While the language can get just a little crude, this is the best article I have read on the Catholic Church's enabling of pedophile priests. As Australia's Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse moves into western Victoria State, expect some horrifying stories of abuse, cover-ups, and church complicity to emerge. God have mercy on the witnesses.
|George Pell, then an auxiliary bishop, right, accompanying pedophile priest |
Gerald Ridsdale to court
Even when Gerald Ridsdale was a young man he had the habits of a sinful old bastard.
Almost from the moment he was ordained in 1961, the Catholic Church in Australia’s most vicious offender was up to no good.
With his ear to the local gossip — perhaps even in the confessional when parishioners across western Victoria’s vast plains purged their fears and regrets — Father Gerry would be poised, waiting anxiously for the information he needed.
Word of a broken home, a death in the family, financial troubles; any weakness would do.
With this knowledge, Ridsdale — 81 on Wednesday — would swoop on grieving families, pretending to be offering wise counsel and pastoral relief. Doing the Lord’s work.
All the while, he was quietly preying on the parish’s children.
The more fragile the child the better for Father Gerry.
While child abuse is cruel, Ridsdale was vicious, buggering most, revelling in the sexual depravity of using blunt instruments on children too young to play mini-colts football. Most victims were boys.
But when he tired of males, he would turn to girls.
When the royal commission into institutional child sex abuse marches tomorrow into Ballarat, the de facto capital of western Victoria, it will have been a long time coming for victims and parishioners alike.
To date, no national inquiry has tried to unpick the disaster of the Ballarat diocese that unfolded in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
For while Ridsdale led the charge, he was not alone. In the mix were other convicted offenders including Brother Robert Best, Brother Edward Dowlan and Father Paul Ryan, who were aided by a grossly negligent church and, at times, a duplicitous police command. The bulk of the offending occurred in the 70s and 80s when Ronald Mulkearns was bishop of Ballarat.
|Bishop Ronald Mulkears|
Mulkearns, about the same age as Ridsdale, was the man who, once notified about the offending, was responsible for dealing with the offenders.
To say the modern church is outraged by the actions of the then pope’s man in Ballarat is an understatement.
“To say I took no action is wrong. I sent them for counselling. I can’t help if they blame me for what happened,’’ Mulkearns said in a recent interview.
“I regret terribly what happened. I wish I knew then what I know now because I would’ve done things differently.’’
The travesty of the Ballarat offending was that at the stroke of a pen on many, many occasions, offenders were simply shifted to a new parish. Ballarat one day, Edenhope the next. Things would go to custard in Inglewood, next stop Swan Hill.
All with the rubber stamp of the diocese.
For Peter Blenkiron, the next three weeks in Ballarat will be excruciating. He was abused at the age of 11 at Ballarat’s St Patrick’s College by Christian Brother Edward Dowlan, who was everything but a Christian. Now aged 65, Dowlan has admitted abusing boys at St Alipius in Ballarat in 1971, St Patrick’s College in Ballarat in 1973 and 1974, Warrnambool Christian Brothers College in 1975-76, Chanel College in Geelong in 1980 and Cathedral College, East Melbourne, between 1982 and 1988.
|Peter Blenkiron, CSA survivor|
“A lot of the stuff doesn’t even make the death notices because it’s too hard for the families, which is understandable,’’ Blenkiron laments. “Change is possible. It will be difficult. But to not do it will cause generational genocide.”
He says it’s not just the survivors of the abuse in Ballarat who are hurting but also their families, and these secondary victims also need support. “The ripple effect isn’t a ripple effect in Ballarat. It’s an atomic bomb.”
The impact of the abuse was immense, with the diocese covering several thousands of square kilometres — all the way to the South Australian and NSW borders.
The church, certainly until the 80s, dominated a region that was strongly old-school Irish Catholic, but so vast was the abuse that it was as if the church used the pedophiles as pin cushions across western Victoria.
The pins were moved whenever word spread that the priest was a predator.
|Victoria State, Australia|
“When you address this from a bottom-line point of view and don’t incorporate the values, you end up with trying to limit liability, save money, which is what the Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response did,’’ he says.
“It was about those two things, limiting liability, saving face, giving people some money, sign off, don’t mention it. That’s what used to happen.”
Blenkiron would like to see a national redress scheme trialled in Ballarat, along the lines of one for returned servicemen with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Everyone says it’s too hard. Keep people out of jail, keep people alive, save the community money, change the culture. It’s a simple message.”
Francis Sullivan is the chief executive of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which is co-ordinating the Catholic Church’s response to the royal commission.
