May 4, 2021
By Tom Jackman and Michelle Boorstein
A former Catholic priest and serial child molester from Australia has been indicted in Virginia on charges of sexually assaulting a teenage boy twice at a Virginia ski resort in 1979. Two people went public with their claims of abuse by the priest in 2007, but no charges were filed until Attorney General Mark Herring’s office took the information to a grand jury last month.
Paul David Ryan, 72, recently served his second jail sentence in Australia for sexual assaults he committed against young boys in Victoria, cases that emerged after victims contacted a national Catholic sex abuse commission, media reports said. Ryan was one of seven Catholic priests or brothers from one diocese in Victoria who were moved from parish to parish for decades as complaints came in about their conduct, the commission found.
Complaints about Ryan began even before he was ordained, Australian court records show, and Ryan’s elders repeatedly sent him to the United States for sex and alcohol abuse counseling. He also was assigned to minister to American children.
Ryan is the second former Catholic priest indicted in Virginia since Herring (D) launched an investigation in 2018 into sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and possible coverups by their dioceses. The first former priest, Scott Asalone, a former rector in Purcellville, is awaiting trial in Loudoun County on a felony charge of carnal knowledge of a child.
Attorneys general around the country began looking into Catholic sex abuse cases after a grand jury report organized by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) found decades of sexual abuse and coverup by church officials there. Shapiro said in a statement Tuesday that after survivors testified in Pennsylvania, “Their righteous voices impacted change — three of the four grand jury reforms recommended are now law in Pennsylvania, 20 states have also passed our reforms, and 14 states began their own investigations into clergy abuse, as well as the Department of Justice.”
The Richmond Diocese said Ryan came to the diocese in 1979 and worked for less than a year at Star of the Sea Catholic Church.
In the pending Virginia case, Ryan is accused of taking a teenage boy from Star of the Sea to the Massanutten Resort in Rockingham County “under the pretense of a church-sanctioned outing,” the indictment states. He arranged for the two of them to stay at a house on the resort grounds and, in separate incidents, Ryan allegedly committed oral sodomy on the boy, who was younger than 18, the indictment says.
No attorney has entered an appearance for Ryan in Rockingham County.
Ryan is listed on the diocesan website as one of the priests accused of abuse there.
Multiple accusers in Virginia have come forward against Ryan, who also spent time at Catholic University in D.C.; a parish in Dayton, Ohio; and outposts for sexually troubled priests in New Mexico and Maryland. On his second trip to the United States, beginning in June 1979, he was again assigned to Star of the Sea church and school in Virginia Beach, where he worked as a school counselor, Australian investigators found during their first probe of Ryan.
Three men told Australian investigators in 2006 that Ryan abused them when they were 14 and 15 in the rectory of the church and at the home of one teen whose parents were away, the Virginian Pilot reported in 2007. The three former students also said Ryan gave them alcohol and marijuana, the Pilot said.
Two of the boys told a Virginia Beach priest about the abuse at the time, the priest acknowledged to the Pilot, and one of the victims also reportedly told the Richmond diocese and the Virginia Beach police about Ryan in the mid-1990s. The priest told the Pilot he expelled Ryan from his church.
It wasn’t immediately clear what higher church and civil authorities did with the accusers’ accounts. In 2006, Ryan pleaded guilty in Australia to sexually abusing youths there and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
A legal settlement was reached for two of the Virginia victims to each be paid about $37,000, an Australian investigator told the Pilot. The settlement required the men to agree not to make civil claims against Ryan, the bishops in Virginia or Australia, the dioceses or the Star of the Sea parish. A lawyer for the men could not be reached Tuesday.
The Pilot quoted one unnamed victim as saying his family was promised that Ryan would not be allowed further contact with children. Instead, the Pilot wrote, Ryan worked with children and teens for years in Australia. He wasn’t defrocked until 1993.
Ryan was arrested a second time in 2019, after a national outcry over Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Australia led to a national inquiry. Three Australian men said they were victimized as teens in the 1980s, after Ryan had left Virginia. Ryan was sentenced in July 2019 to 17 months in jail.
In a statement, the Richmond Diocese said it has been cooperating with Herring’s office since he began investigating.
Becky Ianni, director of the Virginia offices of SNAP, an advocacy group for survivors of clergy abuse, said Tuesday’s charges were gratifying for survivors like her.
“It shows the AG’s office is actively investigating. It’s not like you call a clergy hotline, and it goes into black hole. This tells victims out there: ‘No matter how long this takes, you can find justice, at least in Virginia.’ It’s important that people know to go ahead and report; it doesn’t matter how long it has been.”
Herring’s office said that Ryan was in custody in Australia and that Virginia would seek to extradite him.
Tom Jackman has been covering criminal justice for The Washington Post since 1998 and anchors the True Crime blog. He previously covered crime and courts for the Kansas City Star.
Michelle Boorstein is a religion reporter, covering the busy marketplace of American faith. Her career has included a decade of globe-trotting with the Associated Press, covering topics including terrorism in the Arizona desert, debates on male circumcision, Ugandan royalty, and how strapped doctors in Afghanistan decide who lives and who dies.