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Published: 27 May 2015
Author: Penny Savidis and Brittany Myers

Ridsdale says senior Ballarat cleric knew of his offending

Giving further evidence to the Royal Commission later today, Gerald Ridsdale admitted to abusing children in Ballarat East, Apollo Bay, Inglewood, Edenhope and Mortlake in the 1970s. He also said that Monsignor Leo Fiscalini, a senior cleric at Ballarat, knew about Ridsdale’s offending in Mortlake in the 1970s and 80s.

He acknowledged he knew at the time that what he was doing was a “serious sin” and “morally and legally wrong” and that he knew he had hurt children.

Ridsdale said that he had told Monsignor Fiscalini about his offending in Mortlake in the 1970s and 80s, and noted that when confronted by a nun in Mortlake about his offending, he lied and said that was all in his past. But he conceded he never would have told her the truth: “That’s part of the paedophile thing - deceit, cover up... that’s what I was doing all the time, all my life.”

Ridsdale told the Commission that he left his posts at Apollo Bay and Inglewood after hearing rumours that people in both towns were becoming aware that he was abusing children. Mr Ridsdale was afraid that police would shortly catch up with him in both parishes and so made arrangements to leave as soon as he could to avoid being caught. Ridsdale told the commission he left Inglewood at midnight the night after a father of one of his victim’s made a complaint against him. Ridsdale fled to Bishop Mulkearns and told him that there was a complaint made against him. In response to the allegation Mr Ridsdale was removed from the Parish and sent for some counselling. The complaint was taken no further. Despite Bishop Mulkearns having knowledge at that time about Ridsdale’s offending, he was then sent on to Edenhope where he continued to offend.

Ridsdale: “I don’t know how many, I can’t remember how many.”

The Commission also heard evidence that Ridsdale often targeted vulnerable and poor children as his victims. He acknowledged he had power and control over children and power within his parishes. He said he was manipulative and able to get his own way and “the things he wanted” in the parish. Ridsdale told the Commission that he manipulated parents in order to be alone with children – he admitted to arranging holidays and camping trips in order to get children alone. In Mortlake, Ridsdale lured children to the Presbytery by inviting them to come and play on the pool table he had there.

Mr Ridsdale’s offending in Edenhope formed the basis of the charges he was tried for in 1993 and 1994. However, Ridsdale could not confirm whether every child he abused resulted in a charge against him. He simply could not recall and confirmed he does not know how many children he abused during that time: “I don’t know how many, I can’t remember how many.” 

Ridsdale acknowledged that while he was abusing children throughout the 1970s, he knew that what he was doing was morally and legally wrong. He acknowledged that since being in prison, he has learned that “sexual offending against children and logic or reason don’t go together.”

Ridsdale and Pell never discussed offending

Ridsdale said he never spoke with Pell about his offending. Though he admitted that Pell walked him to his first court appearance at the Magistrate’s Court in 1993, the pair did not discuss offending and did not have a personal relationship either at that time or at any time prior to that. Ridsdale said it was his barrister at the time who suggested Pell be called to speak in court in support of Ridsdale.

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