Notorious abuser admitted that he went ‘haywire’ in the Victorian town of Mortlake and that his behaviour had been ‘no secret’, royal commission told
Australia’s most notorious paedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale admitted he was out of control and “went haywire” in the Victorian town of Mortlake where he was believed to have abused every boy in school.
A series of letters and documents published by the royal commission into sexual abuse website reveal details of Ridsdale’s abuse and the response from the Catholic church, including Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns.
Ridsdale has been convicted for abusing more than 50 children over three decades, dating back to his ordination in 1961.
After parents complained to then Ballarat Bishop James O’Collins about Ridsdale in 1961, O’Collins told him: “If this thing happens again then you’re off to the Missions” and sent him to Mildura.
At a hearing in Ballarat on Friday, the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse was also told Bishop Mulkearns knew in 1975 that Ridsdale had abused boys but did not act until 1988.
A selection of documents obtained by the royal commission reveal more.
Ridsdale interview with Catholic Church insurance investigator, 6 June 1994:
Asked what happened in Mortlake, Ridsdale said: “I got out of control again. I went haywire there. Altar boys mainly.
“It was no secret around Mortlake eventually about me and my behaviour; there was talk all around the place amongst the children and one lot of parents came to me.”
Letter from Bishop Mulkearns to Ridsdale in White Cliffs, 27 November 1988, after Ridsdale’s priestly faculties had been suspended for a year:
Mulkearns noted Ridsdale had been doing some work helping isolated families but said it was not a good idea for him to celebrate reconciliation or baptism.
“With regard to the problems which have arisen, it could possibly be asked at a later date whether you continued to administer sacraments and it would be to be able to state that you had not been involved at this level with people.
“I hope I don’t sound too harsh in the above, but I feel that it is most important that we honour the undertakings which have been given and that we do nothing at this time which might rebound on us later.
“I have every hope that nothing more will eventuate, but we have to do our part to ensure that it does not.”
Ridsdale to Bishop Mulkearns about stepping down from parish work in Horsham, 11 April 1988:
“I confirm my request to step down from parish work in this diocese so that I may be removed from the kind of work that has proved to be a temptation and a difficulty for me.”
Ridsdale’s May 1979 letters to abuse victim BAF, noted in a letter from lawyers acting for BAF and his mother, to Mulkearns, 19 February 1988:
“I don’t know how much you know about me or how much you’ve guessed, but you’re the first person I’ve ever wanted to open up to (although I seem to do that in a round about way) – you’re the first kid I have been honest with and warned off (a bit late unfortunately, but I suppose all experiences bring some good out in us).”
“I suppose I really don’t want to be a priest with you - a friend or whatever. When I pray for you, God comes first - when I’m with you, you are first.”
Mulkearns to Reverend James FitzPatrick, Catholic Enquiry Centre, 3 September 1984:
“I might add that I had a good discussion with him [Ridsdale] about the problem which arose early in the year and of which we spoke prior to your departure overseas. He was quite open about the situation and said that he has discussed it with the Melbourne priest who is advising him and certainly hopes that it is not something which will crop up again.”