Ballarat diocese’s catastrophic failure of leadership

There was a catastrophic failure of leadership in the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat’s handling of clergy child sex abuse, says Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.

The Commission’s report says a culture of secrecy and failures in the church’s structure led to children being abused across the diocese over a number of decades.

“That failure led to the suffering and often irreparable harm to children, their families and the wider community.”

The Commission found that the Church did not act in the children’s interests, which meant the abuse situation the children were in continued.

The abuse could have been avoided if the Church had acted in the interests of children.

Three public hearings into the Ballarat situation looked at the effect of child sexual abuse on an entire town.

They revealed the extent of child sex abuse across parishes, schools and homes.

Ninety per cent of the 140 abuse complaints reported to the diocese related to seven priests.

Over half the complaints concerned Gerald Ridsdale.

He held 16 appointments over his 29-year career as a priest.

His crimes were detailed in over 100 pages of the report.

They were spread across western Victoria where he was given 16 appointments over a period of 29 years.

The report says the bishop at the time, Ronald Mulkearns, knew of Ridsdale’s abuse as early as 1975.

Hundreds of children were molested while Mulkearns was bishop.

He moved priests between parishes as rumours of their offending grew.

The commissioners found the response of the Diocese to complaints and concerns about different priests “was remarkably and disturbingly similar”.

The Christian Brothers also come under fire in the report.

The religious order operated six schools in Ballarat and Warrnambool.

Four of the St Alipius boys school’s Brothers and Ridsdale, who was their chaplain, were accused of sexually assaulting children.

All but one, who died before charges could be laid, have been convicted.

The Commissioners found the Brothers’ response to complaints was “grossly inadequate”.

They say they “completely failed … to protect the most vulnerable children in their care”, operating within a structure “without checks and balances”.

“On some occasions, the response to allegations or reports of Christian Brothers conducting themselves in a sexually inappropriate manner with children was dismissive,” the Commissioners say.

One of the victims said it was a travesty that no individual had been charged with criminal negligence for the abuse committed in Ballarat.

“You know, it’s basically a crime against humanity …They’re actually the criminals, not us, and this report shows that they did know, and they did cover up the crimes and hopefully they’re liable and put in jail like they should be.”

He said some of his classmates committed suicide to end their suffering.

Justin Driscoll, the Vicar General of the Ballarat Diocese, says the church accepted the findings.


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