The Age reports…
“A paedophile priest who was convicted of more than 100 charges of sexual abuse against children over about 30 years began offending before he was ordained and says he worked with no restrictions at any of the parishes he was moved to amid numerous abuse allegations.
Gerald Ridsdale, 81, told a royal commission on Wednesday he had spent his life feeling “uncomfortable” around adults, keeping secrets and in fear of being discovered as a paedophile. He also said he had been sexually abused as a child himself, and had had a three-year relationship while in prison.
The first time he abused a child was at a camp for disadvantaged children while he was still in training to become a priest at a seminary in Werribee.
Within a year of his ordination in 1961, the Catholic Church received its first complaint about Ridsdale abusing children. Then-Bishop James O’Collins threatened to send Ridsdale “off the mission” if he offended again, which meant he would no longer work as a priest.
Ms Furness asked if this threat played on his mind as he moved to different parishes and abused children. Ridsdale, who was also abused by a cousin and an uncle when he was younger than 12, said: “It could have.”
He repeatedly denied having to comply with certain conditions when he was moved to different parishes, despite parishioners’ complaints of his abusive behaviour.
“I’ve never had any restrictions or conditions put on me,” he said.
Church authorities’ knowledge and response to Ridsdale and others’ sexual offending are being examined at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat.
Ridsdale repeatedly told counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness, SC, that he could not remember why he had left various parishes, and whether he had told then-Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns that he had abused children.
Ms Furness prompted Ridsdale with evidence from witnesses who reported abuse allegations against him to Bishop Mulkearns, including the bishop himself.
Ridsdale accepted that a number of parishioners, Bishop Mulkearns and two of his former vicar generals, Monsignor Leo Fiscalini and Monsignor Henry Nolan, knew he had sexual difficulties.
“It makes sense that some would’ve known because word would’ve got around but I don’t know who. I don’t know whether the bishop would’ve kept it to himself.”
Of other priests in the Ballarat Diocese, he said “No one gave any indication at all that they knew what had been going on.”
Asked whether he had been charged for every child he had abused in Edenhope, he said “I can’t remember how many.”
The commission’s chairman, Justice Peter McClellan asked: “Did it occur to you at the time that you were hurting children?”
“Your Honour, I’m not sure. I don’t know. I don’t know what I was thinking,” he replied.
Ridsdale revealed he had only ever had sexual feelings for adults while in prison.
He had a “vague recollection” of sleeping close to and cuddling his first victim back in the 1960s.
“It seemed to be just a need for intimacy, hugging and closeness,” he previously told investigators from the church’s insurance company.
“I think I have always felt the need for closeness,” he told the commission.
Asked whether he had every felt the need for closeness with adults, he said: “You mean the cuddling, closeness, sexuality aspect? Not really except for a three-year period in prison, where I had a close relationship with another prisoner.”
Ridsdale also revealed ways that he and the church sought psychological treatment.
The first time he approached a psychiatrist was at a mental institution in Warrnambool in the early 1970s, where he gave communion. He told him he thought he might be homosexual.
The man responded “‘Do you dream about having sex with men?’ and I said ‘No’ and he said ‘Well you have got no problems, you are OK’ and rather than follow it up then with, ‘Well, what about kids?”, I just let it go.”
In 1975, when then-Bishop Mulkearns first learned that Ridsdale had abused children, he referred him to a Franciscan priest, Father Peter Evans, for treatment.
Ridsdale was “disappointed” that he only received about three sessions, which involved teaching him relaxation techniques “I think he went away and got married.” He could not remember what else was involved.
He resigned from Edenhope Parish and took a year of study leave at the National Pastoral Institute in Melbourne in 1980.
That year he tried to speak about his sexual deviance with Father Brian Gray who he thought was also a psychologist. “I asked him one day if I could talk to him about my life and from memory I think the response I got was ‘No I’m too busy’.”
Ridsdale had wanted sexual education to prepare him for the priesthood in the seminary. Asked whether he would have reconsidered becoming a priest had he received this, he replied: “My desire to be a priest was so strong … that I just wouldn’t have wanted to leave the seminary, I would have wanted to stay on regardless and push on.”
He acknowledged that had these measures been in place, others could have stopped him from becoming a priest if they thought he was unsuitable for the job.
Ridsdale also said he believed that priests should report to police any crimes that they hear in the confession box.”