Church abuse inquiry told of cover-up

DAMNING reports of historic sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the Ballarat and Warrnambool regions was included in evidence to a state inquiry yesterday. 

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. 

The group has also provided the inquiry with records of abuse by convicted Christian Brother Robert Charles Best in Ballarat.

Information passed on from The Standard sparked the police inquiry in 1995. 

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. 

Broken Rites researcher Wayne Chamley said thousands of victims had contacted the organisation since 1994. 

“I suggest that the committee is presented with a situation where religious persons with the recognised status of a priest, brother or nun, have been prepared to offend against children and disregard the laws which govern our society, over many years,” he said. 

Information passed on from The Standard sparked a police inquiry in 1995.

“More senior members of the church, bishops and others, have also been prepared to disregard community expectations, to cover-up offences and they have not been prepared to take action against known offenders,” Mr Chamley said.

The evidence follows revelations in The Ballarat Courier yesterday of a 1995 police report into the actions of retired Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns. Police found Bishop Mulkearns reported knowledge of abuse by Ridsdale much later than being told of them.

The inquiry was told of Operation Arcadia, which found Bishop Mulkearns knew about the abuse earlier than he told police but that he was not guilty of any offences.

Earlier, Victoria Police advisor Patrick Tidmarsh told the inquiry the Catholic Church lacked the motivation and ability to properly investigate complaints.

“I can’t think of a single case where a priest has not been moved and reoffended, and moved again and reoffended again,” he said.

The inquiry may also consider mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse by religious ministers — including after the Catholic sacrament of confession.

Representatives of the state’s Centres Against Sexual Assault told the committee that mandatory reporting rules should be extended to admissions made during confession.

The Catholic Church in Victoria supports an extension of mandatory reporting rules except where priests would have to break the confidentiality of the confessional.

Carolyn Worth of South Eastern CASA told the committee increased reporting would lead to better outcomes for vulnerable children and the current rules “encouraged a climate of secrecy”.

“I think it sends a community message to organisations that (reporting) is what is expected of you, and it is no different to teachers or community workers,” Ms Worth said.

The inquiry is due to report to the Victorian Parliament by April 30 and senior Catholic Church leaders are expected to give evidence in coming months.

                                                                                                                         with BALLARAT COURIER

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