A FORMER Ballarat Bishop who presided over decades of paedophile priests says he is "terribly sorry" for not taking the mounting allegations of sexual abuse of children seriously, admitting the situation was out of control and he did not know how to handle it.
"I wish I had of done things differently in that time," he told the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse on Thursday.
"I really didn't know what to do or how to do it."
Appearing via video link from a Nazareth House nursing home,terminally ill Bishop Mulkearns, 85, said he could not have comprehended the gravity of damage the sexual abuse of children by clergy would caused.
"In those days, it's a long time ago but we really didn't know how quite to deal with these things," he said.
"Well I didn't anyway."
When questioned by commission chair Justice Justice Peter McClellan Bishop Mulkearns admitted when child sexual abuse allegations against clergy began to emerge he became increasingly concerned about the reputation of the Catholic Church.
But he said concealing the sexual abuse of children was not his “intention”.
“Well that’s certainly not been my intention,” Bishop Mulkearns said. “I can only say I’m terribly sorry I didn’t act differently in the interests of everybody.”
Bishop Mulkearns was the Ballarat diocese bishop between 1971 and 1997, presided over decisions to move priests, including disgraced paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, between parishes in the diocese despite mounting child sexual abuse allegations against them.
Senior counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness asked Bishop Mulkearns if knew the rape of girls and sodomy of boys had always been wrong, Bishop Mulkearns responded "yes".
When questioned by Ms Furness if he always knew it was a crime Bishop Mulkearns responded "I don't really know."
Bishop Mulkearns said some priests were untruthful about their offending but the ones he knew were offending he sent off for treatment.
He admitted to the sex abuse inquiry it was unlikely he ever would have gone outside of the Catholic Church to find specialists to treat offending priests including disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale.
The inquiry heard Father Augustine Watson who was a psychiatrist in Melbourne treated Ridsdale initially and Bishop Mulkearns he does not recall receiving any medical reports after he received treatment.
Ridsdale was allowed back in to the diocese to continue to sexually abuse children.
He told the inquiry offending priests always received treatment before they were shifted from parish to parish.
He told the sex abuse inquiry he retired from his role as bishop in 1997 because he wasn’t “handling the job” as well as he should have.
He also told the sex abuse inquiry he had done no research or reading before the commission in preparation for his evidence.
Medical advice recommended Bishop Mulkearns only answer questions for one and a half hours before resting for a number of days.
His evidence has been adjourned and he will appear before the commission at a later date.
Crowds of sexual abuse survivors and their families packed into the Ballarat Magistrates’ court for Bishop Mulkearn’s evidence.