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- Australia’s worst paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale gives evidence
- He is appearing at the Royal Commission into clerical sex abuse
- First time members of the public had seen the sex offender for 18 years
- He began by detailing his decades-long reign of terror in schools
- He ‘can’t remember’ having any dealings with Cardinal George Pell
- He’s ‘no memory’ of any previous meetings with any senior clergy officials
- ‘I think the overriding fear would have been losing priesthood,’ he says
- Ridsdale said he had ‘always felt the need for closeness’ with males
- Only intimacy he ever had was a three-year relationship in prison
Australia’s worst paedophile priest has started giving evidence at the Royal Commission into the reporting of child sex abuse – but any hope that he will shed light on an alleged cover-up by the Catholic Church was dashed when he said he had ‘no memory’ of conversations with senior clergy.
Gerald Francis Ridsdale, now 81, wore wire-framed glasses and prison-issue greens as he spoke via video link from Ararat prison in Victoria, where he was first sent in 1994. He has been convicted of molesting 54 boys – but has admitted that the number is probably above 100.
However specifics on who also knew about his actions and helped him within the Catholic Church were vague at best. He maintained he could not remember having any dealings with now-Cardinal George Pell, despite living in the Ballarat East presbytery with him.
Australia’s worst paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale appeared at the Royal Commission on Wednesday
In May 1993 Ridsdale was accompanied to his court hearing by Cardinal George Pell who was then a bishop
He also said he couldn’t remember asking then-Bishop Pell what he would say on his behalf at Ridsdale‘s first court appearance in 1993, when the two were photographed together.
‘It was the barrister who suggested George Pell (should come to the court case). I felt comfortable with that,’ Ridsdale says.
‘But I don’t remember any dealings with George at all. The barrister was looking for people to come and speak on my behalf and George Pell was one of those he suggested.
‘We were clutching at straws really. I don’t know what benefit it would have been to my cause or hearing or sentence. I can’t remember that court hearing. I left all that sort of stuff up to the barrister and the legal team.’
Ridsdale said he could not recall when he first met Cardinal Pell in Ballarat.
‘I never had much to do with him. He was Ballarat born and bred… but I only met him at clergy meetings or retreats,’ Ridsdale says.
Ridsdale was convicted of abusing 54 children, but has admitted to molesting hundreds more
Cardinal Pell’s appearance at the 1993 court case was initiated by Ridsdale’s barrister he claimed
Cardinal George Pell walks beside Gerald Ridsdale in 1993
This kind of response developed into a pattern, so when he was regularly asked about any authority figures within the Catholic Church he came in contact with during his offences, he constantly replied that he ‘could not remember’.
When asked by counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness, SC, if the documents he was being shown had helped jolt his memory he replied it didn’t.
‘I’m getting the information, but it’s not bringing back any memories of that time and what happened,’ he says.
Earlier Ridsdale said he wouldn’t even admit the things he did to his closest friends.
‘Looking back on it, I think that the overriding fear would have been losing priesthood,’ he says.
Ridsdale said he had ‘always felt the need for closeness’ with males. When asked whether that referred to boys or adults, he said the only intimacy he had was with an adult during a three-year relationship in prison.
He told the inquiry he did not tell anyone he had abused children when he was first ordained because he was afraid of being kicked out of the priesthood.
The 81-year-old did not confess all his sins during confession once he left the seminary, and told no one he was abusing children when he was ordained in 1961.
‘I didn’t confess the sexual offending against children,’ Ridsdale told the commission’s Ballarat hearing, via videolink from Ararat jail.
He did not tell the Ballarat bishop who ordained him that he had offended while in the seminary studying to be a priest and while overseas.
‘I don’t think I told, would have told anyone at all,’ Ridsdale said.
‘I never told anyone. It’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t tell anyone.’
When asked about how he couldn’t stop offending at the schools he worked at he made it clear that he acted like someone who had an addiction.
‘It is like to talking to an alcoholic and telling him to go to a hotel to buy lemonade,’ Ridsdale says. ‘Sexual offending with children and logic don’t go together. I never thought about connecting logic and sexual offending.’
