Church paid for renovations to Bishop Mulkearns' private property

Former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns. Picture: FILE
Former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns. Picture: FILE

The region’s Catholic diocese paid for renovations to former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns’ Great Ocean Road property.

Bishop Mulkearns was the head of the Ballarat diocese when 107 substantiated abuse cases occurred in the 1970s, involving paedophiles Gerald Ridsdale, Edward Dowlan, Robert Best and Stephen Farrell. 

After the bishop retired in 1997, the diocese footed the bill — believed to be about $60,000 — for converting the Fairhaven home’s garage into an office.

Skipton builder Charlie Robinson, who carried out the works, said the office included a wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a custom-made desk using American oak veneers.

Mr Robinson said, from memory, the initial garage conversion cost $40,000, with about $20,000 used to fit it out. 

He also said he was told to give Bishop Mulkearns “whatever he wants” and send the diocese the bill.

At an April 2013 state government inquiry into institutionalised sexual abuse, current Ballarat bishop Paul Bird and his predecessor Bishop Peter Connors both said Bishop Mulkearns had made “tragic mistakes” in his handling of clergy sexual abuse reports, including transferring priests to new parishes and recommending counselling and therapy instead of reporting them to police.

Bishop Mulkearns was excused from giving evidence at the inquiry due to a stroke affecting his long-term memory, despite him still being able to conduct Mass.

However, clergy sex abuse survivor Andrew Collins described the payment as “appalling” and said Bishop Mulkearns had “helped facilitate a lot of the abuse” by moving paedophile priests around the parish.

Mr Collins said it was unfair survivors had to fight so hard for compensation but Bishop Mulkearns could get renovations paid for.

“When people have been abused by the church, they have to fight them (the church) every step of the way to get compensation,” Mr Collins said.

“Their priorities are all wrong. It’s one thing to be seen taking care of their own but the abused have just been left on their own.

“Even the royal commission said that Ballarat was a focal point in that time and the key to it all was Mulkearns.”

In a statement this week, the diocese said it was responsible for providing accommodation for priests and bishops, both currently working in the diocese and retired.

“As part of this responsibility, after Bishop Mulkearns retired, the diocese contributed to renovations to the home where he lives in his retirement,” the statement said.

Bishop Mulkearns owns the property, not the diocese.

Last month, Australian Catholic University Aquinas campus Ballarat removed Bishop Mulkearns’ name from its theatre and replaced it with the Sisters of Mercy.

A September 1995 Victoria Police report also found Bishop Mulkearns withheld knowledge of child sex abuse offences and displayed a “reluctance/inability to properly handle the matter”.

In April this year, lawyer Dr Vivian Waller said Bishop Mulkearns could be sued for shifting priests around the parish as part of a class action against the Ballarat diocese.



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