Catholic Church prioritised protecting reputation over children in Ballarat abuse case, senior sergeant says

ABC News

By Louise Milligan

A senior sergeant on the 1990s Victoria Police attempt to charge a bishop with covering up the crimes of paedophile priests has broken his silence, saying the Catholic Church he encountered was more concerned with “brand protection” than protecting vulnerable children.

Chris O’Connor, who led the force’s Child Exploitation Squad in the 1990s, worked on Operation Arcadia, an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prosecute Bishop Ronald Mulkearns for moving Gerald Francis Ridsdale from parish to parish in the Ballarat diocese, where the priest was able to abuse hundreds of children.

“In today’s parlance, the Catholic Church was more concerned about its name, its organisation, its brand, than it was about the very reason for it being — and that was the protection of the most vulnerable that were under its guidance,” Mr O’Connor told 7.30.

He was dismayed by the fact that, despite being told by a police officer that Ridsdale had abused children in 1975, the bishop continued to move the priest around parishes until the 1990s.

“Given that he was a man of the cloth, given his position that he was a leader within that organisation, he was morally bankrupt to behave in a manner where he knew or at least expected that by leaving this person or moving this person to another church, or district or region, would in itself expose other potential victims,” Mr O’Connor said.

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