Ridsdale was convicted of abusing 54 children, but has admitted to molesting hundreds more
The evidence was the first time members of the public had seen the vile sex offender for 18 years, with many of his victims listening intently at the royal commission in Ballarat, Victoria, as he began detailing his decades-long reign of terror in schools and churches around the Ballarat area from the the mid 1960s until his conviction nearly 30 years later.
His evidence was streamed by live webcast to the public and he will appear at the commission on Wednesday and Thursday. He will not be asked about the details of his offending, nor about the names of those he offended against revealed.
The questioning will revolve around what shaped him early in his religious life, who he told about his offending, who spoke to him about complaints, and what was done as a result of those complaints or disclosures.
His appearance at the inquiry was mainly to establish who made the decisions on what best to do with him during his years of offending, with the likes of Cardinal Pell and former Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns coming under particular scrutiny.
Cardinal Pell is now willing to appear at the commission if required to
However, Cardinal Pell has told the chair of the royal commission he’s prepared to give evidence in person. Previously he had instead issued a statement saying he had already provided all the information he could have. However, he has now changed his stance.
‘I want to make it absolutely clear that I am willing to give evidence should the commission request this, be it by statement, appearance by video link, or by attending personally,’ he said in the letter to Justice Peter McClellan on Tuesday night.
In the letter, Pell says he has not yet been asked to give evidence in any form.
‘But as I have said repeatedly, I am deeply committed to assisting the Royal Commission and to doing anything I can to help survivors,’ he said.
‘This includes giving evidence in person, if asked to do so.’
The inquiry produced evidence that showed former Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns (pictured) was aware of Ridsdales child abuse offences. However, Ridsdale could only remember one meeting between the two
Mulkearns has made it clear he will not appear at the inquiry despite the fact he was bishop in Ballarat while a paedophile ring of clergy including Ridsdale, Ted Dowlan, Stephen Farrell and Robert Best were given free rein to molest hundreds of schoolchildren.
But again despite letters and documents showing that Mulkearns had meet him on numerous occasions about his child abuse offences, Ridsdale could only remember one meeting with Mulkearns.
‘There’s only ever one (meeting) I can remember. In 1994 I had applied to have my liasastion – my priesthood taken away. He had the document from Rome and I signed it,’ Ridsdale says.
Clergy abuse victims walk out of hearing in frustration over pedophile priest’s lack of memory
27 May 2015
May 27, 2015: Australia’s worst pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale has given disturbing evidence at a royal commission into child abuse today.Victims of clergy abuse have said they are “disappointed” over pedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale’s lack of memory of key details on who in the Catholic Church knew about his abusing.
Today, Ridsdale told the Royal Commission he was “out of control” abusing children, and admitted he did not tell anyone for fears of being defrocked.
Appearing today before the commission’s Ballarat hearing into institutional responses to child sex abuse via videolink from jail, Ridsdale has repeatedly referred to the prosecutor’s notes and has struggled to remember much of his previous testimony and the circumstances of his offending, including the names of some of his many victims.
Clergy abuse victim Andrew Collins spoke outside court and said victims are bitterly disappointed Ridsdale did not reveal who in the church hierarchy knew about his offending and moved him to other parishes.
“A couple of them have walked out and said there’s just nothing happening. They’re disappointed,” he said.
May 27, 2015: Gerard Ridsdale’s nephew and victim David Ridsdale said testimony to the abuse royal commission showed the Vatican’s “selective memory”.
Lawyer and Monash University doctoral researcher Judy Courtin said Ridsdale’s selective memory was just not credible.
“Whenever it comes to talking about anyone in the hierarchy he has no memory of it at all,” she said.
“It is like a final kick in the guts, a twist of the knife, for survivors and their families. It’s so bad.
“He’s got nothing to lose, why doesn’t he just fess up and tell the truth?”
It comes as Cardinal George Pell has acquiesced to requests from victims and politicians to appear before the commission’s latest hearings, if called upon.
Pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale appears before the Royal Commission into Insitutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse via videolink from jail. (Supplied)
Ridsdale has been convicted of offences against more than 50 victims.
