News National Report gives Ballarat abuse survivors ‘ultimate confirmation’ of failures

Report gives Ballarat abuse survivors ‘ultimate confirmation’ of failures

Church officials cooperated with the investigation leading to the latest arrest. Photo: ABC
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Witnesses at the Ballarat hearings will never forget the testimony of brave adult men as they recalled the horrific abuse they suffered as children in Catholic schools, choirs and orphanages.

Many shook violently and sobbed as they recalled in fine detail the beatings, the psychological terror and the vile sexual attacks all endured at the hands of the supposedly good men of the cloth. 

Many old school friends in the town had already taken their own lives, they said, due to the unbearable memories and sense of shame and confusion about what was inflicted in dark corners of classrooms of St Alipius primary school, presbytery bedrooms and confession boxes. 

Some later drove their cars into trees when they were adults. 

Others spiralled into despair and depression, tumbling down into fatal hell-holes of drug and alcohol abuse.

The men who gave evidence in May 2015 were the survivors. 

But only just.

They have welcomed the final report into Catholic Church authorities in Ballarat by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which, vitally, clearly states the sinister cover-ups which led to more abuse. More suicides.

“This case study exposed a catastrophic failure in the leadership of the Diocese and ultimately in the structure and culture of the Church over decades,” the report stated.

“That failure led to the suffering and often irreparable harm to children, their families and wider community.”

For those who suffered so much in the former gold rush town in country Victoria, it won’t erase their pain but they say they finally now have the official validation they had long sought for. 

“When victims are not listened to, when they are failed by those they turned to for help, the trauma is compounded even more,” Ballarat survivor Steve Woods told The New Daily.

He was abused by two Christian Brother teachers, Edward Dowlan and Robert Best, as well as the most prolific paedophile in Australia, Gerald Ridsdale.

“This report is the ultimate confirmation of knowing we were listened to and believed.”

Mr Woods agreed with the section in the report which rejected a submission by the legal counsel of Cardinal George Pell that memories cannot be relied upon regarding historical evidence due to the long passage of time since the events.

Gerald Risdale is currently serving prison time for paedophilia. Photo: AAP

“You never forget memories when they involve trauma,” he said.

“You remember what you wore, the smells of musty clothes of the priests and colours.

“I remember when Ridsdale took me in the car and I travelled in his dark green Datson.”

Critically, the report states that Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who had ultimate power over the diocese, did not lie to his consultors about complaints about Ridsdale’s conduct in meetings – because they already knew and the “secret was out”.

The details of the conversations about Ridsdale abusing children were not recorded, the commissioners said, in an “overwhelming concern” to protect the church from scandal.

A large section of the report involving Cardinal Pell, who lived and worked in the town, has been redacted as he faces legal proceedings for allegations of historic sexual offences. 

Data in the report showed that 140 people made a claim of child sexual abuse against Christian Brothers within the Diocese. 

And 90 per cent of all claims were made against seven priests, who were each subject to three or more claims of child sexual abuse.

Often the attitude to complaints against the Christian Brothers at the time was dismissive and they were often allowed to remain in their position.

Vitally, the report said that gossip on the “clerical grapevine” would have made it “remarkable” if the conduct of Ridsdale and others wasn’t a topic of discussion.

“In our experience, it is part of the ordinary human condition that groups of individuals who are engaged in similar work talk about happenings in their workplace,” the report says. “Including about their colleagues.”

If you or anyone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

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