Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry: Paedophile Gerald Ridsdale Continued on As Priest Despite Bishop's Warning, Royal Commission Hears

By Peta Carlyon
ABC News
May 26, 2015

One of Australia's most notorious paedophiles, Gerald Ridsdale, was allowed to continue on as a priest despite a bishop receiving a complaint about him in his first year, an inquiry has heard.

The elderly Ridsdale is giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse in Ballarat via video link from Ararat prison, where he is serving an eight-year sentence for the rape and abuse of children.

He was quizzed at length about whether or not people were warned about his offending tendencies as he was moved between schools around western Victoria, in the 1960s and 70s.

Ridsdale told the inquiry he remembered receiving a warning from a bishop over an incident involving a boy in Ballarat.

"The first complaint that ever came in was in my first year as priest," he said.

"I remember going in a room and fondling him, and putting my hand down his trousers, it would have been a fairly brief kind of thing."

Ridsdale said he was later warned by a bishop that "if this happens again you'll be off to the missions" before he was sent to Mildura.

But he later clarified that comment as saying "you'll be off mission", which he interpreted as meaning stripped of his priesthood.

Ridsdale revealed the reason he "didn't confess the sexual offending against children" was because he had a great fear of losing his priesthood.

"I was a very proud person ... it just would've been devastating," he told the commission.

When asked by senior counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness SC, if anyone was notified of his offending at Mildura after he was relocated there from Ballarat he answered "I don't know".

Ridsdale recalled abusing choir boys in Mildura, and later at Swan Hill, when he was again moved on.

"Yes ... there would probably be another couple [of victims] there," he told Ms Furness.

But Ridsdale said as far as he knew, no-one in Swan Hill was aware of his offending, and he would not know if anyone at his next location, Warrnambool had been warned.

He said he was told "in the usual manner" that he would be relocated and that there was "no consultation".

Church 'definitely' should have reported Ridsdale's crimes

Ridsdale was asked if the church should have notified authorities of his own offending over the years.

He replied: "What I've done and the damage that I've done ... I'd say, definitely yes".

Ridsdale said while he had come to the view now that crimes should be disclosed, when he was a priest, "everything told in confession was to be kept secret".

Ms Furness also asked Ridsdale about his sexual urges.

He told the commission he felt bound to become a priest because of family expectations, but had problems controlling his sexual urges from the beginning.

Ridsdale said he would make confessions that he had masturbated, and was hoping to receive some "sexual instructions" from the church about what was appropriate during his training as a priest.

"Did you ever feel the need for intimacy, hugging and closeness?" asked Ms Furness of Ridsdale's time at the Werribee seminary, where he started out.

"I think I've always felt the need for closeness," Ridsdale responded.

He said he had had one adult relationship for three years, with a fellow prisoner.

Ridsdale said he was aware his offending against children was a crime.

"Did it occur to you at the time that you were hurting the children?" commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan asked Ridsdale.

"Your Honour, I just don't know ... I don't know what I was thinking," Ridsdale said.

Inquiry probes Ridsdale's relationship with Cardinal George Pell

Ridsdale told the royal commission the fact Cardinal George Pell accompanied him to court on child sex abuse charges in the 1990s was insignificant.

Gerald Ridsdale with Cardinal George Pell

PHOTO: "I never had much to do with him" ... Ridsdale said of Cardinal George Pell. (ABC News)

He said he could not recall much about his relationship with the then Father Pell in Ballarat in the 1970s, except he "would've met him, because he was Ballarat born-and-bred".

"I can't remember him being there ... I can't remember him ... I never had much to do with him," Ridsdale said of Cardinal Pell.

"We needed some people to come along [to court] for support ... I don't see it as having a very big significance."

Ridsdale said his barrister asked Cardinal Pell to go to court, and he did not ask him himself.

He said, at the time, he did not know if Cardinal Pell knew about the nature of his charges, and he did not know, what Cardinal Pell planned to say.

He said his legal team was "clutching at straws".

The hearing continues.








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