Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Gerald Ridsdale, Pedophile Priest, in His Own Words

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Gerald Ridsdale, Pedophile Priest, in His Own Words

Article excerpt

One major difficulty in understanding the clerical abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has been that the abusers themselves have not told their story. There has been virtually no account of their crimes by themselves, no apologies, no repentance.

That changed with the appearance of Gerald Ridsdale before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on 27-28 May 2015. Ridsdale is believed to be Australia's worst priest sexual abuser of children. He was convicted of offences against 53 children, including many rapes, but that is thought to be a small proportion of his victims. Sitting in Ballarat, the Commission heard two days of testimony from Ridsdale. He appeared by videolink from prison, where he has been since 1994. He gave the impression of being an honest and cooperative witness, though notably affectless. At age 81, his memory was very patchy, but the Commission was able to supplement it with some earlier material, especially a 1994 account he gave of his actions.1 His oral evidence and the earlier document provide a unique opportunity to see into the mind of a pedophile priest.

Since the Commission's brief was to investigate the responses of institutions rather than the abuse itself, questioning by Gail Furness SC focussed on who knew about his offending and what they did or did not do about it. In this article however we select that part of the evidence where Ridsdale talks about himself.

The testimony was streamed live. Graham Richardson wrote after watching his evidence, "I want there to be a hell and I want Gerald Ridsdale and his ilk and all those who covered up for them to burn in that dreadful place for all eternity." (2) Moral evaluation of that kind is certainly appropriate, but this article confines itself to the facts as they appear from his testimony and related documents.

Ridsdale's account of his abusing

Gerald Ridsdale was born in 1934, the eldest of eight children, and studied at St Patrick's College, Ballarat. He experienced some relatively mild sexual abuse from an uncle and from a Christian Brother (according to his 1994 statement). He left school at 14 and worked in an accountant's office but about three years later was inspired by a priest friend to consider becoming a priest. The little he recalls about it is significant:

Q. You say you talked to your priest friend, Dan Boylen, about becoming a priest?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you remember now anything he told you about the life of a priest?

A. No. The only thing I can remember about any conversation with Dan Boylen with regard to the priesthood was, he was talking about spiritual books that I was reading, and I remember him saying, "Always remember, when you're reading books like that, that that's not necessarily how people like that lived, but that's how they would like to have lived", and I don't know why that stuck in my mind, but that's something that I've always remembered. (3)

That was an unfortunate thing to take notice of, given that Ridsdale would go on to represent the extreme in the disjunction between priestly appearance and reality.

He is asked if he committed abuse while studying at Werribee Seminary:

   Not in Werribee, I can't remember anything. My biggest problem
   there was masturbation, and I remember going to my confessor and
   confessing it, and he said something like 'You will have to stop
   that or otherwise you have got to leave the seminary'. That was the
   kind of attitude there towards masturbation, et cetera.

His offences began very soon thereafter. After some study in Genoa and Ireland he was ordained in 1961 and served as assistant priest in parishes of the Ballarat Diocese. In the mid-1960s, he served in Mildura under the supervision of Monsignor John Day, another of Australia's worst pedophile priests, but there seems to be no evidence that they knew of each other's crimes. …

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