"Catastrophic Failure" of Catholic Church Leadership in Ballarat Caused "Irreparable Suffering': Royal Commission
By Charlotte King
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
December 6, 2017
The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse has released a damning report into the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat, describing its handling of clergy child sex abuse as a "catastrophic failure of leadership".
The commissioners found a culture of secrecy and failures in the church's structure led to children being abused across the diocese over a number of decades.
"That failure led to the suffering and often irreparable harm to children, their families and the wider community," the report stated.
"That harm could have been avoided if the Church had acted in the interests of children."
The royal commission report is based on three public hearings into Ballarat — the first case study to look at the affect of child sexual abuse on an entire town.
The hearings, held over 2015 and 2016 in Ballarat and Sydney, revealed in gruelling detail the extent of child sex abuse across parishes, schools and homes in the far-reaching diocese.
Ninety per cent of the 140 abuse complaints reported to the diocese related to seven priests, with more than half of those relating to one individual, the infamous paedophile Gerald Ridsdale.
More than 100 pages of the report were dedicated to his crimes across western Victoria, where he was given 16 appointments over a period of 29 years.
The report re-states previous evidence that then-bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew of Ridsdale's abuse as early as 1975.
The commissioners found the response of the Diocese to complaints and concerns about different priests "was remarkably and disturbingly similar".
"It is apparent that the avoidance of scandal, the maintenance of the reputation of the church and loyalty to priests alone determined the response," the report stated.
The report came a day after the royal commission released a similar verdict on the Melbourne Archdiocese, which it also found had a culture of secrecy to protect the interests of the church ahead of abuse victims.
School staffed almost entirely by paedophiles
The report also issued findings around the Christian Brothers religious order, which operated six schools in Ballarat and Warrnambool, and their handling of abuse.
Victims who gave evidence at the 2015 hearings included ten students who attended the notorious Christian Brothers' St Alipius boys school in Ballarat East.
The imposing towers of the red-brick building still stand at the entrance to Ballarat, a silent witness to the horrors inflicted on its students by the robed men entrusted with their education.
Four of the school's brothers and their chaplain, Gerald Ridsdale, have been accused of sexually assaulting children — all but one, who died before charges could be laid, have been convicted.
"It just shows me what one human can do to another, it's the evil, it's the total evil that resided in our community, and it was allowed to flourish," Gary Sculley, who was assaulted as a boy by multiple teachers at the school in the 1960s, said.
"It seems like all the struggle, the fight, over the years has come to this particular point in time.
"The hope and the expectation that myself and a lot of other survivors have in this royal commission, is that good will come of it."
Commissioners have found the brothers' response to complaints was "grossly inadequate" and that they "completely failed … to protect the most vulnerable children in their care", operating within a structure "without checks and balances".
"On some occasions, the response to allegations or reports of Christian Brothers conducting themselves in a sexually inappropriate manner with children was dismissive," the commissioners said.
"Questions were not asked and detail was not sought, when they should have been.
"Few investigations were undertaken."
'A crime against humanity'
When he gave evidence at the royal commission's Ballarat hearings in 2015, Phil Nagle held up a black-and-white photograph of students in his year level at St Alipius.
"I would like all those here today to take some time now to reflect and remember our classmates. Our classmates who could not come to terms with the trauma and hurt caused by the abuse they suffered," he told the commission.
|PHOTO: Ninety per cent of the 140 abuse complaints reported to the diocese related to seven priests, with more than half of those related to Gerald Ridsdale. (AAP: Ballarat Courier)|
"Our classmates who took their own lives to end their suffering. For the victims, their families and the Ballarat community, this is a great opportunity for us to be heard and acknowledged. We believe that through this process true justice will finally be served."
He said it was a travesty that no individual had been charged with criminal negligence for the abuse committed in Ballarat.
"You know, it's basically a crime against humanity, isn't it? They're actually the criminals not us, and this report shows that they did know, and they did cover up the crimes and hopefully they're liable and put in jail like they should be."
Justin Driscoll is the Vicar General of the Ballarat Diocese and said the church accepted the findings.
"It's an incredible challenge for people of my generation in the church to look back at our past and say, how do we ensure that that is not us anymore, and how do we ensure that that never happens again?" he said.
"I think our safe-guarding and our professional standards are such that there's a level of rigour now that I think was clearly absent before, that will meet community standards."
The report details the wide-reaching effects on the community itself.
The current Archbishop of the Ballarat Diocese, Paul Bird, is quoted in the report claiming the community's been divided in its response — and that some do not appreciate the full impact of the abuse.
Eileen Rice is the current principal of the St Alipius Parish School, which took boys in from the Christian Brothers' school when it closed in 1976.
"We can't deny it, and we have to reach out to and be really sensitive to the victims and survivors, and their families," she said.
"There are still mothers of victims of these abuses who are in my parish community, who carry with them such deep pain.
"Being there for them is really important too."