Difficult day for child sex abuse victims
The Age (Australia)
Survivors of child sex abuse by priests are given the chance to reveal their years of pain and heartache during the Ballarat Royal Commission hearing.
Cardinal George Pell may have known about disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale’s crimes against children years before he faced charges and may have been involved in decisions to move him between parishes, a royal commission has heard.
Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Gail Furness, SC, described on Tuesday how the College of Consultors – a group of priests who advised the Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns – decided to move Ridsdale between parishes.
Cardinal Pell, who supported Ridsdale at his first court appearance on child sex offences in 1993, was previously a member of the group. Now a Prefect for the Economy of the Holy See in Rome, Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied knowing children were abused in Ballarat when he was there.
Disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale outside court with former Archbishop of Sydney George Pell. Photo: Geoff Ampt
Minutes of a Consultors’ meeting in September 1982 noted that Bishop Mulkearns “advised that it had become necessary for Father Gerald Ridsdale to move from the Parish of Mortlake.”
Negotiations were underway for Ridsdale to work with the Catholic Enquiry Centre in Sydney, and a new appointment replacing him “will be necessary to take effect after October 17th.” They did not say why the Bishop said this had become necessary.
But Ms Furness said it was expected that Bishop Mulkearns “knew it was because Ridsdale had abused boys in Mortlake and that he had offended in this manner in 1975”.
“Several of the Consultors had been present at meetings of or were members of the College of Consultors on each occasion in the past when Ridsdale had been moved.”
Ridsdale will give evidence to the Royal Commission during its first hearing in Ballarat via video link from prison, where he is serving time for 30 offences committed against 14 children. He is expected to discuss the way church authorities handled abuse allegations against him, including sending him for psychiatric treatment.
It is the first time a convicted perpetrator will publicly provide evidence to the royal commission in Victoria.
Seventeen male victims of child sexual abuse at Catholic-run schools will also give evidence. Ten were abused St Alipius Boys’ School, while seven were abused at St Patrick’s College, mostly by convicted Christian Brother Edward Dowlan, who was jailed in March for indecent assaults against 20 young boys between 1971 and 1985.
Ridsdale, 81, was part of a paedophile ring involving Catholic clergy in Ballarat in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. He has previously pleaded guilty to 138 charges of indecent assault, gross indecency and buggery against as many as 40 children. He will be eligible for parole in 2019, when he will be almost 85 years old.
Catholic Church Insurance would not indemnify the Diocese of Ballarat after 1975 “presumably because of the knowledge Bishop Mulkearns had of Ridsdale’s offending from that time”, she said.
Father Denis Denehy, a priest appointed to Mortlake parish in 1982 after Ridsdale was removed, previously told a Catholic Church Insurance investigator that he “thought every male child between the ages of 10 years and 16 years who was at the school was molested by Ridsdale,” Ms Furness said.
Former priest and convicted sex offender Paul David Ryan has also testified at a private hearing, Ms Furness said.
Victims on Monday spoke about the ongoing impact of the abuse on their lives, including their marriages and their relationships with their children.
“Many witnesses are expected to say that they continue to suffer from mental health issues and that they have attempted suicide as a result of the abuse they experienced as children,” Ms Furness said.
Abuse survivor Paul Auchlettl likened the shame of child abuse to an “unseen cancer in this town. There is no collective memory or place to mark the abuse and the horror of the number of suicides…it is like an unseen carnage.”
The three-week hearing will examine Catholic schools’ responses to child sexual abuse allegations, focusing on the victims and the community.
Weeks ahead of its halfway point, the commission has referred more than 600 matters to police for investigation around Australia since it started in 2013, chairman Justice Peter McClellan said.
Mr McClellan said the evidence of Ridsdale and other perpetrators would play an important part in the commission “coming to understand both why ordained members of the Catholic church became abusers and how the church responded to allegations of their abuse.”
“Without the evidence of perpetrators, the true story of the response of the church in Ballarat may never be completely revealed.”
Bishop knew of clergy abuse: inquiry
The Sydney Morning Herald
Then Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale had abused boys “so he was taken out of there” and again moved to another parish, the abuse royal commission heard on the opening day of three weeks of hearings in the city devastated by decades of abuse.
Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC said Ridsdale was discussed at a meeting of the bishop’s advisers – the College of Consultors – in September 1982, where Cardinal Pell was present.
The meeting minutes say the bishop advised it had become necessary for Ridsdale to move from Mortlake parish, but do not disclose what reasons Bishop Mulkearns gave.
“There will be evidence that Bishop Mulkearns knew it was because Ridsdale had abused boys in Mortlake, and that he had offended in this manner in 1975,” Ms Furness said.
“Several of the consultors had been present at meetings, or were members of the College of Consultors, on each occasion in the past when Ridsdale was moved.”
Ridsdale was moved from Mortlake to Sydney’s Catholic Enquiry Centre, with then Father Pell at a college meeting that allowed him to stay for a further year.
