Sex abuse inquiry: Small group's work in focus

QUIETLY and without any official acknowledgement, a small group of Ballarat Catholics has spent years supporting victims of clergy sexual abuse and forced adoptions. 

The group’s work came into sharp focus yesterday as one of its most committed members, Carmel Moloney, told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry that a generation of Catholics in Ballarat had been destroyed by abuse. 

“Who would have ever imagined placing a child in an unsafe environment, that through the school gate a child would run with innocence and joy into the hands of a paedophile?”

“It was absolutely unthinkable that when a child entered a school environment, there would be no catcher in the rye,” Mrs Moloney said. 

She told the inquiry that families in the region had “been demolished” by the trauma of abuse and by the failure of Catholic Church leaders including former Bishop Ronald Mulkearns to restrict the access of predatory priests to children. 

Mrs Moloney said the Catholic hierarchy did not allow individual priests and congregants to think for themselves and that priests and that clergy who were not involved in sexual abuse had been “maligned” by the failure of their superiors over decades. 

Another witness Helen Watson told the inquiry that Mulkearns and recently retired Bishop Peter Connors were aware of abuse allegations by convicted priest Paul David Ryan. 

Mrs Watson said the paedophile priest had been moved around the Diocese of Ballarat from 1980 including to the United States, offending against more victims until his conviction in 2006. 

“Bishop Mulkearns sent a known sex offender to Ararat where he sexually abused my son,” Mrs Watson said. “This abuse ultimately led to his death.”

She called for Catholic leaders to be investigated for the concealment of serious sexual offences. 

In a lengthy submission to the inquiry titled Facing the Truth, Catholic leaders said they had failed to understand the extent of sexual abuse and had introduced improved child safety practices in recent years. 

Senior Catholic leaders will give evidence to the inquiry before it reports to the Victorian Parliament next year.