Inquiry boss wants to hear from abusers

By Annette Blackwell
7 News
July 6, 2015

More Catholic clergy convicted of child sex abuse will be called to give evidence as a royal commission tries to find out why more allegations are made against that church than any other institution.

There was criticism of the commission after the appearance at a hearing in Ballarat of Gerald Ridsdale, the defrocked Catholic priest who is in jail for multiple child sex offences spanning 20 years.

After the May hearing Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer Frank Brennan asked what possessed judge Peter McClellan to put Ridsdale in the witness box, "where he provided absolutely no credible, probative evidence, simply further traumatising his victims".

At the weekend Justice McClellan said the commission gave considerable thought to the decision.

In a lengthy address to a Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) meeting in Geelong on Saturday Justice McClellan said data revealed at least 37 per cent of allegations received by the commission in private sessions related to Catholic institutions.

"We would be remiss if we did not attempt to understand whether there were particular characteristics within the Catholic Church, including the selection, training and management of priests, which increased the likelihood that ordained members of the Church would become abusers of children," he said.

Justice McClellan said to provide a satisfactory answer to the 'why' question the commission had to be able to understand the characteristics of offenders and any shortcomings in their personality or the institution which contributed to their abusing young children.

"Abusing priests are also the primary source of information about Catholic Church treatment programs and their effectiveness."

Justice McClellan said the commission was conscious of the possibility that survivors would be troubled by seeing perpetrators and hearing their evidence and had taken steps to ensure any possible impacts were addressed.

It had given considerable thought to the issues before taking the step to put perpetrators in the stand.

"Gerald Ridsdale has been called and others will be called later," he said.

Leonie Sheedy CEO of CLAN said abuse survivors had mixed feelings about perpetrators giving evidence - some found it too confronting and others understood the logic behind hearing from them.

She said at the Ballarat hearing case it must have been very difficult for David Ridsdale to listen to his uncle who had abused him for four years.

Father Brennan in a piece published by The Australian newspaper after the Ballarat hearing said the Catholic Church still had a long way to go in cleaning up the mess, and the royal commission could help.

"However, not even the commission is infallible," he said and went on to question Justice McClellan's judgment over Ridsdale.


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