Ballarat Diocese's "Catastrophic" Failure LED to More Abuse, Commission Finds
By Melissa Cunningham
December 7, 2017
A "catastrophic and inexcusable" failure by the Catholic Church in Ballarat to deal with paedophile priests led to scores of children being abused, a royal commission has found.?
The response within the diocese of Ballarat to abuse complaints spanning more than three decades was driven by a desire to avoid scandal and protect the church's reputation, the report by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found.
"That harm could have been avoided if the Church had acted in the interests of children rather than in its own interests," the commission said in a report released on Wednesday.
The findings, which come a day after a similarly damning report about the Melbourne archdiocese, said "there was a tendency by clergy in the diocese to treat complaints or allegations of child sexual abuse dismissively and in favour of the priest who was the subject of the allegation".
As with the Melbourne document, much of the report is redacted, and no findings are made on the conduct of Cardinal George Pell, who began his career as a priest in Ballarat.
In the report, one former St Patrick's College student describes the cardinal as someone who he thought might one day be Pope. This sentence is followed by 12 pages of redacted information.
In the wake of Tuesday's damning findings on the Melbourne archdiocese, former Archbishop Frank Little will have his name removed from a building at his old school.
St Patrick's College in Ballarat said on Wednesday that Archbishop Little's name would be immediately taken off a building that had been named in his honour.
|Ribbons tied to the front gate of St Patrick's College in support of abuse victims. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer|
The school will also revoke his status as an inducted Legend of the College.
One survivor of clerical abuse, Paul Levey, said the commission's findings were a long-awaited acknowledgement of the church's denials of his family's suffering.
|Former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns died earlier this year. Photo: Supplied|
Mr Levey was raped daily when he was 14 and living with Australia's most notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale at a presbytery in Mortlake in 1982.
The commissioners found then Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns repeatedly ignored Mr Levy's mother's pleas to have him released from Ridsdale's care, despite knowing the priest had a history of sexually abusing children.
|Paul Levey aged 11. Photo: Supplied|
"This was an extraordinary and inexcusable failure by Bishop Mulkearns," the commissioners found.
"The most likely explanation ... was that they were trying to minimise the risk of scandal and protect the reputation of the Catholic Church."
|Paul Levey with Gerald Ridsdale in 1982. |
"The church tried to silence my mum and I for so long, but the royal commission has taken that privilege away from them," Mr Levey said.
"This has always been our truth and now it is out there in black and white for the world to see."
|Helen Watson lost her son to suicide years after he was raped by a Catholic priest. Photo: Ballarat Courier|
For some, the findings come too late.
The night Peter Watson told his mum Helen he'd been sexually abused by disgraced Ballarat diocese priest Paul David Ryan she later found him in bed clutching a shotgun.
|Paul Levey in Rome in 2016. Photo: Melissa Cunningham|
It would be the first of many attempts Peter would make to end his own life.
Peter was 15 when he was raped and the abuse set him on a path of self-destruction that ended with him taking his life at 24.
|Peter Watson, killed himself in 1999. Photo: Supplied|
He killed himself in a boat shed in Aspendale late in 1999, but it was six years before his body was formally identified after a check of fingerprint records.
"I just feel the church has raped my soul," Ms Watson said.
"It's a bittersweet day for me, but after Peter died, I never thought I'd see a royal commission."
She praised the commissioners for shining the light on the child sexual abuse scandal, but said she felt the inquiry didn't delve deeply enough into Victoria Police's role in the cover-up.
"There are two things that need to happen," Ms Watson said.
"Firstly, a redress system must be implemented which provides support to victims through the tough parts of their lives and counselling to their families if they need it.
"But they also need to make sure not just the Catholic Church but Victoria Police are held accountable for this entire sad history because there were police officers who knew what was happening, they minimised it, they didn't investigate it fully, the commission has only skirted the surface of this."
Priests were moved to another parish if allegations emerged where they often offended again, the commissioners found.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Christian Brothers operated six primary and secondary schools in Ballarat and Warrnambool, staffed by some of the country's most notorious paedophiles.
Among them were convicted paedophiles Robert Best, Stephen Francis Farrell, Edward Dowlan, Gerald Fitzgerald and Ridsdale who worked at St Patrick's College and St Alipius Boys' School.
The report described the Christian Brothers' response to allegations of sexual abuse as "grossly inadequate", and said brothers were regularly shifted to a new location after an allegation had been made.
Another Christian Brother, Gerald Leo Fitzgerald, died in 1987, before any charges were laid against him despite mounting allegations of sexual misconduct, including claims he regularly kissed and swam naked with boys.
Despite senior Christian Brothers figures knowing of allegations, he was shifted into retirement at the Brothers' residence at St Patrick's, where he continued to have access to children.
Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird said the mishandling of complaints to clergy led to unnecessary suffering for victims and their families and added the diocese now has the policies required to provide a safe environment for children.
"Where the failures of my predecessors allowed abuse to occur, I offer my heartfelt apology," he said.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart offered a similar apology on Tuesday, saying: "Where this abuse occurred resulting from the passivity or inactivity of predecessors of mine, I sincerely apologise and accept responsibility,"
St Patricks College and St Alipius Parish School will both respond to the findings of the report in the coming days.