He believes the church leadership is still struggling with the backlash and agrees there needs to be a national redress scheme and an independent umpire who investigates and determines what the compensation should be.
“The Catholic Church will pay its full weight just like every other institution that has to, but it needs to be administered independently because the days of the Catholic Church investigating itself are over,’’ he says.
“I think the magnitude of the anger and disenchantment, not only in the community but in the Catholic community, has surprised, if not shocked, some of the leaders.”
He thinks that even though the church put redress schemes in place years ago, that effort has not taken away the anger people have towards the church.
“Its history is shameful and confronting and I think the royal commission and the reactions that have happened both publicly and privately demonstrate that, and I think that’s been again a real … learning, awareness, awakening,’’ Sullivan says.
“I think the church leadership has also recognised that an overly legalistic and risk management type of approach that was adopted in the past is just not suitable for a church and that real commitment to survivors and their families is a lifelong pastoral commitment.”
Yet Sullivan’s views are not always embraced by the modern church leadership, which, despite the white noise, has worked assiduously to right some of the wrongs.
The Melbourne Response adopted in the Archdiocese of Melbourne at the behest of former archbishop George Pell — despite some flaws — has been judged by those who know as being generally generous and biased towards the victims.
Much of the criticism has come from the fact that the weight of suffering has been so profound that few victims could be expected to respond with thanks toward the church. Indeed, why would they?
For the next three weeks, the royal commission will attempt to unpick the disaster that has been the Ballarat diocese.
The scope of the first hearing into the diocese includes St Alipius Primary School, St Alipius Parish, St Patrick’s College and St Patrick’s Christian Brothers Boys’ Primary School. At each school offending occurred.
It will also potentially hear evidence from offenders and seek to understand the extent of the damage to the community.
Shireen Gunn is the manager of Ballarat’s Centre Against Sexual Assault. CASA runs fortnightly support groups for male survivors of institutional abuse and Gunn says the group has just “grown and grown”.
She says there is anxiety among the groups about the commission and an air of expectation. “We have got some very heavy few weeks about to descend on our town,” she says.
Not surprisingly, she says CASA expects other survivors to come forward and make contact once the royal commission starts, but many of the abused are now dead. “We have a very high suicide rate … That’s what needs to basically stop.
“How that stops is people (being) able to reach out and be supported.”
Like all social catastrophes, the implications are local, national and even international.
It is certain news of the Ballarat hearings will filter quickly, if not immediately, to the Vatican.
Like Ridsdale, Pell is a Ballarat boy. While Ridsdale is wicked, Pell used his towering intellect to become, effectively, the Vatican’s treasurer. This makes him one of the world’s most influential Australians. Ever.
When Ridsdale appeared in court in 1993 for the first time to face charges, Pell naively supported his priestly brother.
Pell had shared a house with Ridsdale for about a year from early 1973 at the St Alipius Presbytery, next door to the primary school, where some of the offending had occurred.
By then, Pell was climbing the church’s equivalent of a greasy pole and was an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne.
“It was simply a gesture on my part,” Pell later lamented.
During a recent Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse, both Pell and incumbent Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart criticised Mulkearns and former archbishop of Melbourne Frank Little over their handling of abuse.
Those who understand the gravity of this will look back at these words as probably the most significant of the entire parliamentary inquiry.
While the inquiry served a purpose, it also seemed to become bogged down in its own self-importance, leaping on “revelations’’ that were in fact old news.
There is no doubt Pell and Hart have made mistakes, but, conspiracies aside, they have also done more than most to address the systemic failures, which almost exclusively occurred under the watch of Little and Mulkearns.
Little is dead. But it was clear from the evidence that he covered up abuse. Mulkearns, meanwhile, was accused by Pell, under parliamentary privilege, of destroying crucial church documents.
The Australian has unsuccessfully tried to interview Mulkearns, who failed to give evidence to the parliamentary inquiry because of a recent stroke. Until late 2013 at least, he had been saying mass in the diocese.
For Blenkiron, abused so long ago by Dowlan, the royal commission is difficult but necessary.
“It’s going to be difficult because we’re talking about authority figures in the judicial system, and it was authority figures that got us as kids,’’ he says.
“It’s a necessary pain ... and I’m motivated by having nobody else die. Too many people have died.”
No one is sure of how many people have died after being abused. Police have made attempts to create a list detailing the number of suicides but The Australian understands that it is most likely inaccurate.
What is certain is that hundreds of people were abused in the Ballarat diocese, and most of these victims were so spiritually damaged that their lives will have been laced with misery.
If they are still alive.