IN his own words, Gerald Francis Ridsdale was “out of control”, and spoke of his desire to be removed from situations where he had evil urges to molest small children.
Ridsdale — Australia’s worst paedophile priest — told church investigators after his first conviction in 1994 that he “went haywire” in the Victorian town of Mortlake where he’s believed to have abused every boy in school.
Asked by a Catholic Church representative what happened he 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 among the children and one lot of parents came to me.”
Ridsdale has been convicted for abusing more than 50 children over 30 years, but the real figure may be in the hundreds.
He is giving evidence before the child sex abuse royal commission’s Ballarat inquiry on from his jail cell.
In admissions being streamed live over the internet, Ridsdale has told the hearing he couldn’t control his sexual urges and was hoping to get “sexual instructions ” on how to relate to people from the church.
He said he’d always felt the need for intimacy and closeness. But the only intimacy he ever had with an adult came while he was in prison.
“I think I’ve always felt the need for closeness.”
He realised he was attracted to young boys not women while he was at Werribee seminary. Despite the realisation, he didn’t want to lose the “status” of being a priest.
Also while he was at the seminary he had a problem with masturbation and was told he needed to stop it “or leave” — but he says he couldn’t stop.
Gerald Ridsdale gives evidence by video link. Source: Supplied
Ridsdale said he never told anyone about his sexual abuse of boys, even during confession, because the “overriding fear would have been losing the priesthood”.
Asked what he specifically didn’t confess he said: “The sexual offending against children.”
The 81-year-old was aware what he was doing was a crime.
Speaking matter of factly, Ridsdale couldn’t remember the names of his earliest victims but is relying on court documents.
Asked whether he selected his victims by deliberately targeting “poor families”, Ridsdale agreed.
“It’s obvious to me now that there was a pattern of seeing victims as being vulnerable … but not always vulnerable,” he said.
He also agreed his usual method was to involve himself with multiple families with no father present and then use opportunities such as church camps and outings to abuse the children of those families.
He has told of “fondling and touching” young boys and once a complaint was made he was threatened to be shipped to the “missions”.
In another major development today, Cardinal George Pell has said he is prepared to give evidence at the Royal Commission in person if he has asked to, but so far he hasn’t been asked Sky News reported.
What the church knew about the abuse — and how it treated the news — has formed a major part of what the commission is investigating.
A series of letters and documents published on the sex abuse royal commission’s website reveal details of Ridsdale’s abuse and the response from the Catholic Church, including Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns.
Gerald Ridsdale (left) arriving to court with George Pell Source: Supplied
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. The royal commission was also told Bishop Mulkearns knew in 1975 that Ridsdale had abused boys — but did not act until 1988.
Among the other documents are a letter from 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.”
In a letter to a victim in 1979, Ridsdale wrote as if they were lovers and told him some good would come from his abuse, the Herald Sun reported.
“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. 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),” he wrote.
Bishop Mulkearns wrote to Ridsdale in November, 1988, after Ridsdale had faced a suspension from some duties 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.
Australia’s worst paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale. Source: Supplied
“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 will not be asked about his offending, after being convicted in four separate court cases of abusing more than 50 children. But the royal commission and victims want to know who was responsible for moving Ridsdale from parish to parish, allowing him to continue to offend.
A victim, who was abused by other clergy in the Ballarat diocese, said victims wanted the truth made public about who essentially facilitated the abusers.
“We’d love to know how high it went up the tree as well and if those people are still in power now,” the victim told AAP.
Child sexual abuse inquiry: Notorious paedophile Gerald Ridsdale feared confession would cost him priesthood, royal commission hears
One of Australia’s most notorious paedophiles, Gerald Ridsdale, never revealed the extent of his offending to avoid being stripped of his priesthood, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse in Ballarat has heard.
The elderly Ridsdale is giving evidence to the inquiry via video link from Ararat prison, where he is serving an eight-year sentence for the rape and abuse of children, some of them as young as four.
He told the royal commission he could not remember committing some of the offences and had forgotten the names of some of his earliest victims.
Ridsdale revealed he “didn’t confess the sexual offending against children” because he had a great fear of losing his priesthood.
“I was a very proud person … it just would’ve been devastating,” he told the commission.
He also told senior counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness SC, he could no longer recall being abused himself as a child, despite making statements to that effect in the 1990s.
Ridsdale said statements he made in 1994, about being abused by members of the clergy, including a Christian Brother when he was 11 or 12 years old, would have been correct at the time.
The inquiry is examining what the Catholic Church knew about the extent of Ridsdale’s offending as he was moved from town to town.
He was quizzed at length about whether or not people were warned about his offending tendencies as he was moved from between schools around western Victoria, in the 1960s and 70s.
When asked by Ms Furness if anyone was notified at Mildura, when he was relocated there from Ballarat, he answered “I don’t know”.
Ridsdale did say he was warned by clergy in Ballarat before being moved to Mildura, “if this happens again you’ll be off to the missions”.
Ridsdale recalled abusing choir boys in Mildura, and later at Swan Hill, when he was again moved on.
“Yes … there would probably be another couple [of victims] there,” he told Ms Furness.
But Ridsdale said as far as he knew, no-one in Swan Hill was aware of his offending, and he would not know if anyone at his next location, Warrnambool had been warned.
He said he was told “in the usual manner” that he would be relocated and that there was “no consultation”.
Ridsdale unable to control his sexual urges
Ms Furness also asked Ridsdale about his sexual urges.
He told the commission he felt bound to become a priest because of family expectations, but had problems controlling his sexual urges from the beginning.
Ridsdale said he would make confessions that he had masturbated, and was hoping to receive some “sexual instructions” from the church about what was appropriate during his training as a priest.
“Did you ever feel the need for intimacy, hugging and closeness?” asked Ms Furness of Ridsdale’s time at the Werribee seminary, where he started out.
“I think I’ve always felt the need for closeness,” Ridsdale responded.
He said he had had one adult relationship for three years, with a fellow prisoner.
Ridsdale said he was aware his offending against children was a crime.
“Did it occur to you at the time that you were hurting the children?” commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan asked Ridsdale.
“Your Honour, I just don’t know … I don’t know what I was thinking,” Ridsdale said.
Ridsdale told the inquiry the church should report crimes to the police.
He was asked if the church should have notified authorities of his own offending over the years.
He replied: “What I’ve done and the damage that I’ve done … I’d say, definitely yes”.
Ridsdale said while he had come to the view now that crimes should be disclosed, when he was a priest, “everything told in confession was to be kept secret”.
Inquiry probes Ridsdale’s relationship with Cardinal George Pell
Ridsdale told the royal commission the fact Cardinal George Pell accompanied him to court on child sex abuse charges in the 1990s was insignificant.
He said he could not recall much about his relationship with the then Father Pell in Ballarat in the 1970s, except he “would’ve met him, because he was Ballarat born-and-bred”.
“I can’t remember him being there … I can’t remember him … I never had much to do with him,” Ridsdale said of Cardinal Pell.
“We needed some people to come along [to court] for support … I don’t see it as having a very big significance.”
Ridsdale said his barrister asked Cardinal Pell to go to court, and he did not ask him himself.
He said, at the time, he did not know if Cardinal Pell knew about the nature of his charges, and he did not know, what Cardinal Pell planned to say.
He said his legal team was “clutching at straws.”
The hearing continues.