The Sydney Morning Herald
Father Adrian McInerney leaves the royal commission in Ballarat. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer
Former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns was the “pivotal person” responsible for failing to prevent widespread child sexual abuse at Catholic-run schools there, his former secretary has told a royal commission.
Father Adrian McInerney was Bishop Mulkearns’ secretary between 1973 and 1978, when disgraced serial paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale was moved to numerous parishes amid allegations of child sexual abuse against him.
Asked on Tuesday to point out those responsible for the offending on Tuesday, Father McInerney said Bishop Mulkearns and all of the church should take “some responsibility” for the abuse.
Fr Adrian McInerney, parish priest at Ballarat’s St Alipius said he did not provide a reference for Gerald Ridsdale to protect the reputation of the church. Photo: Daniel Hartley-Allen
The church had never “gone far enough” in addressing child abuse. When pressed, Father McInerney said that Mulkearns was “possibly the pivotal person … in retrospect, he needed to remove people completely from ministry”.
Father McInerney is the priest of St Alipius parish in Ballarat East, where much of the child abuse was found to have occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, including by a clergy paedophile ring of Christian Brothers such as Robert Best, Edward Dowlan and Stephen Farrell.
Father McInerney took minutes at meetings where it was decided Ridsdale would be moved. He said there were often reasons given at the meetings for why priests were being moved and acknowledged that in one set of minutes, the reasons discussed could only have been alleged “sexual transgressions” by Ridsdale.
Gerald Ridsdale leaves court in 1993. Photo: Geoff Ampt
Yet Father McInerney had “no recollection of any such conversation” where he was told Ridsdale was abusing or suspected of abusing children.
Counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Gail Furness, SC, asked when he first decided “Bishop Mulkearns should take some responsibility for the offending which occurred under his watch?”
Father McInerney said it may have been after he gave a character reference for Ridsdale when he first faced child sex offences in 1993. He had agreed to help Ridsdale on a “minor matter” without knowing or asking him what the matter was, saying he took him at his word.
Ms Furness said that some might think this “reckless”.
The priest denied giving the reference to protect the reputation of the church or Ridsdale.
When he heard Ridsdale’s charges read out in court “I was horrified … I was shocked. I didn’t know what to feel or think or do.”
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said: “Father it might be that what you are now telling us about your lack of knowledge (and reaction in court) may not be correct.”
Father McInerney said he did not leave when he heard the charges, possibly because he was intimidated by the court and did not know this was an option.
He had admired Ridsdale at the time for his treatment of young people.
When he visited him in Mortlake, he thought a billiard table he had set up “for the young people of the parish” was a good idea. Later, he realised this was a trap set up to abuse children.
Ridsdale pleaded guilty in May 1993 to 27 offences against eight children. He was sentenced to two years, three months imprisonment. He was previously a chaplain at St Alipius when Father McInerney was an assistant priest there. But Father McInerney insisted that they never lived together in the church’s presbytery.
Ridsdale is currently serving an eight-year sentence for 30 other offences against children. He will appear at the commission via video link from prison on Wednesday.
A fellow priest admired Father Gerald Ridsdale’s work with youth so much he hoped to emulate him, before realising it was all a ruse to trap and molest children.
Father Adrian McInerney maintains he did not know Ridsdale was sexually abusing children when he and now Cardinal George Pell supported the priest at his first court appearance in 1993.
“Up until then I have to confess that in certain areas I had some admiration for him because of his ability,” Fr McInerney told the child abuse royal commission in Ballarat.
“He had abilities in adult education and I even – this does sound preposterous – but I even had admiration for what he did for youth.”
Fr McInerney recalled seeing Ridsdale had a small billiard table and a TV screen for playing games in his lounge room.
“He said `oh, it’s for the young people of the parish’, and I thought what a good idea, why don’t I do something like that.”
Fr McInerney agreed the set-up was actually a trap to lure children so he could molest them.
“But at the time I thought what a good idea to engage young people in that way. 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.”
Fr McInerney said Ridsdale told him it was a minor court matter. Neither Ridsdale nor his lawyer told him it was sex offences, and he didn’t ask.
Fr McInerney could not explain why he still provided a character reference for Ridsdale despite being shocked when the indecent assault charges against eight boys were read out.