Cardinal Pell was not on the college when Ridsdale was moved on three earlier occasions and was not at the meeting when he was first appointed Mortlake parish priest in January 1981.
Ridsdale abused more than 50 children as he was moved between nine Victorian parishes over three decades, and also abused an altar boy in Sydney.
Ms Furness said it was not until June 1988 that Ridsdale was suspended, 13 years after Bishop Mulkearns first knew he was sexually abusing boys.
The Ballarat hearing heard Ridsdale was a prolific offender in Mortlake, with his replacement believing Ridsdale had molested every boy aged 10 to 16 in the Victorian town’s school.
Ms Furness said his behaviour around boys was no secret in Mortlake, but Bishop Mulkearns later told a Catholic Church Insurances investigator that he did not take it as his position to report him to police.
Convicted Ballarat priest Paul David Ryan has told the inquiry Bishop Mulkearns knew about him in 1977 but did not revoke his faculties until 1993.
“Ryan thought Bishop Mulkearns buried his head in the sand about the sexual abuse issues in the diocese,” Ms Furness said.
Ms Furness said there is evidence that Bishop Mulkearns removed and destroyed a 1960s psychiatrist’s letter from Ridsdale’s file, which said he could function as a priest in the future with appropriate care.
Ridsdale will give evidence via videolink from jail during the three-week Ballarat hearing, while a nephew he abused will be one of 17 victims testifying.
One victim, now 69, said a Christian Brother abused him weekly when he was 12 or 13.
“He would make me choose either the strap or sex education and I always chose the latter because I didn’t want to get belted. I should have taken the beltings.”
Abuse survivor Philip Nagle said of the 33 boys pictured in his 1974 grade four class photograph at St Alipius Primary School, 12 have died.
He believed they committed suicide.
“St Alipius Boys’ Primary School was a place where there was true evil,” he said.
Ridsdale was school chaplain and four Christian Brothers who taught there were pedophiles.
George Pell moved abuser priest out of Mortlake parish, inquiry told
Royal commission hearing in Ballarat told cardinal was part of a clerical group that decided to move Gerald Ridsdale, who was later jailed for abuse, in 1982
The Guardian (Australia)
Tuesday 19 May 2015 08.36 BST
Last modified on Tuesday 19 May 2015 11.12 BST
Ballarat abuse survivor Philip Nagle told the royal commission that of 33 boys in his year at a Catholic school where abuse occurred, he believed 12 had killed themselves. Photograph: Megan Neil/AAP
Cardinal George Pell was involved in the decision to move a priest who was later found to be a prolific child sex abuse offender from the Victorian parish of Mortlake, the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse heard.
The offending of Gerald Ridsdale, who has been found guilty on four occasions of more than 100 separate offences against children as young as four, was laid out in confronting detail during public hearings in Ballarat.
Pell, who supported Ridsdale during his first court appearance for child sex offences in 1993, was part of a Catholic church clerical group called the College of Consultors that decided to move Ridsdale between parishes. Pell later became the Bishop of Sydney before taking up a senior role at the Vatican.
The hearing was told that Ridsdale was discussed at a meeting of the College of Consultors in September 1982 where the minutes recorded “it had become necessary for Fr Gerald Ridsdale to move from the parish of Mortlake”.
No reason for the transfer is recorded in the minutes. Pell as always denied any knowledge of children being abused in Ballarat.
The commission heard Catholic priests involved in the sexual abuse of young children were repeatedly moved to different parishes in Victoria and sent on “treatment” trips to the US and Italy before eventually being convicted of their crimes.
Gail Furness, counsel assisting the royal commission, said Ridsdale abused children “at parishes or church locations throughout Victoria” from the 1960s to 1980s, including in Mildura, Swan Hill, Warrnambool, Apollo Bay, Ballarat and Mortlake.
Furness said Ronald Mulkearns, who was made bishop of Ballarat in 1971, moved Ridsdale due to complaints over “inappropriate behaviour” including reports from two parents that a boy was living at the Mortlake presbytery with him.
Ridsdale was sent for counselling with a member of the clergy and later attended a “psychological and spiritual” program in New Mexico which involved sessions with a “spiritual director, art therapist and psych dramatist”.
Furness said: “Thirteen years had passed since Bishop Mulkearns first knew that Ridsdale was sexually abusing boys he met during his work as a priest.
“Ridsdale had been at some nine parishes and other church locations during his time and abused more than 50 children.”
Ridsdale, who will be eligible for parole in 2019 when he will be 85, will appear at the hearing from prison via video link. Mulkearns, who retired in 1997, was questioned by Victoria police in 1995 over whether he had committed a felony. They found there was no evidence he had concealed a crime.
Speaking at the royal commission, former students of Catholic institutions in the Ballarat area explained the legacy of more than three decades of abuse that went unreported by senior Catholic clergy.
“The Catholic church seems remorseless and unapologetic,” said Paul Auchettl, 57, who was molested while he attended the St Alipius primary school. “They have supported the offenders and they have paid some victims, but often that has not helped.”
