Court orders Bishop Mulkearns to give evidence against ex-priest

FORMER Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns has been ordered by a court to give evidence in the case against a former Geelong priest after refusing to provide a statement to prosecutors. 

Magistrate Ron Saines granted the application for compulsory examination in Geelong Magistrates Court on Friday, ordering Bishop Mulkearns to give evidence about former priest Robert Claffey who is charged with offences including indecent assault.

Bishop Mulkearns was excused from giving evidence to the Victorian government inquiry into institutionalised sexual abuse last year, with the inquiry’s chairman citing the bishop’s ill-health as reason why he could not provide reliable evidence from his time as Ballarat bishop.

Bishop Mulkearns suffered a stroke several years ago, but it was revealed during an inquiry hearing at Parliament House last year that he could still conduct Mass.

Bishop Mulkearns was Ballarat bishop when 107 substantiated cases of abuse occurred in the 1970s, involving paedophiles Gerard Ridsdale, Edward Dowlan, Robert Best and Stephen Farrell.

At an April 2013 state government inquiry into institutionalised sexual abuse hearing, current Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird and his predecessor, Bishop Peter Connors, both said Bishop Mulkearns had made “tragic mistakes” in his handling of clergy sexual abuse reports, including transferring priests to new parishes and recommending counselling and therapy instead of reporting them to police.

A September 1995 Victoria Police report also found Bishop Mulkearns withheld knowledge of child sex abuse offences and displayed a  “reluctance/inability to properly handle the matter”.

Bishop Mulkearns has previously stated he regretted “terribly” what happened but added he had sent the priests for counselling.

patrick.byrne@fairfaxmedia.com.au

fiona.henderson@fairfaxmedia.com.au