Bishop knew of clergy abuse: inquiry

By Megan Neil
Perth Now
May 19, 2015

A BALLARAT bishop knew Australia's worst pedophile priest had abused boys when he moved him between parishes with Cardinal George Pell involved in at least one decision to move him, an inquiry has heard.

THEN Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale had abused boys "so he was taken out of there" and again moved to another parish, the abuse royal commission heard on the opening day of three weeks of hearings in the city devastated by decades of abuse.

Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC said Ridsdale was discussed at a meeting of the bishop's advisers - the College of Consultors - in September 1982, where Cardinal Pell was present. The meeting minutes say the bishop advised it had become necessary for Ridsdale to move from Mortlake parish, but do not disclose what reasons Bishop Mulkearns gave. "There will be evidence that Bishop Mulkearns knew it was because Ridsdale had abused boys in Mortlake, and that he had offended in this manner in 1975," Ms Furness said.

"Several of the consultors had been present at meetings, or were members of the College of Consultors, on each occasion in the past when Ridsdale was moved." Ridsdale was moved from Mortlake to Sydney's Catholic Enquiry Centre, with then Father Pell at a college meeting that allowed him to stay for a further year. Cardinal Pell was not on the college when Ridsdale was moved on three earlier occasions and was not at the meeting when he was first appointed Mortlake parish priest in January 1981. Ridsdale abused more than 50 children as he was moved between nine Victorian parishes over three decades, and also abused an altar boy in Sydney. Ms Furness said it was not until June 1988 that Ridsdale was suspended, 13 years after Bishop Mulkearns first knew he was sexually abusing boys. The Ballarat hearing heard Ridsdale was a prolific offender in Mortlake, with his replacement believing Ridsdale had molested every boy aged 10 to 16 in the Victorian town's school. Ms Furness said his behaviour around boys was no secret in Mortlake, but Bishop Mulkearns later told a Catholic Church Insurances investigator that he did not take it as his position to report him to police. Convicted Ballarat priest Paul David Ryan has told the inquiry Bishop Mulkearns knew about him in 1977 but did not revoke his faculties until 1993. "Ryan thought Bishop Mulkearns buried his head in the sand about the sexual abuse issues in the diocese," Ms Furness said. Ms Furness said there is evidence that Bishop Mulkearns removed and destroyed a 1960s psychiatrist's letter from Ridsdale's file, which said he could function as a priest in the future with appropriate care. Ridsdale will give evidence via videolink from jail during the three-week Ballarat hearing, while a nephew he abused will be one of 17 victims testifying. One victim, now 69, said a Christian Brother abused him weekly when he was 12 or 13. "He would make me choose either the strap or sex education and I always chose the latter because I didn't want to get belted. I should have taken the beltings." Abuse survivor Philip Nagle said of the 33 boys pictured in his 1974 grade four class photograph at St Alipius Primary School, 12 have died. He believed they committed suicide. "St Alipius Boys' Primary School was a place where there was true evil," he said. Ridsdale was school chaplain and four Christian Brothers who taught there were pedophiles.


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