Royal commission condemns Wimmera Catholic authorities

SUPPORT: Ribbons adorned the fences of Wimmera churches and schools in support of abuse victims.
SUPPORT: Ribbons adorned the fences of Wimmera churches and schools in support of abuse victims.

THE Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has released a scathing final report into Catholic authorities in the Wimmera.

The report found the Diocese of Ballarat had an secretive and abusive culture that prioritised reputation above child welfare and failed to stop the crimes.

The commission was particularly scathing of the actions of former Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, saying he failed to take action to have (infamous paedophile priest Gerald) Ridsdale referred to police and to restrict Ridsdale's contact with children.

In July 1986 Bishop Mulkearns appointed Ridsdale as assistant priest at Horsham.  

The commission said Ridsdale should never have been appointed to Horsham because Bishop Mulkearns knew about sexual allegations against Ridsdale at the time. 

“He could not have been satisfied that Ridsdale was safe to be in any position with access to children,” the report said.

“It was inexcusably wrong for Bishop Mulkearns to appoint Ridsdale to the Horsham parish in 1986, knowing of Ridsdale’s offending.

“It is appalling that Bishop Mulkearns, knowing of Ridsdale’s history of offending, didn’t report to the police.

“Bishop Mulkearns was recklessly indifferent to the safety and wellbeing of the children in and around Horsham.” 

The report also showed that other priests in the region were also aware of Ridsdale’s offending.

Ridsdale worked at Edenhope between April 1976 and September 1979.

His appointment came just over two months after he was removed from Inglewood parish following a complaint of child sexual abuse.

The commission found that Bishop Mulkearns did not place any restrictions or conditions on how Ridsdale should operate in Edenhope, which showed a complete disregard for the safety and welfare of children in the region. 

During Ridsdale’s time at Edenhope, there was talk in the community about his conduct.

A St Malachy’s Primary School teacher said she observed children staying at the presbytery.

The teacher also told the commission that she had heard a parent warning others to ‘mind your children’ with Ridsdale.

The report also showed that other priests in the region were also aware of Ridsdale’s offending.

Between 1985 and 1988, Father Eric Bryant was the parish priest at Hopetoun.

Father Bryant told the commission that he warned other parents to keep their children away from Ridsdale. 

The report said Father Bryant felt powerless to help.

Read the full report here: