TJHC hearing room updates

Friday 29 May 2015 - Day 9

Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird took the stand to provide further evidence on the final day of this part of the hearing.

He said the sexual abuse of a child is a crime and therefore also a moral failing, but not all moral failings are crimes.

He said if someone has a conviction for child abuse they should be laicized.

He gave further evidence that historically, immaturity and an abuse of power have contributed to the high level of child abuse in the Catholic Church.  He outlined measures in the Diocese to ensure children’s voices are heard.

He agreed the lack of input from women in the Church could be a contributing factor to abuse and that loneliness is also a factor.

Bishop Bird said a priest should not be obliged to report a crime heard in confession to the authorities. But he said before giving absolution, he would require the person go to the authorities. He said if they did not, he would not give them absolution, but he would have to think about whether he would go to the authorities.

He said the predominant response of the church in previous decades was to protect the reputation of the Church and the offender without regard to the children who were abused. Now the approach is much more victim-focused.

Bishop Bird described his efforts to mitigate the divided community in Ballarat as a result of child sexual abuse in the Church. 

He described the Diocese’s financial position as ‘not strong’, saying some parishes are subsidized by larger, better-off parishes.

Bishop Bird committed to re-opening claims saying he would be inclined to increase payments in line with what is fair, with regard to the needs of the person.

The hearing was adjourned to a date to be fixed later in the year.


Thursday 28 May 2015 - Day 8

Convicted pedophile and former Catholic priest, Gerald Ridsdale continued giving evidence in Ballarat today about abuse in NSW including during his employment at the Catholic Inquiry Centre in Sydney between 1982 and 1985.  

He said it was a reasonable assumption he was moved to Sydney because of complaints made about him to the Bishop and to other clergy.

The conditions of the move included that Ridsdale work at the Centre, that Ridsdale not be in contact with children and that he continue with counselling. Within a year Ridsdale had offended against a boy from a local prayer group.

Questions were asked of Ridsdale about procedures for working in other parishes and how it was that someone with his record could move so freely from parish to parish, including Bulli, Woy Woy and Forrestville. 

Ridsdale returned to Ballarat diocese in 1986 and was made assistant priest at Horsham.

He maintained that he did not offend while he was there.

However, while he was there, Bishop Mulkearns received a complaint about earlier incidents where Ridsdale had abused a child. As a result Bishop Mulkearns withdrew him from Horsham in 1988 and withdrew his priestly faculties for 12 months.

He was sent to New Mexico to participate in a treatment program paid for by the diocese.

In May 1993 Ridsdale faced court where he pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting 8 children.

Following his conviction he was laicised.

In 1994 he pleaded guilty to further charges, including charges of abusing 20 boys. He was jailed for 18 years.

In 2006 he was sentenced to 13 years for abusing 10 boys. And in 2014 he was sentenced to eight years for abusing 11 boys and three girls.

In 2014 Ridsdale was sentenced before the County Court of Victoria for a range of assaults, including an 11- or 12- year-old girl in Ballarat who said another priest had witnessed the assault. Ridsdale said he did not know who the other priest was.

He will be eligible for parole in 2019 aged 84.

Ridsdale might be recalled by the Commission to answer questions later in the year.

The hearing was adjourned until 10.00am tomorrow morning when Bishop Paul Bird will give further evidence.


Wednesday 27 May 2015 - Day 7

Convicted pedophile, 81-year-old Gerald Ridsdale appeared before the Royal Commission from prison via video link today. A feature of his evidence was his lack of memory of key details of who and when people knew about his abuse of young children

He gave evidence about a number of different parishes in the Diocese of Ballarat in which he was relieving (Horsham, Inglewood, Camperdown and Ballarat North), assistant priest (Mildura, Swan Hill, Warnambool) or parish priest (Apollo Bay, Mortlake and more) from the early 1960s.

While he has been convicted of more than 50 offences he agreed the number could be much larger but can’t remember exactly how many.

He said he manipulated parents in order to get access to children and that he manipulated circumstances in the parish so he could get access to children.

Ridsdale told the Commission he did not have a particularly close relationship with the then Fr George Pell and did not discuss his offending with him. 'I never had much to do with him', he said.

When asked about his time sharing the presbytery at the Ballarat East Parish with Fr Pell he said he could not ‘actually remember being there with George’.

Of his time in the parish of Mortlake, he said he had a pool table and other games in the presbytery. He said the purpose of the pool table was to encourage children to come to the presbytery and that he abused some of those children.

He agreed he took children from the playground to the presbytery.  He agreed he didn’t think about the effect of his acts on children and that he was only concerned about his own gratification.

Ridsdale gave evidence to the Commission he has never confessed his child sex abuse offences in the Confessional. He also said he has never told anyone (apart from in legal matters or in counselling) of the abuse he had perpetrated for fear of being dismissed from the priesthood.

He said revealing his abuse to anyone 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.'

It was put to him that his pattern of abuse in each of the parishes to which he was appointed was to gather a group of five or more children with whom he formed a close and ongoing relationship, plus other casual contacts.

It was then said to him that he became involved in one or two families, often with an absent father, develop close relationships with the children, which then developed into a variety of sexual opportunities within the presbytery, on various outings and camps. The targets were predominantly prepubescent and/or early pubescent boys.

He accepted this was an accurate description of his pattern of abuse.


Tuesday 26 My 2015 - Day 6

The Royal Commission hearing continued in Ballarat today.

Andrew Collins returned to the stand to provide additional evidence which expanded on the meetings and correspondence he and Peter Blenkiron had with Bishop Paul Bird in 2013 and their request for support funding.

Fr Adrian McInerney, parish priest at St Alipius Parish Ballarat then took the stand. He gave evidence about his role in the Ballarat Diocese as the Bishop’s secretary and as a member of the Consultors Committee, which provided advice on issues including the placement and appointment of priests, including at times the appointment of Gerald Ridsdale.

He served on the Consultors Committee under Bishop Mulkearns.

He answered questions about his knowledge of allegations of the abuse of children and the history of priests in the Diocese.

He answered questions about the removal of Paul David Ryan’s faculties because of a child sexual abuse issue. He said other than Ryan, he couldn’t recall the Consultors Committee discussing allegations of child sexual abuse.

He answered questions about formation and sex education during his time at Corpus Christi Seminary from the age of 18, saying that "in those days they told me nothing". He gave his understanding of the vow of celibacy and how the practice of chastity meant living in such a way as to sustain a life of celibacy.

Discussion then moved to confession and absolution. Asked if he would report a crime revealed to him during confession, Fr McInerney said ‘a crime is a crime and has to be reported’. He said ‘if it’s a crime, I’d go to the police’.

He said he accompanied Ridsdale to court to provide a character statement for what he thought was a ‘minor matter’, only to discover it was a sentencing hearing in relation to child sexual abuse crimes. He described his support for Ridsdale as naive.

He said the culture of the Church probably did contribute to the abuse of so many children because priests and brothers enjoyed a position of privilege and power.  He said people’s attitudes to priests have shifted and that priests view themselves differently now.

The hearing continues. Ridsdale will give evidence tomorrow by video link from prison commencing at 10.00am.


Monday 25 May 2015 - Day 5

Day 5 of the Royal Commission’s hearing in Ballarat heard evidence from Dr Carolyn Quadrio who is Associate Professor with the School of Psychiatry with the University of New South Wales and a consultant child and family and forensic psychiatrist. She specializes in sexual trauma and has been involved in assessing institutional abuse since the 1980s.

She said the issue of clergy sex abuse is a global problem and it occurs in every faith group and that in the late 1990s psychiatry was just as in the dark as the general community on the issue. Even now, she said, psychiatry hasn’t fully taken on board the prevalence of sexual abuse and the damage caused. 

Dr Quadrio provided insight into the trauma of disclosure and the impact of the often negative reaction to people who disclose abuse. She said a large body of research in the past 20 years has helped raise awareness of child sex abuse and has helped change community attitudes.

She talked about the complex psychology of abuse and the subsequent difficulties supporting and treating abuse victims.

Dr Quadrio said children in care of any kind are open to abuse, noting that in Institutional care 30 per cent of girls and 20 per cent of boys are abused and that when the abuse is systemic, the numbers are much higher.

She said screening and testing are difficult as offenders exhibit no particular profile.

She said if a child shows predatory sexual behaviourit is  almost always a sign of having been abused.

She discussed the importance of trauma counselling for victims, provided by well qualified counsellors

She described the shattering and damaging impact of sexual abuse of children on their spirituality and the physical damage that results from abuse, including substance abuse, poverty and unemployment. She also noted that the lifespan of abuse victims is cut short by up to 20 years for a complex range of reasons.

She described common characteristics of grooming, including grooming of the child, the family and the community, so that when the disclosure comes, the immediate reaction is that it couldn’t be true.

She said current treatment programs for offenders in NSW are not very effective, noting high rates of recidivism. She said 60-80 per cent of people in prison have had traumatic childhoods, including sex abuse.

Dr Quadrio stressed the importance of listening to children. She said children are symptomatic for a reason and there needed to be better awareness in communities, especially among teachers, psychologists and GPs.

Dr Quadrio said that false reporting of child sexual abuse is unusual because of the trauma associated with making a child sexual abuse disclosure.

The hearing will continue tomorrow. 


Friday 22 May 2015 - Day 4

Day 4 of the Ballarat hearing saw the end of a very difficult week for survivors and the Ballarat community.

Br Peter Clinch, Province Leader of the Christian Brothers Oceania Province gave evidence about the Christian Brothers in Victoria, the involvement of the Christian Brothers in schools in Ballarat and the response of the Order to criminal convictions of Brothers for child sexual abuse.

He described how the Order approached matters related to professional standards. He talked about the process of removing brothers found to have been child abuse offenders from the Order. In response to questions from the Commission Chair he talked about celibacy and formation and the significant support available for the Brothers in this respect and the processes of formation in the Congregation. He elaborated on the screening processes currently used for candidates for the Order, including psychological testing.

He described the culture that allowed the abuse to happen.  He acknowledged the ‘warped sense of power’ that enabled some of the brothers to abuse children. He said perpetrators were very sick men, exacerbated by the circumstances in which they were living, including the physical and emotional environment.

He talked about the role of corporal punishment in Christian Brothers’ schools which was publicly stopped around 1985.

He discussed staffing, membership and procedures of the Christian Brothers Professional Standards Office and the Professional Standards Consultative Committee, including regarding impending criminal charges against brothers, financial settlements, and counselling and support for victims.

He said the hearing has highlighted the need for ongoing counselling services for victims and the brothers’ willingness to work with CASA in the best interests of victims.

He said the Brothers have sufficient funds and assets for ongoing settlements and support of victims and that claims are more numerous in Ballarat and Perth and, to a lesser extent, Melbourne, Goulburn and Sydney. He said the Order is committed to supporting primary and secondary victims.

He discussed the processes by which claims are being re-examined in Ballarat, including guiding principles for civil claims. He said the budget has increased five-fold this year for claims. The Brothers are using investments to pay claims. Some property has been sold.

He discussed the need for an improved approach to support for victims who have received a settlement. He said their current practice is to ask for deeds of release, but that confidentiality is not required. He said ‘our response has to be compassionate and open’.

The hearing continues on Monday.



Thursday 21 May 2015 - Day 3

The Royal Commission’s hearing continued in Ballarat today.

Counsel Assisting Gail Furness SC tendered a letter provided overnight which included a statement by Cardinal George Pell in response to the previous day’s proceedings.

Mr Paul Tatchell then gave evidence.  He attended St Patrick’s College in 1974 as a boarder. He described the abuse he suffered at the hands of Br Edward Dowlan who pleaded guilty to offences including those against Mr Tatchell and was sentenced to nine years and 8 months in jail. He said Dowlan preyed on vulnerable boys. He told his father about the abuse but was not believed.

Mr Tatchell said he received compensation, but gave it away to homeless people as it was ‘blood money’.

Stephen Woods gave evidence about the sexual and physical abuse he suffered at the hands of Br Robert Best when he was a student in grade 6 at St Alipius Boys School. He then went to St Patrick’s College in 1973 as a day student. He described the abuse he suffered at the hands of Br. Dowlan and Fr Gerald Ridsdale, who was well known to his family.

Mr Woods made a statement to police in 1993 about Ridsdale, Best and Dowlan. Ridsdale and Dowlan pleaded guilty to the charges and were convicted. Best did not plead guilty but was eventually convicted

Mr Woods went public about his abuse after 1996 partly because he ‘wanted to expose the horrific cover-up perpetrated by the senior members of the Catholic Church who I believe knew about Ridsdale, Best and Dowlan for many years but chose to do nothing about it’.

 The Commission then heard from Mr Frank Sheehan works with survivors of abused by Catholic priests and brothers. He has been President since 2012 of Moving Towards Justice, which is an initiative of lay people within the Church in Ballarat.

 He described the ‘Quilt of Hope’ which the group had made and taken to different parishes to provide a focus for survivors to tell their stories. He also described the work of the group in establishing survivor packages with the financial assistance of the Dioceses and the Christian Brothers.

Andrea Lockhart, senior counsellor Centre Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) gave evidence about CASA’s work as a state government funded sexual assault service which provides free counselling and support for survivors and their families. 