“I was out of control, really out of control in those years,” Ridsdale said of his time at Inglewood parish.
He said he did not confess to anyone that he was abusing children when he was ordained in 1961.
“I didn’t confess the sexual offending against children,” he said.
“I never told anyone. It’s not the sort of thing I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
The parents of a boy Ridsdale abused in his first year after being ordained as a priest in 1961 complained to then Ballarat Bishop James O’Collins.
Ridsdale told a Catholic Church Insurances investigator in 1994 that Bishop O’Collins told him, “If this thing happens again then you’re off to the missions”.
Ridsdale said that would have meant he would lose his priesthood or be removed from parish work.
“I would have lost faith in myself because I was a very proud person. It just would have been devastating.”
When asked whether he knew at the time of his offending that he was hurting the children, he said, “I’m not sure”.
Ridsdale told lawyers for the Catholic Church’s investigators in 1994, after his first conviction for abusing children, that a Christian Brother touched him when he was 11 or 12, but he now says he can’t remember it.
Cardinal George Pell.
The 81-year-old told the commission today that he has no recollection of that or two separate incidents of a separate nature involving relatives but accepts it did happen.
“I don’t remember it now, but I accept that the memory was there when I made this statement,” Ridsdale said.
“I’ve got no clear picture of those now, if you know what I mean.”
Ridsdale’s nephew David has recounted his own abuse at the hands of his uncle, and said when he told Cardinal Pell in 1993 he was offered a bribe to stay silent.
Cardinal Pell has denied the claim.
Another of Ridsdale’s victims, Stephen Woods, has given harrowing evidence to the commission and says the Cardinal’s written statement of repeated denials is not enough.
“He should have been here and he should be held accountable,” Mr Woods told reporters outside court.
“It was a coward’s way out to make a statement in the media that can’t be cross examined,” Mr Collins said.
Cardinal George Pell has since told the chair of the commission he is prepared to give evidence in person.
“Without wanting to pre-empt the Royal Commission in any way – you can’t just invite yourself to give evidence – I want to make it absolutely clear that I am willing to give evidence should the commission request this, be it by statement, appearance by video link, or by attending personally,” he said in the letter to Justice Peter McClellan last night.
He also said he’d been horrified by the allegations of abuse in Ballarat and was saddened by the way church authorities dealt with reports of abuse.
“Like everyone else I am horrified by the accounts that survivors have given in their evidence during the Ballarat hearings, and at the enormous impact the abuse had had on them, their families and the community.
“I am also deeply saddened by the way Church authorities have failed in responding to these crimes.
“So far I have no been asked to give evidence in any form, but as I have said repeatedly, I am deeply committed to assisting the Royal Commission and to doing anything I can to help survivors.”
Opposition leader Bill Shorten last week called on Cardinal Pell to come home to Australia and face allegations he protected a paedophile priest and tried to pay a victim “hush money”.
“I do believe that George Pell should help the royal commission and if that means coming back to Australia to co-operate with the royal commission he should,” Mr Shorten told reporters.
Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan has said he would consider the allegations and whether Cardinal Pell should return to defend himself against the claims.
Cardinal Pell said he stood by previous statements given to the Victorian inquiry in 2013, insistiing he never offered a bribe to an abuse victim and claimed to have no recollection of being told about abuse by a pedophile priest.
He remained adamant he had nothing to do with transferring another abusive member of the clergy.
Lawyer Professor Greg Craven defended his friend George Pell yesterday.
“It’s not a case of calling a victim a liar, it’s a case of the Cardinal telling the truth as he understands it,” he said.
Lawyers for Cardinal Pell have said they would not cross-examine survivor witnesses out of respect, but his legal team said if the Cardinal was requested to make a formal statement to the Royal Commission to address the allegations of a cover-up, one or more witnesses may be recalled for questioning.
I was abused as a child: disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale gives evidence at sex abuse royal commission in Ballarat
The Age Victoria
A paedophile priest who was convicted of more than 100 charges of sexual abuse against children over about 30 years began offending before he was ordained and says he worked with no restrictions at any of the parishes he was moved to amid numerous abuse allegations.
