South-west bishop’s pledge: I’ll do all I can to protect children

THE south-west’s new Catholic bishop has promised to do his “utmost” to ensure the safety of children, both now and in the future.

“I hope to respond as well as I can to those who have been hurt in the past and to those who still carry a legacy of pain,” Ballarat diocese bishop Paul Bird said in a statement released yesterday.

His comments come as the state parliamentary inquiry into child sexual abuse prepares to sit in Ballarat tomorrow. It is the first time the joint investigative committee has held hearings outside Melbourne, with witnesses expected to appear from 11.30am.

“The inquiry will hear submissions particularly from those who have suffered abuse and those representing the people who have been hurt so deeply,” Bishop Bird said.

“I believe that it is right that those who have suffered are being heard first. Their submissions will form the basis of the inquiry’s continuing work.” 

Bishop Bird said the Catholic church had already made a detailed written submission to the inquiry. He expected church representatives would appear in person at a later date.

“At that time, they will have the opportunity to speak to their submission and answer questions. In addition ... the church is co-operating with the inquiry to arrange for their access to the documents they require. These include documents from the diocese of Ballarat,” he said.

“Since my recent ordination as bishop, I have been getting to know the people in the diocese and hearing of the impact that this abuse has had on the victims, their families and our communities.”

The Ballarat diocese, which covers all Catholic churches in the south-west, was the subject of damning reports of historic sexual abuse during inquiry hearings last month.

Representatives of the Broken Rites victims’ advocacy organisation detailed around 50 cases of abuse by clergy, including cover-ups of abuse by paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale and offences committed by Father Paul David Ryan in Penshurst.

Ridsdale’s abuse of boys and girls lasted from the 1970s until his conviction in October 1994, with research by Broken Rites detailing efforts by Catholic leaders to move him away from complaints.

In its written submission, the church said it had upheld 310 complaints of criminal abuse since establishing the Towards Healing program in 1997.

“With great regret, the church acknowledges that there have been instances in the past where further abuse could have been prevented by more effective action against offenders, and where inadequate support was given to victims,” it added.

The inquiry is due to report to the Victorian Parliament by April 30.

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