A notorious paedophile priest abused every boy at a regional Victorian school between the age of 10 and 16, the child sex abuse inquiry has heard.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is holding long-awaited public hearings in Ballarat to examine historical abuse suffered by children at a number of schools in the regional centre, at the hands of Catholic clergy and other members of the Church.
Some of Australia’s most notorious abusers, including Gerald Ridsdale, Robert Best and Edward Dowlan, were part of a paedophile ring operating in and around Ballarat for years.
In her opening address, Senior Counsel Assisting the Commission, Gail Furness SC, outlined the extent of Ridsdale’s offending.
She said the inquiry would hear evidence of Ridsdale’s time at the Mortlake parish during the early 1980s, including comments from the priest who took over from Ridsdale.
“Father Dennehy told the Catholic Church’s insurance investigator that he thought every male child between the ages of 10 years and 16 years, who were at the school, had been molested by Ridsdale,” she said.
Ms Furness said Ridsdale was a “prolific offender” during his time at Mortlake.
“There will be evidence that his behaviour around boys was no secret,” she said.
She also told the inquiry Cardinal George Pell – who later became Archbishop of Sydney and now oversees the Vatican’s finances – was one of seven present at a meeting in September 1972 where Bishop Ronald Mulkearns discussed the need to remove Ridsdale from the school.
The minutes did not disclose whether the Bishop said why the move was necessary, she told the inquiry.
“However … it is expected that there will be evidence that Bishop Mulkearns knew it was because Risdale had abused boys in Mortlake and that he had offended in this manner in 1975,” she said.
All male teachers at St Alipius PS were molesting
Ballarat was one of the most horrific sites of abuse and it was revealed that in 1971, all male teachers and the chaplain at the St Alipius primary school were molesting children.
Ms Furness said the royal commission would also hear from a survivor who had a photograph of his grade four class at St Alipius in the 1970s.
She said he would tell the hearing, of the 33 boys pictured, 12 had committed suicide.
In his opening address, inquiry chairman Justice Peter McClellan urged those attending the hearing to remember the victims and survivors.
“The evidence in the first stage of this hearing will include the personal stories of a number of survivors,” Justice McClellan said.
“That evidence will describe the gross violations of individuals by ordained members of the Catholic Church.”
Ridsdale to give evidence to inquiry via video link from prison
Justice McClellan said the inquiry would also hear from perpetrators but not directly about the circumstances of their offending.
“That has already been dealt with by the courts,” Justice McClellan said of Ridsdale’s crimes.
“However, the evidence has an important part to play in the royal commission coming to understand both the way ordained members of the Catholic Church became abusers and how the Church responded to allegations of their abuse.”
Ridsdale is serving an eight-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to 30 child sex offences in 2014.
It is the fourth time he has been jailed after three previous stints in prison for more than 100 other offences.
He will give evidence, possibly next week, via video link from prison.
The hearing will also consider why Ridsdale was able to move around to so many locations in Victoria, without being reported to police.
He offended and re-offended in Horsham, Inglewood, Camperdown, Ballarat North, Mildura, Swan Hill, Warrnambool, Ballarat East, Apollo Bay, Edenhope, Melbourne and Mortlake.