Ballarat priests involved in child sex abuse sent on ‘treatment’ trips, inquiry told
A raft of suicides in Ballarat has been linked to the widespread abuse of children in five Catholic institutions. Philip Nagle, 50, told the hearing that of 33 boys in his school year, he believed 12 had killed themselves.
Auchettl said: “Shame is rife; it’s like an unseen cancer in this town. There is no collective memory or place to mark the abuse and the horror of the number of suicides. There is nothing that brings us together to talk about this. It is like an unseen carnage.”
Many of the abuse survivors were critical of the way the Catholic church responded to the criminality of its clergy.
One witness, known in court as BAA, said he was digitally raped by Brother Robert Best and Brother Edward Dowlan, as well as being assaulted by Brother Leo Fitzgerald, in two Catholic institutions.
“I would like to have a formal apology, an acknowledgment from the Catholic church linked with the actual taking of responsibility for looking after the problems they have caused,” he said.
“I would also like the Catholic church to lose their tax-free status because they have shown themselves to be just a business organisation.
“On the issue of confessional reporting, the Catholic church should require clergy to report crimes that are confessed to them. It’s ludicrous that people can go into a confessional box and confess horrendous crimes and be absolved.
“It’s just saying you can do what you want without any proper legal punishment. It’s just like saying a few Hail Marys is the worst punishment you’re going to get. How the clergy still get away with that I don’t know.”
A third abuse survivor, known in court as BAP, said the treatment he suffered at the hands of Fitzgerald and Best caused him to avoid people for much of his life, and hindered him learning basic skills such as reading and writing.
“Brother Fitzgerald didn’t just take my soul, he crushed it. What he did to me was put fear and horror into me,” he said.
“I think institutional child sexual abuse has split the Ballarat community into factions. I don’t have any faith. The church and everything it stands for is a demon to me.”
The royal commission hearings in Ballarat will take place over the next three weeks. The hearings are the 28th to be held by the royal commission, which has about 270 people make contact with it from across Australia each week.
So far more than 600 matters have been referred to the police in various states, and another 1,400 people are waiting to be heard in future sessions. The final report will be handed to the federal government by the end of 2017.
• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14
A Ballarat bishop did not think it was his job to tell police about child abuser Gerald Francis Ridsdale, Australia’s worst pedophile priest.
Ridsdale is believed to have abused every boy aged between 10 and 16 at the school in the Victorian town of Mortlake, the royal commission looking into abuse by clergy and other members of the Catholic Church in the Ballarat diocese has heard.
Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC said Ridsdale was a prolific offender while parish priest in Mortlake from January 1981.
‘There will be evidence that his behaviour around boys was no secret in Mortlake,’ Ms Furness said on Tuesday.
Ms Furness said it was not until June 1988 that Ridsdale was suspended for 12 months, 13 years after the Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns first knew that he was sexually abusing boys he met during his work as a priest.
Ridsdale had been at nine parishes and other church locations during that time and abused more than 50 children, she said.
Ms Furness said there is evidence that Bishop Mulkearns removed a psychiatrist’s letter from Ridsdale’s file and destroyed it.
Ms Furness said there were at least two reports to Bishop Mulkearns about Ridsdale’s offending in Mortlake.
Bishop Mulkearns told a Catholic Church Insurances investigator in 1993 that there were complaints of inappropriate behaviour with young children ‘so he was taken out of there’.
‘Bishop Mulkearns told the Catholic Church Insurances investigator that he did not take it as his position to report Ridsdale to police,’ Ms Furness said.
The school principal told investigators that she told Bishop Mulkearns something should be done for the children and he said there would be nothing done because that would admit guilt, Ms Furness said.
Bishop Mulkearns signed a memorandum saying he destroyed the letter from Dr R.E. Seal – dated in the early to mid 1960s – because he thought it was privileged, Ms Furness said,
‘He recalled that the letter said that Dr Seal had seen Ridsdale and was confident that, with appropriate care, he could function as a priest in the future,’ Ms Furness said.
Ms Furness said despite the fact that Ridsdale continued to offend while receiving counselling, no alternative treatment was sought outside the confines of the Catholic Church.
Ridsdale will give evidence during the three-week Ballarat royal commission hearing.
Royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said the evidence from perpetrators may be confronting for some people.
‘However without the evidence of perpetrators, the true story of the response of the church in Ballarat may never be completely revealed,’ he said.
Ms Furness said Ballarat community members had told of a large number of reported suicides and premature deaths, and significant social, health and mental health issues for survivors.
Ms Furness said Timothy Green, who was abused at St Patrick’s College, would give evidence that it was common knowledge among the students in his year that Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan was abusing many of the boys, but it was not discussed.
Mr Green will say it is inconceivable that none of the Christian Brothers, lay teachers, nurses or even some of the parents knew about the abuse by Brother Dowlan.
‘It was just so blatantly obvious and every boy in the class knew that their turn was going to come up at some stage.’