WITH his wispy white hair, large glasses, and liver spots on his balding head, he could be any ordinary man on the street.
But there is nothing ordinary about Gerald Ridsdale.
It is hard to reconcile the image on the screen — that of a feeble old man who needed the assistance of a walking frame — with the one that has been painted in the media of an evil, perverted sex fiend who preyed on young children with zero thought for the hurt and harm he was causing.
But make no mistake — the man who appeared at the royal commission into child sex abuse via video link from his Ararat prison is a monster.
He’s serving time for abusing 54 individual victims. It’s thought there are countless others who fell victim to Ridsdale, including many who have taken their own lives, unable to live with the irreversible psychological damage done to them by the defrocked priest they initially trusted.
The commission, in part, is trying to find out how Ridsdale and other priests and Christian Brothers could continue interfering with children for so long and what the church did to stop it.
Wearing his prison-issue green windcheater, the 81-year-old answered many of the questions put to him with a simple “I can’t recall”.
Again and again his memory seemed to fail him. He couldn’t remember meetings with the bishop or other members of the diocese hierarchy, he couldn’t remember if he had been confronted about his crimes, he couldn’t remember why he was moved from parish to parish, and he couldn’t remember anything about his court hearings other than his sister was sitting behind him.
The brain is a complex organism and it’s possible he has managed to block out many memories of his own disturbing past — by his own admission the whole time he was offending he was “terrified” he would be reported and his priesthood would be taken away.
But the way Ridsdale answered questions about his offending was bone-chilling. He was cold, matter-of-fact and freely admitted he couldn’t remember how many boys and girls he abused, or where he abused them, possibly because there are so many.
There was no remorse, no emotion, no empathy. At one point in yesterday’s hearings he said “sorry”, but in the wake of all that had come before it was a drop in the ocean.
He casually recalled a boy living with him at the presbytery at St Colman’s in Mortlake and sleeping in his bedroom like it was a normal thing. It was enough to make your skin crawl.
Evidence about his offending in Mortlake, where he is said to have molested half the boys at the school (a claim he rejected) was particularly repugnant.
To think there is a generation of young boys who don’t have memories of happy, carefree days in the playground, which most people hold dear, is saddening.
Their memories have been forever stained by the the man who lived across the school yard — the man who took advantage of the trust they placed in him and forever took their innocence.