
By Tessa Akerman
December 6, 2017
The Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse has slammed the leadership failings of the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat as “catastrophic”.
The commissioners said the failings led to “the suffering and often irreparable harm” to the child victims, their families and the wider community.
“That harm could have been avoided if the Church had acted in the interests of children rather than in its own interests,” they said in the report published today.
The inquiry into the vast diocese in western Victoria spanned from the late 1960s to the early 1990s and examined the conduct of Gerald Ridsdale, Australia’s most notorious paedophile priest.
The commission found Ridsdale admitted his offending to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns by late 1975 and the bishop, who died last year, knew Ridsdale’s conduct was known to Bendigo police.
“It follows that Bishop Mulkearns, knowing that Ridsdale had offended against children ... placed Ridsdale in another parish situation,” they said.
“It was inexcusably wrong for Bishop Mulkearns to have done so. It was an extraordinary failure for Bishop Mulkearns to appoint Ridsdale parish priest ... it showed complete disregard for the safety and welfare of children in the Parish of Bungaree.”
The commission also found Bishop Mulkearns’ further appointment of Ridsdale to Edenhope was “inexcusably wrong”.
Complaints were made about Ridsdale’s later offending at Mortlake to Father Brian Finnigan, who later became a Bishop, and told the inquiry he didn’t realise parents’ concerns regarding their children.
“Given the questions he asked of the parents, and the need to ‘confront’ Ridsdale, we are satisfied that he understood the complaints to be serious matters concerning an improper relationship that Ridsdale was having with the children,” the commission found.
Ridsdale was later moved to the Catholic Enquiry Centre in Sydney and the commission found the appointment was under the belief it would limit Ridsdale’s access to children.
“We are satisfied that Bishop Mulkearns’ overwhelming concern was to protect his Diocese and the Church from further scandal,” the commissioners said.
The commission also found a former Victorian Police Chief Superintendent offered Detective Denis Ryan a promotion if he discontinued his investigations into alleged paedophile Monsignor John Day in 1972.
Day died in 1978 without being charged.
The commissioners found Bishop Mulkearns, his vicar general Father Frank Madden and some teachers at Catholic schools in Mildura were aware of allegations concerning Monsignor Day by 1972 and then Father George Pell had heard gossip “about Monsignor Day’s sexual activity with children”.