Gross violations by clergy in Ballarat

Sky News
May 19, 2015

The impacts of the gross violations of children by Catholic clergy in Ballarat has been felt throughout the community, the royal commission chair says.

Justice Peter McClellan says a public hearing in Ballarat will hear the personal stories of a number of survivors as well as perpetrators of the abuse.

'That evidence will describe the gross violations of individuals by ordained members of the Catholic Church,' Justice McClellan said on Tuesday.Justice McClellan was told of the significant scale of the abuse in the Ballarat region during private sessions in the Victorian regional city.

He said the great suffering of many people extended beyond individual survivors to their families and friends.

'The impacts have been felt throughout the community,' he said.

He said the evidence from perpetrators would help with an understanding of why ordained members of the Catholic Church became abusers and how the church responded to abuse allegations.

'It will be particularly important in helping the community to learn of the knowledge that people in authority in the church had of the abuse and will assist us to assess the response of those in charge.'

He said the evidence of perpetrators, including convicted priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale, may be confronting for some people.

'However without the evidence of perpetrators, the true story of the response of the church in Ballarat may never be completely revealed,' he said.

Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC said Ballarat community members had told of a large number of reported suicides and premature deaths, and significant social, health and mental health issues for survivors.

They had also told of a lack of community cohesion and a loss of faith and connectedness to the Catholic Church communities.

The royal commission would hear the impact of the abuse was still ongoing.

Ms Furness said Timothy Green, who was abused at St Patrick's College, would give evidence that it was common knowledge among the students in his year that Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan was abusing many of the boys, but it was not discussed.

Mr Green will say it is inconceivable that none of the Christian Brothers, lay teachers, nurses or even some of the parents knew about the abuse by Brother Dowlan.

'It was just so blatantly obvious and every boy in the class knew that their turn was going to come up at some stage.'

Ms Furness said the hearing will explore who moved Ridsdale from parish to parish and why.

He abused children at parishes or church locations throughout Victoria.

Ms Furness said the parents of a boy who was abused by Ridsdale in his first year as a priest complained to Bishop James O'Collins, in the early 1960s.

Bishop O'Collins told Ridsdale there had been a complaint and said: "If this thing happens again then you are off to the Missions."

Ms Furness said Ridsdale spoke to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns in 1975, after leaving the Apollo Bay Parish having been confronted by a man who accused him of interfering with children.

When a complaint was made to Bishop Mulkearns by a parent while Ridsdale was parish priest in Inglewood, he was sent for counselling.



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