Justice: Survivor Brian McKenna's brother and mother were both abused. Pictures: Brendan McCarthy

Disgraced Catholic Bishop remembrance plaque removed in Maryborough

Northern Beaches Review [Sydney, Australia]

March 17, 2022

By Neve Brissenden

[Photo above: Survivor Brian McKenna’s brother and mother were both abused. Picture: Brendan McCarthy]

In a landmark move for the local community, disgraced Catholic Bishop Ronald Austin Mulkearns’ plaque has been removed from the front of a St Vincent de Paul residential home in Maryborough, near Ballart, Victoria.

Bishop Mulkearns oversaw the Ballarat diocese during one the worst periods of clerical child sexual abuse in the country, including that of renowned paedophile priest, Fr Gerald Ridsdale.

Ridsdale, who was infamously protected by cardinal George Pell and is now imprisoned for 30 counts of indecent assault on a minor, was last week charged with another 10 counts of child sexual abuse.

While Mulkearns died aged 85 last year, the fallout of his cover-ups still live on in the minds of many survivors.

Present at Wednesday’s Maryborough plaque removal was Brian McKenna, brother of former Hey Hey It’s Saturday drummer Des ‘Animal’ McKenna.

‘Animal’ passed away in Thailand late last year after a long mental health battle following instances of childhood sexual abuse.

“He was a victim and his story has never been told,” Mr McKenna said.

The pop star’s brother delivered an emotional speech at the removal, noting the long-term effects of the abuse he and his brother endured.

“The suffering goes on daily, it’s not about the short-term,” he said.

Mr McKenna was abused by a Christian Brother in 1981, despite a 1972 report saying the abuser was unfit for the job.

“He was then shuffled around and protected by another member of the institution,” Mr McKenna said.

Mr McKenna’s story is not isolated, and survivors say plaque removal is not a fix to the institutional failures of the Catholic Church.

It's time: Victim advocate Ian Whitehead and abuse survivor Brian McKenna. Pictures: Brendan McCarthy
It’s time: Victim advocate Ian Whitehead and abuse survivor Brian McKenna. Pictures: Brendan McCarthy

However symbolic it may be, victim advocate Ian Whitehead said the gesture was necessary.

“The sight of this man’s name triggers trauma in some people of their own abuse. Protection of children is the moral and legal responsibility of everyone.

“Mulkearns was the primary person protecting Gerard Ridsdale, who abused over 100 children, some of which consequently committed suicide.”

Mr Whitehead thanked the St Vincent de Paul society for the organisation’s “immediate” response to his query to remove the plaque from the Kars Street, Maryborough property.

“We recognise the significance and symbolism of public reminders of this abuse, such as the plaque on a building managed by our organisation,” said St Vincent de Paul Society group chief executive Sue Cattermole.

“It is our sincere hope that the act of removing this plaque helps the healing and consolation process for people in the community affected by these events.”

Wednesday afternoon’s simple, but symbolic ceremony also included a bunch of white helium balloons, which attendees said signified innocence.

The plaque removal from the St Vincent's residential home. Picture: Brendan McCarthy
The plaque removal from the St Vincent’s residential home. Picture: Brendan McCarthy

A mere 50 metres from the removal site sits another Mulkearns plaque, outside Maryborough’s St Augustine’s Catholic Church.

Despite St Augustine’s priest Bishop Paul Bird’s attendance at the removal on Wednesday, the church declined to comment on whether they would follow suit.

Mr Whitehead and Mr McKenna said they would continue to fight to also have that plaque removed, to have victims remembered, and to heal themselves and their community.