WARRNAMBOOL advocates for the sexual abuse victims of Catholic clergy have applauded the actions of Ballarat’s Australian Catholic University (ACU) in taking the name of former local bishop Ronald Mulkearns from a university lecture theatre.
Former teacher Ann Ryan, of Warrnambool, said Bishop Emeritus Mulkearns was the most complicit in the cover up of sexual abuse by former Catholic priest Gerald Ridsdale of her pupils at St Colman’s Primary School in Mortlake in the early 1980s. Bishop Emeritus Mulkearns served as Catholic bishop of the Ballarat diocese — which covers the entire south-west — from 1971 to 1997.
Mrs Ryan said the ACU’s move cast a new light on the many stone commemoration tablets in Warrnambool and elsewhere in the south-west bearing Bishop Emeritus Mulkearns’ name.
The present Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird this year told the Victorian government inquiry into institutionalised sexual abuse that Bishop Emeritus Mulkearns had made “tragic mistakes” in his handling of the sexual abuse reports, particularly by moving priests around the diocese and recommending counselling and therapy instead of removing them from the ministry.
Mrs Ryan said the striping of the honour from the former bishop was a good move not only for the victims of sexual abuse but also for the Ballarat diocese’s history.
She said she had lobbied Bishop Emeritus Mulkearns for three years in the late 1980s and the early 1990s to take action to stop Gerald Ridsdale’s sexual abuse.
“He (Mulkearns) used to shrug his shoulders and say they are just allegations,” Mrs Ryan said.
Ridsdale was due for release from jail in 2019 for child sexual offences but his jail time was this year extended to 2022 after he was found guilty of further child sexual offences.
Mrs Ryan said she wrote to 22 priests in the Ballarat diocese in 1993 raising her concerns about the lack of action to stop Ridsdale’s sexual abuse and received only three replies.
All of the priests who did nothing were also complicit in the cover up as were the Sisters of Mercy nuns who were sworn to keep Ridsdale’s actions secret, she said.
Mrs Ryan said she was “bemused” by the ACU’s decision to rename the former Mulkearns lecture theatre as the Sister of Mercy Theatre when the sisters had also kept quiet about the sexual abuse of pupils in their care.
Former Warrnambool detective Colin Ryan said the Catholic Church’s actions against Catholic clergy committing sexual abuse was “reprehensible”.
Mr Ryan, who was a detective for 20 years in Warrnambool, charged Catholic priests Brian Coffey and Paul Ryan who were convicted of child sexual offences.
He said Bishop Emeritus Mulkearns had moved Coffey and Ryan, both of whom served in Warrnambool, to other towns when he found out they were committing sexual offences in the Ballarat diocese.
Paul Ryan was sent to the United States where he committed further sexual offences against students, Mr Ryan said.
“The damage that paedophile priests have done to victims cannot be understated,” he said.
“It’s a good thing they are facing repercussions for their actions, not only the offenders but those who covered it up,” Mr Ryan said.