May 29, 2019
By Andrew Thomson
IN a landmark case for survivors, Catholic Church lawyers have refused to acknowledge that former Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns knew pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale was a repeat offender.
A Ballarat diocese victim of Ridsdale is pursuing civil damages through the Victorian Supreme Court from current Bishop of Ballarat Paul Bird, on behalf of the diocese, and is currently involved in a highly adversarial court process as the church’s lawyers play tactical hardball.
The record for court judgement is about $1.25 million, although confidential settlements are understood to have reached $1.5 million.
No Catholic church abuse case has ever gone to judgement in civil court and payouts have been confidential.
The Ridsdale victim was just nine years old when he was raped in a confession box at Mortlake in April 1982.
He said today that it was a tragedy that his life, and the lives of so many other victims, had been ruined by the inaction of Bishop Mulkearns.
“I just wish that the abuse had never happened to anyone,” he said.
Victims are now extremely keen to test their cases in court.
They also want to go to court as a symbolic gesture to represent the many victims who have taken their own lives over the past 30 years.
The church’s representatives previously acknowledged during the Royal commission into Institutional Abuse that for Bishop Mulkearns to appoint Ridsdale to other parishes, after becoming aware that Ridsdale had offended while at Inglewood in 1975 and in the absence of any clearance from a psychologist or psychiatrist, was “inexcusably wrong”.
The church acknowledges there was a one-off incident involving Ridsdale at Inglewood, but denies it was ever known he had a propensity for offending.
An affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by Dr Christine Atmore, of Judy Courtin Legal, claimed former Bishop of Ballarat James O’Collins was informed in about 1963 that Ridsdale had abused a boy in North Ballarat.
The church admitted during the Royal commission that Bishop O’Collins informed Ridsdale there had been a complaint at that time, Ridsdale admitted he molested a boy and the bishop warned him if it happened again he would no longer be able to serve as a priest.
In the current court case, the church denies any knowledge of Ridsdale’s repeat offending before he went to Mortlake in the early 1980s.
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