His character reference included noting that when Ridsdale went to a parish, he sought out families in need, which he later realised was part of Ridsdale’s ploy.
“So, when I stated what I thought was a virtue in him, as I reflected, it became clear it was in fact part of his modus operandi, if you like,” he said on Tuesday.
Despite sitting in on meetings in the 1970s when Ridsdale’s many parish moves were discussed, Fr McInerney maintained “nothing had registered with me” about Australia’s worst pedophile priest abusing children.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan suggested Fr McInerney’s evidence about his lack of knowledge and his shock at hearing the charges in court “may not be correct”.
“I’m sorry, that’s absolutely correct, the shock,” Fr McInerney replied.
Fr McInerney said then Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns had to take “some responsibility” for Ridsdale offending under his watch.
He agreed the culture of the church contributed to a number of pedophile priests operating in the Ballarat diocese, saying it was not sufficiently vigilant and prepared to listen.
Fr McInerney said Ridsdale took advantage of his naivety and tricked him into speaking on his behalf.
In a statement he said he has not spoken to Ridsdale since that day and apologised to the victims.
Cardinal Pell has admitted it was a mistake to show “priestly solidarity” with Ridsdale at court in 1993, as he did not know the extent of his crimes.
Fr McInerney, the St Alipius parish priest in Ballarat East, said he would go against the church’s teachings and tell police if he ever heard a confession of a crime.
Ridsdale gives evidence on Wednesday.
Priest admits giving character reference for paedophile Gerald Ridsdale was ‘preposterous’
ABS News (Australia)
26 May 2015
Photo: Catholic priest Gerald Ridsdale was jailed on paedophile charges in 1994. (AAP: Ballarat Courier)
Giving prolific paedophile Gerald Ridsdale a character reference in court without asking what the nature of the charges were was “preposterous”, the parish priest of St Alipius in Ballarat has agreed at a royal commission hearing.
Ridsdale is in prison for extensive sex crimes against young boys.
Father Adrian McInerney is giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat.
He told the commission he agreed to accompany Ridsdale to court after charges were laid, because Ridsdale told him it was in relation to “a minor matter”.
“I know how it looks … but I did not know,” Father McInerney said.
“But when you realised the horrendous crimes he’d been charged with, why didn’t you just turn around and walk away?” senior counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness SC, asked.
“I don’t know,” Father McInerney replied.
“If someone could explain that to me now, I’d be a happier man.”
Cardinal George Pell was also photographed supporting Ridsdale at court.
Father McInerney said he “had some admiration” for Ridsdale before he found out about the nature of his then alleged crimes.
But he said he could now see Ridsdale’s offers of help to children “were a trap for young people to come over so he could molest them”.
“I was horrified,” he said.
Father McInerney ‘not responsible’ for moving priests
Father McInerney told the royal commission he could not recall being a consultant to Father Ronald Mulkearns, the man accused of moving Ridsdale around western Victoria.
He later clarified he was in fact on the consultative committee responsible for placing priests, after a list of names was read out in court that included his own.
But he told the royal commission he was secretary and only responsible for taking the minutes of meetings.
“No, no, that was strictly not my role,” Father McInerney said of priest placements.
Father Mulkearns is not appearing as a witness at the royal commission.
Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan suggested it was hard to believe Father McInerney would not remember being in such an important position.
Father McInerney said in relation to Ridsdale and Father Mulkearns’s committee, he was only privy to the outcome of the meetings, not the discussion about Ridsdale’s offending.
“It was more just to record the outcomes,” he said.
But he agreed with Ms Furness, that “given what we know now about his life, it may well have been about the sexual abuse issue”.
Earlier, Father McInerney said he could not recall complaints about other offending clergy, or the details of when they were charged.
He said in one case, he could not remember the decade when allegations first surfaced about one offender, but acknowledged members of the clergy would gossip among themselves.
He also told the royal commission that he conducted occasional confessions, but no-one had ever confessed to a crime.
“I’ve had people confess to me in terms of adultery, but never anyone confess to abuse of minors … ever,” he said.
Father McInerney said although it was not in line with the church’s teachings, he would “feel obliged” to report crimes to police, and was “coming to the view that to not report is concealment of offenders”.
He said he was aware of cases in which fellow priests had crimes confessed to them, but had not reported the confessions to authorities.
The hearing continues.