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Published: 11 December 2015
Author: RCT Abuse Law team

'Poor memories' cloud Royal Commission’s hearings against Ridsdale and Day

The Royal Commission has heard testimony from two priests who had a direct connection with the notorious pedophile priest Father Risdale, neither of whom appeared to have a clear recollection of the nature of sexual abuse allegations made against him.

The first was Father Frank Madden, retired Priest of the Diocese of Ballarat, who was questioned about his knowledge of child sexual abuse within the Diocese of Ballarat.

Fr. Madden was a Vicar General and Consultor of the Ballarat Diocese. Members of the Consultors’ group acted as advisors to the standing Bishop and would advise the Bishop on important decisions such as the of appointment priests.

Fr. Madden was unable to recall many matters when questioned.

The afternoon continued with Father Eric Bryant, a current priest of the Ballarat Diocese providing evidence of his experience as a Consultor and his knowledge of Father Gerald Ridsdale’s actions.

Fr. Madden says he “must have been asleep” when sex allegations discussed

Consultors attended meetings with the standing Bishop where confidential information was discussed.  It was at one of these meetings, the commission heard, that Monsignor John Day was discussed.

Monsignor Day had been accused by parishioners of numerous serious sexual abuse offences against children. After allegations were made and the Church was notified of the allegations, Monsignor Day resigned from his position at Mildura and was granted 12 months extended leave by the Diocese with guaranteed minimum pay.

Although the allegations against Day were much publicized at the time in the media, Fr. Madden said that he “did not remember” any of the meetings or discussions that surrounded Monsignor Day.

The Commission appeared to find this hard to believe, given that allegations were made so public and appeared to be a major concern to the church.

Presumably if the issue had been such concern within the Church, Fr. Madden and his fellow consultors would have known about it.

Even though Monsignor Day had been accused of indecent assault towards children he was appointed Parish Priest at Timboon once the police dropped the charges. The Commission heard there was no internal discussion, discipline or professional standards work done by the Diocese prior to Day’s new appointment.

Fr. Madden stated that he had no recollection of anything going on at the time and denied remembering any of the consultors’ meetings that he was recorded to be present at, claiming that he “must have been asleep” in the meetings.

Ridsdale constantly on the move

The Commission heard that multiple complaints of child sexual abuse were being made about Ridsdale.

As complaints continued to be made, it seemed Ridsdale would be rotated from one parish to another. For example, when complaints were made about Father Ridsdale at Apollo Bay, he was moved to Inglewood. When complaints of Fr. Ridsdale’s homosexuality were made at Mortlake, he was moved to the Catholic Enquiry Centre in Sydney, then to Horsham. 

At most parishes the Commission heard his role was to interact one-on-one with people. However, the Commission was told his role at the Catholic Enquiry Centre was one that would “not cause any comment”, as his role would be to respond to written enquires with little one-on-one interaction and one which would have kept him away from children.

Fr. Bryant, currently Parish priest of Stawell in the Ballarat Diocese, stated that in his first consultors’ meeting, then Bishop Mulkearns said there was a problem with homosexuality and referred to what Fr. Ridsdale had done and that he, Ridsdale, needed to be moved.  It was during the commission’s proceedings that Fr. Bryant acknowledged he knew there was homosexuality in the Church but was not aware that it was towards children.

Fr. Bryant then said that there was no mention in the consultors’ meetings of pedophilia. He said it that it appeared that Bishop Mulkearns had been misinforming his consultors about the nature of the allegations against Ridsdale, as they were not to do with homosexuality but with pedophilia.

While Ridsdale was under the supervision of the Ballarat Diocese and acting as assistant to Fr. Madden in Horsham, the Commission heard from Madden that towards the end of his time at Horsham, RIdsdale confessed his “problem” to Madden.

Ridsdale reportedly stated to Madden that he “had to move on from Horsham, as his past was catching up to him”.

The Commission heard from Madden that Risedale had admitted to offending against boys and children and advised that the matters were in the hands of the police.

Fr. Madden stated that this was the first time he had heard about Father Ridsdale’s “troubles”. which is hard to believe as Madden has been good friends with Ridsdale’s parents.

Ridsdale was finally charged in 1993.

Fr. Madden claimed that he was “shocked at what had happened”. Despite this, the Commission heard (and it was shown to the court in the minutes) that Fr. Madden had written a letter of reference for the court proceedings regarding Ridsdale, stating how “generous, caring and cooperative” he was and how he was an “effective Priest for the Diocese”.

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