Gerald Ridsdale, 81, told a royal commission on Wednesday he had spent his life feeling “uncomfortable” around adults, keeping secrets and in fear of being discovered as a paedophile. He also said he had been sexually abused as a child himself, and had had a three-year relationship while in prison.
The first time he abused a child was at a camp for disadvantaged children while he was still in training to become a priest at a seminary in Werribee.
Within a year of his ordination in 1961, the Catholic Church received its first complaint about Ridsdale abusing children. Then-Bishop James O’Collins threatened to send Ridsdale “off the mission” if he offended again, which meant he would no longer work as a priest.
Ms Furness asked if this threat played on his mind as he moved to different parishes and abused children. Ridsdale, who was also abused by a cousin and an uncle when he was younger than 12, said: “It could have.”
He repeatedly denied having to comply with certain conditions when he was moved to different parishes, despite parishioners’ complaints of his abusive behaviour.
“I’ve never had any restrictions or conditions put on me,” he said.
Church authorities’ knowledge and response to Ridsdale and others’ sexual offending are being examined at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat.
Ridsdale repeatedly told counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness, SC, that he could not remember why he had left various parishes, and whether he had told then-Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns that he had abused children.
Ms Furness prompted Ridsdale with evidence from witnesses who reported abuse allegations against him to Bishop Mulkearns, including the bishop himself.
Ridsdale accepted that a number of parishioners, Bishop Mulkearns and two of his former vicar generals, Monsignor Leo Fiscalini and Monsignor Henry Nolan, knew he had sexual difficulties.
“It makes sense that some would’ve known because word would’ve got around but I don’t know who. I don’t know whether the bishop would’ve kept it to himself.”
Of other priests in the Ballarat Diocese, he said “No one gave any indication at all that they knew what had been going on.”
Asked whether he had been charged for every child he had abused in Edenhope, he said “I can’t remember how many.”
The commission’s chairman, Justice Peter McClellan asked: “Did it occur to you at the time that you were hurting children?”
“Your Honour, I’m not sure. I don’t know. I don’t know what I was thinking,” he replied.
Ridsdale revealed he had only ever had sexual feelings for adults while in prison.
He had a “vague recollection” of sleeping close to and cuddling his first victim back in the 1960s.
“It seemed to be just a need for intimacy, hugging and closeness,” he previously told investigators from the church’s insurance company.
“I think I have always felt the need for closeness,” he told the commission.
Asked whether he had every felt the need for closeness with adults, he said: “You mean the cuddling, closeness, sexuality aspect? Not really except for a three-year period in prison, where I had a close relationship with another prisoner.”
Ridsdale also revealed ways that he and the church sought psychological treatment.
The first time he approached a psychiatrist was at a mental institution in Warrnambool in the early 1970s, where he gave communion. He told him he thought he might be homosexual.
The man responded “‘Do you dream about having sex with men?’ and I said ‘No’ and he said ‘Well you have got no problems, you are OK’ and rather than follow it up then with, ‘Well, what about kids?”, I just let it go.”
In 1975, when then-Bishop Mulkearns first learned that Ridsdale had abused children, he referred him to a Franciscan priest, Father Peter Evans, for treatment.
Ridsdale was “disappointed” that he only received about three sessions, which involved teaching him relaxation techniques “I think he went away and got married.” He could not remember what else was involved.
He resigned from Edenhope Parish and took a year of study leave at the National Pastoral Institute in Melbourne in 1980.
That year he tried to speak about his sexual deviance with Father Brian Gray who he thought was also a psychologist. “I asked him one day if I could talk to him about my life and from memory I think the response I got was ‘No I’m too busy’.”
Ridsdale had wanted sexual education to prepare him for the priesthood in the seminary. Asked whether he would have reconsidered becoming a priest had he received this, he replied: “My desire to be a priest was so strong … that I just wouldn’t have wanted to leave the seminary, I would have wanted to stay on regardless and push on.”
He acknowledged that had these measures been in place, others could have stopped him from becoming a priest if they thought he was unsuitable for the job.
Ridsdale also said he believed that priests should report to police any crimes that they hear in the confession box.