Abuse victims take Aussie bishop to court for negligence

Ten victims of a paedophile Australian priest have started proceedings in the Victorian Supreme Court against the retired Bishop of Ballarat.

They accuse Bishop Ronal Mulkearns and the Diocese of Ballarat of negligence for allegedly failing to protect them and other victims, despite being aware of complaints against Fr Gerard Ridsdale.

Ridsdale was convicted in 2014 of 34 charges against children between 1961 and 1980.

He had also been convicted in 1993, 1994 and 2006 for a string of other child sex offences.

Ridsdale was parish priest at Inglewood in 1975 when local police informed Bishop Mulkearns that Ridsdale had abused children.

Bishop Mulkearns sent Ridsdale away for counselling and then on to the next parish.

In the intervening years, Ridsdale made dozens of other children his victims.

The lawyer representing the victims, Viv Waller said: “I think it’s quite possible that Gerald Ridsdale is Victoria’s worst career paedophile.”

Bishop Mulkearns was excused from appearing at the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Church Abuse in 2013 after a neuropsychological examination.

The current Bishop of Ballarat, Paul Bird, did attend and admitted the decision to keep Ridsdale in the priesthood in 1975 was wrong.

Ms Walker said the case was unprecedented because it bypassed the Catholic Church’s so-called “Ellis defence” – where the Church cannot be sued because, technically, it does not exist as a legal entity.

Meanwhile, Fairfax Media revealed that despite a Church promise to abandon the “Ellis defence”, some dioceses and religious orders are not prepared to publicly commit to that.

Fairfax Media requested a formal undertaking from nine dioceses and religious orders that they would no longer employ the “Ellis defence” in current and future sex abuse lawsuits.

None of the organisations were willing to issue a formal statement confirming that position.

It is understood that a dispute between church organisations and their insurers has become a major impediment to implementing a policy to abandon the “Ellis defence”.

Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse is starting a three-week hearing into decades of horrific abuse in Ballarat diocese.


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