She spoke about the long term impact of child sexual abuse and the importance of unlimited access to counselling. She also discussed the role of CASA helping people to approach the Church.

Mr BAQ described the sexual abuse he and other boys suffered at the hands of his teachers Br Leo Fitzgerald and Br Stephen Farrell and priest Ridsdale. The abuse by Fitzgerald and Farrell occurred when BAQ was a student at St Alipius.

He then attended St Patrick’s College Ballarat, where he said many of the children from other primary schools had heard about the abuse. He found it difficult to believe church leadership did not know about it.

Andrew Collins attended a non-Catholic primary school and St Patrick’s College Ballarat. He described the sexual abuse he suffered as a child by Br Peter Toomey at St Patrick’s College.Br Toomey had been convicted and imprisoned in about 2006.

He has become an advocate for victims of abuse with 140 people in a Ballarat support group he is involved with.

He said most will never speak publicly about the abuse for fear of impact on their family and business. He told the Commission Ballarat is a Catholic town and the Catholic Church is very closed which stops people coming forward. People who speak out are ostracised.

He said he knew of 10 victims of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions in Ballarat who died last year.

In early 2013 Peter Blenkiron and Mr Collins met Bishop Paul Bird and asked for financial support equivalent to the difference between disability and returned servicemen’s pension, $252 a week.

Mr Collins said Bishop Bird responded saying that such a payment would send the church broke and that in 40 years ‘you’ will be dead and the church will endure.

Mr Collins went on to say the Diocese and the Christian Brothers have been helpful when asked to meet medical expenses for survivors. Mr Collins’ evidence will continue next week.

Full witness statements can be read at:



Wednesday 20 May 2015 - Day 2

Day 2 of the Ballarat hearing heard more distressing evidence from survivors about the ongoing impact of the sexual abuse they suffered as children.

Gordon Hill lived at St Joseph’s Orphanage in Ballarat from the age of three until he was 17. The orphanage was run by the Sisters of Nazareth. He described the sexual abuse he suffered while living at the orphanage including being first abused when he was five years old.

He also described harsh physical punishment at the hands of the nuns and other humiliating treatment and mental abuse. He told the Commission when he left St Joseph’s he had no social skills, couldn’t read or write or relate to people.

Neil Wileman was a full time boarder at St Patrick’s College from 1972 following his parents’ divorce.  He described the sexual abuse he endured at the hands of Br Dowlan and Br Ring from the time he was 12.

He told the Commission Dowlan had abused him 2-3 times a week. He said it was difficult to tell anyone because of the fear, disgust and embarrassment he felt.

He reported the abuse to police in 1996. Dowlan was eventually charged with offences relating to Mr Wileman and 19 other boys.

Timothy Green gave evidence that Br Dowlan abused him while he was at St Patrick’s College. Mr Green reported to police in 2014. Mr Green said ‘it was common knowledge in students in my year that Dowlan was abusing many of the boys at the school’.

Mr Green told the Commission he had told then Father George Pell that boys were being abused. Cardinal Pell said in a statement released after Mr Green’s evidence that he has no recollection of the conversation.

Mr BAB was one of eight children in a prominent Catholic family in Ballarat East. He was abused by his St Alipius Primary School teacher Br Fitzgerald in 1973 while in third grade. Because he refused further advances from Fitzgerald he suffered harsh physical abuse.  

He said he didn’t tell his parents because they were an integral part of the Catholic community and he didn’t want to shake their faith.

David Ridsdale was abused by his uncle, Gerald Ridsdale when he was 11 in year 6. The abuse continued until he was 15. He described the power his uncle had over his family and community and the efforts he went to to groom his parents.

Mr Ridsdale told the Commission after having told the then Father Pell about the abuse, Fr Pell attempted to bribe him. Cardinal Pell said in a statement issued after today’s evidence that at no time had he attempted to bribe David Ridsdale.

Helen Watson gave evidence about her son, Peter’s experience, who was abused by a Catholic priest in the Ararat presbytery, Fr Paul David Ryan, who was eventually convicted of abusing other boys.

Peter did not disclose the abuse to his mother and for a number of years engaged in self-mutilation, alcohol and drug abuse and other out of character behavior. He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. 

After a period of being in and out of jobs and psychiatric hospitals he eventually took his own life, three years after telling his mother about the abuse. 

Peter Blenkiron attended St Patrick’s College Ballarat from the age of 11 as a day student.

