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Published: 28 May 2015
Author: Penny Savidis and Brittany Myers

Defrocked Priest Ridsdale gives evidence

No recollection of being prevented from contact with children – paedophile priest

Convicted paedophile and defrocked priest Gerald Ridsdale again appeared by videolink before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse today.

Sitting in Ballarat, Counsel Assisting the Commission, Gail Furness SC, asked Ridsdale whether Bishop Mulkearns or anyone else had imposed conditions upon him when he moved from the Mortlake parish in Victoria to Sydney to work at the Catholic Enquiry Centre in 1982. Minutes of the Consultors’ meeting (attended by Bishop Mulkearns, Monsignor Leo Fiscalini and Fathers Henry Nolan VG, George Pell, David Arundell, J Martin and E Bryant), where Ridsdale’s movement to Sydney was discussed, record that: “The Bishop advised that it had become necessary for Fr Gerald Ridsdale to move from the Parish of Mortlake”.

Ridsdale accepted that he was moved to Sydney to get away from parishes and to remove his access to children, but replied he could not recall the Bishop or anyone else putting any restrictions or limitations or conditions on his work in Sydney, where Ridsdale agreed he continued to commit offences against children, including a boy from a prayer group he was involved with and a boy at White Cliffs.

His evidence contradicted conditions reportedly imposed on Ridsdale and within the knowledge of a number of members of the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Ridsdale agreed that he was open with Bishop Mulkearns about his sexual offending and the counseling he was receiving from Father Watson. Ridsdale conceded the counseling wasn’t working. He stated he did not inform Bishop Mulkearns of this and didn’t think or wasn’t sure he told Father Watson, nor did he try to find any other treatment or counseling.

In answer to Commission Chair Justice McClellan, Risdale agreed that despite having spoken to Bishop Mulkearns, and both he and Mulkhearns understanding that Ridsdale had engaged in criminal activity, no one in the Church ever indicated they were going to tell the police about what Ridsdale had done.

Ridsdale also confirmed that after his time at the Catholic Enquiry Centre, he was appointed to Woy Woy Parish as an assistant priest and as the administrator of Forestville in 1986. He then returned to Horsham in Victoria and was appointed as assistant priest there, where he again offended.

Like his evidence yesterday, Ridsdale was unable to answer many questions from the Commission in relation to the Church’s knowledge of his offending, his responses again littered with “I can’t remember...”, “I don’t recall...” and “I’m not sure...”

Numerous documents have already been tendered before the Royal Commission in relation to Ridsdale, including:

  • Personnel document for Gerald Ridsdale;
  • Handwritten notes re Father Ridsdale's 'symptoms' at St Joseph's Catholic Presbytery;
  • Letter from Bishop Mulkearns to Gerald Ridsdale (19-Oct-84);
  • Letter from Gerald Ridsdale to Bishop Mulkearns (02-Jun-86);
  • Letter from Gerald Ridsdale to Bishop Mulkearns regarding stepping down from parish work in Horsham (11-Apr-88)
  • Letter from Bishop Mulkearns regarding extended leave from parish work granted to Gerald Ridsdale (18-May-88);
  • Letter from Bishop Mulkearns to Gerald Ridsdale suspending his priestly faculties for 12 months (30-Jun-88);
  • Letter from Gerald Ridsdale to Bishop Mulkearns (22-Nov-88);
  • Letter from Bishop Mulkearns to Gerald Ridsdale (27-Nov-88);
  • Letter from Bishop Mulkearns to Gerald Ridsdale regarding course at Jemez Springs, New Mexico, USA (25-Aug-89);
  • Letter from Rev Fr Peter Lechner, Director of Villa Louis Martin, Jemez Spring, New Mexico to Gerald Ridsdale (03-Oct-89);
  • Letter from Bishop Mulkearns to Rev Fr Peter Lechner, Director of Villa Louis Martin, Jemez Springs in New Mexico, to Gerald Ridsdale (13-Oct-89);
  • Letter from Gerald Ridsdale to Bishop Mulkearns (29-Dec-89);
  • Letter from Gerald Ridsdale to Bishop Mulkearns (28-May-90);
  • Letter from Fr Augustine Watson to Bishop Mulkearns regarding potential work for Gerald Ridsdale (29-May-90);
  • Letter from Rev Fr Peter Lechner, Director of Villa Louis Martin, Jemez Springs, New Mexico regarding aftercare recommendations for Gerald Ridsdale (13-Sep-90);
  • Planning/Discharge meeting re Rev Gerald Ridsdale (13-Sep-90);
  • Letter from J.E. O'Connor to Messrs Dunhill Madden Butler regarding Gerald Ridsdale (07-Apr-93);
  • Psychological Report of Ian A Joblin regarding Gerald Ridsdale (13-May-93);
  • Letter from Rev Brian Finnigan to Gerald Ridsdale (27-Oct-93);
  • Extracts of a letter from J.E. O'Connor to Dunhill Madden Butler regarding: Sexual Molestation Claims – Catholic Church Insurances Limited; Diocese of Ballarat. Ridsdale ats Ruth Anors (17-Nov-93);
  • Letter from Fr Brian Finnigan, Vicar General of the Diocese of Ballarat to Gerald Ridsdale (12-Mar-94);
  • Extracts of transcript of interview between Catholic Church Insurance Limited and Gerald Ridsdale (06-Jun-94); and
  • Memorandum re Document on File of Gerald Ridsdale prepared by Bishop Mulkearns (04-Oct-96).

Link: Case Study 28: Catholic Church authorities in Ballarat

It beggars belief that a number of senior church personnel were clearly aware of Ridsdale’s offending and yet allowed him to remain in positions of authority within the Church, where he continued to offend.

Ridsdale, whose known offending began in 1954, is currently incarcerated and will be eligible for parole in April 2019, when he will be almost 85 years old.

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