Priest horrified to learn of child sex abuse charges against Gerald Ridsdale

The Guardian
May 26, 2015

Father Adrian McInerney, parish priest at St Alipius in Ballarat East, after giving evidence at the royal commission on Tuesday.
Photo by Megan Neil

A priest says he was shocked when he found out Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale was facing child sex abuse charges, but still gave character evidence for him in court.

Father Adrian McInerney said he accompanied Ridsdale to his first court appearance in 1993 and it was only in court that he found out that Ridsdale was charged with sex offences.

“I know how it looks but I’m saying I did not know,” McInerney told the child abuse royal commission in Ballarat.

“I just took it that he needed help and I was going to give it. I took him at his word that it was a minor matter, a small matter that he was going to court for.

“Up until then I have to confess that in certain areas I had some admiration for him because of his ability.”

McInerney said it sounded preposterous now to say but he even had admiration for what Ridsdale did for youth.

He later realised that items such as a billiard table and TV screen for games were traps for children.

“At the time I thought what a good idea to engage young people in that way,” he said. “When I looked at the charges at the trial I looked back and, well, I was horrified that that’s what they were there for.”

McInerney denied that he did not ask the details before Ridsdale’s court appearance because he wanted to protect the priest’s and the church’s reputation.

“It was not about protection,” McInerney said. “He asked if I could give him help and I said yes.”

He was aghast and shocked when he heard the charges read out but still gave character evidence for Ridsdale.

Now the former archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, has been publicly criticised for accompanying Ridsdale to that first court appearance in 1993. Pell has said it was a mistake to show “priestly solidarity”,but he too did not know the extent of Ridsdale’s crimes.

McInerney told the commission he has not heard a confession of a crime but if he did he would be compelled to go to police.

“A crime is a crime and has to be reported,” he said.

“I know that’s not the teaching of the church, but the conclusion I’ve come to is that if someone confesses to a crime then I can’t forgive that unless they’re able to go and report the crime.”

McInerney, the parish priest at St Alipius in Ballarat East, told the royal commission he initially thought boys were lying when they complained that a superior had sexually abused them. He said it was a complete shock when he heard about complaints made against Monsignor John Day in Mildura, part of the vast diocese of Ballarat, around the 1970s.

“My first reaction was to suggest that the boys were lying,” he said. “That was my first reaction because I had so much association with him and there was no indication of any sexual abuse or attempted ... but it didn’t take too long to learn that it wasn’t a lie at all, it was a reality.”



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