Church admits liability in child abuse case

CathNews (Service of the Australian Bishops' Conference)
September 09, 2019

Gerald Ridsdale appears before the child abuse royal commission in 2015

After denying any knowledge of Ridsdale’s offending before the nine-year-old boy was raped in a confessional box at Mortlake, in western Victoria in 1982, lawyers for the Church on Friday accepted an amended statement of claim from the survivor in the Supreme Court – in effect admitting legal liability for his crimes.

A 10-day civil trial scheduled to begin on January 29 next year will now focus primarily on the amount of damages the Church will pay the survivor. A mediation hearing will be held on October 15.

The survivor, identified in court under the pseudonym JCB, is suing Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird for negligence on behalf of deceased former bishops James O’Collins and Ronald Mulkearns.

In defence documents submitted to the court, Bishop Bird accepted that Bishop Mulkearns breached his duty of care to the survivor because he knew about a complaint of Ridsdale sexually abusing a child at Inglewood in northern Victoria in 1975, seven years before JCB was raped.

“We are pleased that the Catholic Church has admitted liability for the sexual abuse of our client by Gerald Ridsdale,” JCB’s lawyers Judy Courtin Legal said on Friday.

“We believe this is the first time in Victoria that the Catholic Church has admitted that it failed to protect a victim of child sexual abuse and that it is therefore legally liable.

“Our client now looks forward to an assessment of the damages he is owed by the Church.”

The JCB trial is likely to set a precedent for other survivors to follow suit if they can prove senior clergy knew about the offending of other paedophiles, including Christian Brother Edward Dowlan and priest Paul David Ryan.

It comes after the so-called “Ellis defence”, which prevented abuse survivors from suing unincorporated organisations including churches and other institutions, was abolished by the Victorian Government last year.


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