|Born||Gerald Francis Ridsdale|
20 May 1934
St Arnaud, Victoria, Australia
|Criminal status||In prison|
Gerald Francis Ridsdale (born 20 May 1934), an Australian laicised Catholic priest, was convicted between 1993 and 2017 of a large number of child sexual abuse and indecent assault charges against 65 children aged as young as four years. The offences occurred from the 1960s to the 1980s while Ridsdale worked as a school chaplain at St Alipius Primary School, a boys‘ boarding school in the Victorian regional city of Ballarat. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that senior figures in the church knew about Ridsdale's abusing children but protected him. Ridsdale was ordained at St Patrick's Cathedral in Ballarat in 1961. The first complaint about his behaviour towards children was received by the church that same year. Ridsdale held 16 different appointments over a period of 29 years as a priest, with an average of 1.8 years per appointment.
Ridsdale was born at St Arnaud in western Victoria and grew up in Ballarat. It was alleged in 2013 that Ridsdale, aged 21, sexually abused boys as early as 1955. Ridsdale took his vows in 1961.
Career and allegations of offences
Ridsdale worked at St Alipius Primary School, Ballarat, a boys’ boarding school, from 1971, where he was a chaplain. He also worked in Apollo Bay in 1972-73. At his 1994 trial it was said that he had been sent to a psychologist as early as 1971, though the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, said he had no idea of Ridsdale's actions until 1975, when the priest was in Inglewood. One parent said Ridsdale had molested their son, but they were reluctant to let the boy be questioned by police, and the priest had moved. A police officer involved with the case spoke to Mulkearns; the latter promised to handle Ridsdale but moved him on instead. Operation Arcadia, a three-month police investigation into what Mulkearns knew about Ridsdale, concluded that he knew about Ridsdale's crimes earlier than he admitted.
Ridsdale was moved repeatedly. In 1976 he was moved to Edenhope. In 1980 he was moved to the National Pastoral Institute in Elsternwick, in Melbourne. In 1981 he was moved to Mortlake Ar the end of 1982 he was transferred to Sydney. In 1986 he was moved to Horsham, where two people made complaints about him in 1988. In 1990 he was sent to New Mexico "for treatment". He returned to Australia after nine months and was appointed chaplain at St John of God Hospital in Richmond, New South Wales, on the northwestern outskirts of Sydney.
While he was working at the hospital, a victim phoned Victoria Police in November 1992, leading to Ridsdale's arrest in February 1993. In May 1993, Ridsdale was charged on summons in the Melbourne Magistrates Court with 30 counts of indecent assault against 9 boys aged between 12 and 16 between 1974 and 1980. Cardinal George Pell, a former Archbishop of Melbourne, testified before the 1993 hearing that Pell, while an assistant priest at St Alipius' Church with Ridsdale in the 1970s, shared a house together. Pell denied knowing about any of Ridsdale's ways. Ridsdale pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months' jail with a non-parole period of three months.
A few weeks later, in 1994, Ridsdale was again put on trial. He pleaded guilty to 46 charges of abusing 20 boys and one girl between 1961 and 1982. He was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment with a minimum of 15 years, to be served cumulatively with the previous sentence.
In 2006, he pleaded guilty to 35 charges relating to indecent assault against 10 boys between 1970 and 1987 in Baccus Marsh, Ballarat, Warrnambool, Edenhope, Horsham and Mortlake. He was sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment with a minimum of seven years, three years of which was ordered to be served concurrently (the remainder of the previous sentence). A few of his victims criticised the leniency of the sentence.
In 2013, weeks before Ridsdale was eligible for parole, Ridsdale was charged with an additional 84 offences against 14 victims committed between 1961 and 1981. He pleaded guilty to 29 counts (27 of indecent assault, one count of buggery and one count of carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 16) committed between 1960 and 1980 and asked for a further 27 counts to be taken into consideration at sentencing. After pleading guilty to the above charges, including raping and abusing children as young as four, Ridsdale was sentenced to eight years in prison in April 2014, with the judge ordering he be eligible for parole in April 2019. These charges brought the number of Ridsdale's confirmed victims to 54.
On 13 April 2017, Ridsdale pleaded guilty to a further 20 offences against 10 boys and a girl. These offences were committed between 1961 and 1988 in western Victoria and are expected to extend his release date further into the future. On 15 August 2017, Ridsdale pleaded guilty to 23 charges, including two counts of rape and one of buggery, for abusing 12 children, 11 boys and 1 girl aged 6 to 13, between 1962 and 1988 in Ballarat and the surrounding area. Ridsdale was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment, with five years cumulative. One of victims told the court she was abused numerous times by Ridsdale including being assaulted on the altar of a Ballarat church another victim said that Ridsdale abused him hundreds of times. The number of known victims of Ridsdale is now 65.
In 2008, fourteen of Ridsdale's victims formed a group to lobby the Department of Justice for an independent justice commission to investigate how victims were paid varying amounts of compensation by the Catholic Church. In 2012 the Parliament of Victoria established the Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government Organisations. The Inquiry tabled its response to Parliament on 13 November 2013 and the Government tabled its response to the Inquiry's recommendations on 8 May 2014.
In May 2015 the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began an investigation into the response of relevant Catholic Church authorities to the impact of child sexual abuse on survivors of child sexual abuse, their families and the community of Ballarat. The hearing heard from residents, former students of St Joseph's Home, Ballarat, St Alipius Primary School, Ballarat East, St Alipius Parish, Ballarat East, St Patrick's College, Ballarat, and St Patrick's Christian Brothers Boys Primary School, Ballarat, and members of the Ballarat community about the impact of child sexual abuse on the community of Ballarat. Catholic clergy who were convicted of child sexual offences which took place within the geographical bounds of the Diocese of Ballarat also were invited to speak or make statements before the Royal Commission. Ridsdale gave evidence over two days by videolink from prison, detailing his memories of his abusing. David Ridsdale, a victim of child sexual abuse and the nephew of Ridsdale, gave evidence that he was sexually abused by his uncle between the ages of 11 and 15. The Royal Commission continued throughout most of 2017. The Commission concluded, and its report was made public, in December 2017.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that the then Bishop of Ballarat Diocese, James O'Collins, had received a complaint in the 1960s that Father Gerald Ridsdale had sexually abused a boy but did not take action. The royal commission was also told Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew in 1975 that Ridsdale had abused boys and again did nothing to stop the abuse from occurring. The Commission found that “Bishop Mulkearns again was derelict in his duty in failing to take any effective action to have (infamous paedophile Gerald) Ridsdale referred to police and to restrict Ridsdale's contact with children". Bishop Finnigan stated that Ridsdale was moved because "there was a concern that the complaints would be made public". The Commission heard many stories from victims including one who was sent to live alone with Ridsdale at age 14 at the presbytery in Mortlake. The victim said he was "sexually abused all the time just about every day" and the Commission heard evidence that Ronald Mulkearns was among a number of clergy who knew Ridsdale had a boy living with him, but failed to intervene. It was also found that every boy at the school at Mortlake between the age of 10 and 16 had been abused by Gerard Ridsdale.
- Congregation of Christian Brothers
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Ballarat
- Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
- St Patrick's College, Ballarat
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