Up to 14 Priests Sexually Abused Children in Ballarat, Commission Hears

The Guardian
May 28, 2015

Senior counsel assisting Gail Furness said data from the diocese’s records show Gerald Francis Ridsdale, pictured, had been the subject of at least 76 claims and substantiated complaints. Photograph: Royal commission/AAP

As many as 14 priests have been found to have sexually abused children in Victoria’s Ballarat diocese, the child sexual abuse royal commission has heard.

Data before the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse shows there have been at least 130 claims and substantiated complaints of child sexual abuse against the Ballarat diocese since 1980.

Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness said that number included seven claims jointly held against the Christian Brothers.

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She said at least 14 priests of the Ballarat diocese have been the subject of one or more claim or substantiated complaint of child sex abuse. Ballarat bishop Paul Bird said he was not certain that all 14 had been substantiated and he thought it was a lower number, maybe 10 or 12.

Furness said data from the diocese’s records show Gerald Francis Ridsdale had been the subject of at least 76 claims and substantiated complaints from the late 1950s to the late 1980s.

Earlier, Bird told the commission that he thought the Vatican should remove a priest from his position if he has been convicted of abusing children, but that it has not always done so.

The commission chair, Justice Peter McClellan, has revealed the commission has heard from at least one priest who admitted his offending behaviour in confession.

“It’s not yet public, but we have heard from at least one priest who confessed to his confessor, and in that way reconciled his offending behaviour, which continued with his belief in God,” McClellan said.


“That throws up a rather startling illustration of how the confessional might be misused, doesn’t it?”

Bird said that would be a terrible misuse of confession.

“If it’s such a serious matter as a crime, to treat it as though it was something that one could confess, I think to me that is simply a shelf of a ritual, it has no substance,” he said.

Bird said he was aware of a number of cases around the world where Rome had not removed a person convicted of sexually assaulting a child.

“I believe that’s not appropriate,” he said. “My own personal view is that a conviction for child abuse should be met with laicisation.”

Bird, who has been bishop since October 2012, told the commission some offending in the Ballarat diocese went back to the 1950s. He said that the position of a priest provided cover for clergy who abused children.

Asked why clergy offended against children primarily in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, he said it was a question of immaturity and abuse of power. He said the priesthood provided access to a lot of people, including children.

“So a person who is intending to offend would be looking to such a position and a position that has a certain protection of respect in the community,” he said.

“Those would be the elements that would draw a person who was looking to offend to the priesthood and then their offences for some time may be covered by themselves, that they can, I suppose, deceive people under cover of that position that they hold.”








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