He was routinely sexually abused by one of his teachers, Br Dowlan.  He said he was aware that other boys were also being abused.  He said he never told anyone while he was at St Patrick’s and that it wasn’t until the Ridsdale and Best cases were going through the courts that he began to talk about the abuse.

Full witness statements can be read at:


The hearing will continue tomorrow.


Tuesday 19 May 2015 – Day 1

Case Study 28, of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse commenced in Ballarat in Victoria today.

This is the first of two public hearings which will examine various institutions run by Catholic Church authorities in and around Ballarat.

It will also examine the impact of the abuse on the Ballarat community.

This public hearing is concerned with the impact of child sexual abuse on a number of survivors who were abused by Catholic clergy and religious in the following institutions:

  • St Joseph's Home in Ballarat, a children's home, administered by the Sisters of Nazareth, a female Catholic religious order;
  • St Alipius Boys School Ballarat East, which was staffed by the Christian Brothers;
  • St Alipius Parish which is in Ballarat East
  • St Patrick's College, a secondary school run by the Christian Brothers in Ballarat, and
  • St Patrick's Christian Brothers Boys Primary School in Ballarat.

The Royal Commission will hear from 18 survivor witnesses.

The Commission will also hear evidence from Gerald Francis Ridsdale, a former priest of the Diocese of Ballarat who remains incarcerated following convictions for indecent assault, gross indecency and buggery of children.  His evidence will be given by video link.

Paul David Ryan was ordained as a priest in the Diocese of Ballarat in 1976. Ryan has given evidence at a private hearing before the Royal Commission and the transcript of that hearing will be tendered. Ryan has been convicted of three charges of indecent assault against one victim in Victoria.

Evidence will also be heard from Frank Sheehan, President of Moving Towards Justice; Andrea Lockhart, Senior Clinician Ballarat CASA; and Associate Professor Carolyn Qadrio, Conjoint Associate Professor, School of Psychiatry University of NSW.

The Commission will also hear from Fr Adrian McInerney, Parish priest, St Alipius Parish Ballarat; Br Peter Clinch, Province Leader, Christian Brothers Oceania Province; and Bishop Paul BirdBishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat.

In her opening statement, Senior Counsel Assisting, Gail Furness said Ballarat community members have described wide ranging impacts of systematic institutional child sexual assault, including significant social, health and mental issues for survivors, a large number of reported suicides and premature deaths; and shunning of victims by their own families and the institutions in which they were abused; a loss of faith and connectedness to the Catholic Church communities and a lack of community cohesion.

Philip Nagle was the first of 18 survivor witnesses to give evidence. He described the abuse he suffered at the aged of nine at the hands of Br Stephen Francis Farrell at St Alipius Boys School. He said he couldn’t tell anybody about the abuse because he didn’t understand what was happening. He described the impact on his studies, his thoughts of suicide after being assaulted twice at a school camp by Farrell. He also witnessed Farrell assaulting his brother at their family farm.

A witness given the pseudonym BAC gave evidence of being abused by Br Farrell at St Alipius Boys School. When as an adult he later reported the abuse to the police, his evidence and that of Philip Nagle led to Br Farrell being convicted of child sexual abuse offences. Stephen Farrell was given a two year suspended sentence.

A witness given the pseudonym BAS gave evidence of being abused by Br McCarthy at St Patrick's Christian Brothers Boys Primary School. He described the effects the abuse has had on him and his family life.

A witness given the pseudonym BAP described being abused by Br Fitzgerald and Br Best at St Alipius Boys School. He also described his subsequent suicide attempts and a mediated civil claim he made against the Christian Brothers.

Mr BAA gave evidence via video link. He described abuse by Br Fitzgerald and Br Robert Best at St Alipius School. In 1974 he started at St Patrick’s College as a day boy. He described sexual abuse perpetrated by his teacher Br Edward Dowlen. He was unable to tell anyone about the abuse until he told his wife in 2007. He described the impact including substance abuse, limited capacity to work or study, trouble dealing with authority, explosive reaction to other employees, difficulty establishing friendships. He described his experiences with Towards Healing and Broken Rights. He reported to police in July 2012. By then Br Fitzgerald had died. However Mr BAA’s evidence was part of the evidence that led to the conviction of Fr Dowlan.

Paul Auchettl then gave evidence. He attended St Alipius from K-6. He was 11 years old when he was first abused by Best. Other boys had warned him about Ridsdale. He was never abused by Ridsdale. He described feelings of guilt and shame. He did not trust police, he had trouble with authority. He was in jail by the age of 18. He said the Catholic Church seems remorseless and unapologetic and unable to respond appropriately.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

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