VICTIMS of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale have begun "unprecedented" legal action against former Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns, saying he could have protected them from child sex abuse.
Ten of Ridsdale's victims began proceedings in the Victorian Supreme Court this week, saying Bishop Mulkearns was aware of complaints about the predatory priest but failed to act.
High-profile lawyer Viv Waller said the action was the first to bypass the Ellis Defence- a loophole where the church cannot be sued.
"Because the church technically isn't a legal entity, it cannot be sued for the actions of priests and bishops," Dr Waller said.
"Unless individuals responsible for the act are still alive, there is no one who you can commence proceedings against.
"Because Mulkearns is still alive, but his age is advancing and he is apparently too unwell to appear at the Royal Commission, we have launched this action now so it will be heard."
Dr Waller said seven of the victims involved in the action had won convictions against Ridsdale at his most recent trail.
The diocese's current Bishop Paul Bird told the 2013 Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into church abuse it was a "tragic mistake" to keep Ridsdale in the priesthood after 1975, when allegations were first brought to Bishop Mulkearns' attention.
Instead, Ridsdale was sent for counselling and moved around the diocese, including a stint at Mortlake in the 1980s where many children were abused.
Bishop Mulkearns declined to front the 2013 parliamentary inquiry and is unlikely to appear at Royal Commission public hearings in Ballarat next week.
In 1996 he told the ABC's Four Corners program he had acted within his conscious. He felt Ridsdale was "tragically flawed" and was now paying the price in jail.
"For many of my clients, their abuse wouldn't have occurred if Ridsdale had been taken out of circulation in 1975," Dr Waller said.
"I'm hopeful the Royal Commission hearings will shed some more light on what the church knew and when."
Dr Waller said she was hopeful the matters could be resolved in settlement meetings rather than taking proceedings to court.
"Lawyers for the diocese have indicated they are willing to engage in meetings, so I am hopeful."
The Bishop's office has been contacted for comment.