Church lawyers play hardball over abused man’s Ridsdale compo claim


‘‘I just wish that the abuse had never happened to anyone,’’ the man said.

Ridsdale, who was moved across south-west Victoria by authorities in a bid to protect the church’s reputation, has admitted to abusing hundreds of victims and been jailed four times.

In the current civil compensation case, the church has denied any knowledge of Ridsdale’s repeat offending before he went to Mortlake in the early 1980s.

The church acknowledges there was a one-off incident involving Ridsdale at Inglewood near Bendigo in 1975 but denies it was ever known he had a propensity for offending.

An affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by Dr Christine Atmore, of Judy Courtin Legal, claimed another ex-bishop of Ballarat, James O’Collins, was told in about 1963 that Ridsdale had abused a boy in North Ballarat.

During the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse the church admitted that Bishop O’Collins told Ridsdale there had been a complaint, that Ridsdale had admitted molesting a boy and that the bishop had warned him that if it happened again he would no longer be able to serve as a priest.

Former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns.

Former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns.Credit:The Courier

The church also acknowledged that for Bishop Mulkearns to appoint Ridsdale to other parishes, after becoming aware that the priest had offended while at Inglewood and in the absence of any clearance from a psychologist or psychiatrist, was ‘‘inexcusably wrong’’.

Operation Arcadia, a three-month Ballarat-based police investigation into what Mulkearns knew about Ridsdale, found that the bishop knew about Ridsdale’s crimes much earlier than he admitted.

In the mid-1990s The Warrnambool Standard ran a story headlined ‘‘Bishop knew’’ which revealed that a police sergeant from Inglewood went to Ballarat and saw Bishop Mulkearns, raising concerns about Ridsdale abusing a child.

The priest was moved overnight.

Gerald Ridsdale giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.

Gerald Ridsdale giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.

In response to a number of articles in The Standard during the mid 1990s, Bishop Mulkearns penned a letter to the newspaper in which he infamously said: ‘‘I don’t tell lies’’.

Dr Mulkearns, who died in 2016, was bishop from 1971 until 1997.

Dr Atmore declined to comment about Wednesday’s judgement saying the matter was still before the court. The judgement allowed the plaintiff to amend their claim to include the diocese as a defendant in the case.

The case is listed for trial on August 12.

Justice Michael McDonald has also asked the church’s legal team for an explanation in relation to the church denying knowledge of Ridsdale’s paedophile activities with a view to determining if costs should be awarded to the victim.

No Catholic church abuse case has ever gone to judgement in civil court but victims are now extremely keen to put their claims to the test.

They also want to go to court as a symbolic gesture to represent the many victims who have taken their own lives over the past 30 years.

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