'Keeper of Secrets' Father Ronald Mulkearns Has Nothing More to Say

By Aleks Devic
The Herald Sun
December 8, 2013

Former bishop Ronald Mulkearns is accused of covering up paedophile priests' behaviour in the 1970's.

Former bishop Ronald Mulkearns.

EXCLUSIVE: A FORMER bishop whose ill-health helped him avoid the sex-abuse inquiry is living independently and even holding mass at a picturesque coastal retreat.

Father Ronald Mulkearns moved priests, whom he knew had sexually abused boys, on to other parishes and ordered they have counselling rather than remove them from duties and report them to police.

In evidence, even Cardinal George Pell claimed Father Mulkearns had destroyed documents relating to child sexual abuse while serving as a Bishop of Ballarat.

Three decades of secrets from his tenure in Ballarat remain sealed because a doctor ruled he was unfit to give evidence to the parliamentary inquiry, stating a stroke had affected his memory and that he lacked focus.

But the Herald Sun tracked down Father Mulkearns, who still conducts mass, and found a coherent, active man.

When approached at his home on the Great Ocean Rd, the former bishop was resolute over his handling of paedophile priests between 1971 and 1997 - when defrocked priest Gerald Ridsdale was able to become one of Australia's worst paedophiles.

"To say I took no action is wrong. I sent them for counselling. I can't help if they blame me for what happened," father Mulkearns, 83, said.

"I didn't go (to the inquiry) because I would've been no good. I don't remember."

When visited by the Herald Sun, Father Mulkearns was enjoying driving, doing his own grocery shopping, taking brisk walks and even carrying a slab of Cascade beer up a small set of steps to his home.

His active coastal lifestyle has heightened calls for him to be recalled by the parliamentary inquiry.

The web of evil he oversaw included Ridsdale, Brother Robert Best, Edward Dowlan and Father Paul Ryan.

All four were later convicted and jailed for their heinous crimes.

The inquiry's deputy chairman, Frank McGuire, was critical during the commission that Father Mulkearns did not attend.

Mr McGuire said the ­inquiry revealed "the cover-up that killed".

"(Father) Mulkearns kept few records and destroyed documents concerning crimes that used to be hanging offences," he said.

"The church suggested in evidence this was a coincidence. I have called in Parliament for further investigations to determine whether it was a conspiracy ... Bishop Mulkearns may be the last keeper of the secrets."

Father Mulkearns moved Ridsdale to at least seven parishes in western Victoria, Melbourne and Sydney and sent him to the US for "treatment".

Father Ryan, for 20 years, was moved across parishes and was also sent to the US.

"I regret terribly what happened. I wish I knew then what I know now because I would've done things differently," Father Mulkearns said this week, but did not elaborate.

He previously admitted: "I did not want to keep too much in writing."

Catholic church leaders knew a problem existed. Archbishop Denis Hart said Father Mulkearns' handling of child abuse matters was "worthy of great condemnation".

Bishop Paul Bird, of the Diocese of Ballarat, said: "Bishop Mulkearns occupies a house which he acquired and owns. It was not provided to him by the Diocese of Ballarat."

Beach Bishop a man of few words

FATHER Ronald Mulkearns walks with purpose in a ­lonely life.

Whether it is getting the daily newspaper or walking to his rubbish bin outside his coastal home, he moves ­briskly, shoulders hunched ­forward and his head down.

His voice wavers when he talks. It is quiet, calm and composed. But he is also man of a few words.

He won't trip himself up when trying to explain his action, or inaction, of allowing paedophile priests to spread their web of evil.

"I'm 83 years old. I had a stroke," he said after being asked why he didn't front a parliamentary inquiry into child abuse.

"That's where I get myself in trouble because I can't remember."

His silence is unholy, but the pain of victims abused by priests under his watch is deafening. A bishop of Ballarat for almost 30 years, he was surrounded by people and his clergy, but now he appears to be just a man of habit.

Father Mulkearns will drive to the local newsagent and collect his daily newspaper and then check his mail and post a few letters.

He'll stroll the rolling hills of his surrounds and take in the crisp air. Even then he walks like a man on a mission.

Unlike many others in his community, he doesn't stop for a chat with neighbours or at the local shops.

Father Mulkearns' wall of silence needs to be broken.

The Beach Bishop needs to walk the talk. Maybe then, he will be able to walk with his head held high again.



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