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Published: 15 December 2015
Author: RCT Abuse Law team

Complaints about Ridsdale’s sexual abuse ignored

The Royal Commission today heard testimony from two priests that has thrown further light on the relationship between Cardinel Pell and paedophile priest Gerald Risdale.

Evidence was given by Father John Thomas Walshe, currently parish priest of Mentone/Parkdale and friend of Cardinal George Pell, and a current standing priest in the Diocese of Ballarat, Fr. Lawrence O’Toole.

The telephone call between Pell and David Ridsdale

Today the Commission heard more about a telephone call between David Ridsdale, nephew and abuse survivor of child sex abuser Fr. Gerald Ridsdale, and Cardinal Pell, or Bishop Pell as he was at the time, which took place in February 1993. David Ridsdale gave evidence about this specific telephone call during the May 2015 Royal Commission public hearing into the Ballarat Diocese. 

At the time this particular telephone conversation took place, Fr. Walshe was residing in the same house as Cardinal Pell. Fr. Walshe recalled that after his telephone discussion with David Ridsale, Cardinal Pell “looked like he had diminished into himself, he looked grey, his face and shoulders had dropped, he was in shock. This was a completely different reaction to his normal angry reaction”. The Commission heard that Cardinal Pell’s appearance at the time had stuck with Fr. Walshe, some 22 years after the call took place.

After the telephone call took place, Fr. Walshe told the Commission he had asked Cardinal Pell what was wrong. He told the Commission Cardinal Pell had proceeded to tell Fr. Walshe that "Fr. Ridsdale had been playing up with his own nephew". Fr. Walshe recalled that Pell appeared to have accepted what he had been told over the phone by David Ridsdale about his abuse. Walshe further stated that David Ridsdale “was a mess, as a result of the sexual abuse”. 

Although excused after giving evidence today, Fr. Walshe has been required to attend the Commission tomorrow morning, as documentation has been summoned.

Survivor "man enough to go the police himself" 

This afternoon’s witness 18, Father Lawrence O’Toole, a priest in the Diocese of Ballarat, also addressed the Royal Commission about a complaint regarding Fr. Ridsdale’s sexual abuse.

The Commission heard a complaint was made to Fr. O’Toole by an Edenhope survivor of sexual abuse, almost a decade after the alleged abuse.

The complaint was of Ridsdale sexually abusing the survivor when he was 13 years old. The Commission heard that despite this complaint, nothing was done in response.

Fr. O’Toole told the Commission that he “did not think the victim was making a complaint, but just sharing his shame of being involved in sexual conduct with Fr. Ridsdale". Fr O’Toole stated that at the time he thought the victim was "making a confession and not a complaint”.

The Commission rightly noted that it appeared the survivor was in ‘emotional and personal’ crisis, and not attending confession. Fr. O’Toole stated that from his point of view “he was acting as a priest trying to free the victim from any guilt or shame he may carry” that came from the sexual abuse by Fr. Ridsdale.

When questioned as to why he did not go to the authorities, Fr. O’Toole stated that “he thought the abuse survivor was old enough and man enough to go to the police himself”. Fr. O’Toole told the Court that he just presumed that the Bishop already knew what was occurring and this is why he did not report the sexual abuse.

Fr O’Toole at the time the complaint was made was assistant priest at Warrnambool and had been as such for over 8 years. Having held this senior position for such a long period of time you would expect Fr O’Toole would have enough confidence in himself and in his job to take concerns about a colleague abusing children seriously and to escalate them to a senior member of the Diocese of Ballarat and to the police. However, at the time this did not occur.

The Royal Commission public hearing into the Ballarat Diocese’s responses to child sexual abuse will continue tomorrow at 10:00am.

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