IF anything, the evidence provided to the state inquiry into institutionalised child abuse yesterday confirmed much of what has long been suspected about the handling of offenders in the Catholic Church.
The necessary knowledge and understanding about taking actions and informing authorities about abuse was simply not understood by church leaders.
The major failings of those presented with information about abuse was that they could not, or refused to, put the victims’ needs ahead of the perpetrators.
A serious example – that of the church’s handling of convicted paedophile Gerard Ridsdale – was laid bare on the public record yesterday.
According to recently appointed Bishop of Ballarat Paul Bird: “Dismissal was not the first option. They (paedophile priests) would go to be treated to correct the behaviour, which proved to be a terrible mistake with tragic consequences. Gerald Ridsdale should have been taken out of the ministry.”
While admissions about the wrong decisions of the past have been made by the Catholic Church in recent years, yesterday’s confirmation in such plain terms should provide evidence that finally it has accepted that to move forward, it must first be open about its past.
Given there is not only a state inquiry but also a royal commission, it has no choice. The federal inquiry will have many more powers than those afforded to the state probe. It can compel individuals or organisations to give evidence.
While yesterday’s forthright admissions from Bishop Bird and the man he replaced, Bishop Peter Connors, shed light on the extent of abuse attributed to priests in Ballarat – more than 100 cases – there is a sense that there were further questions about events in Ballarat between the late 1960s and the 1980s which were beyond the scope of direct response yesterday.
Uncertainty remains as to exactly what outcomes these inquiries will produce.
As this newspaper has remarked before, the unravelling of institutionalised abuse is extremely painful for our city. But it is necessary to assist understanding and to provide a semblance of closure for the abused and their families.
Yesterday was an important step in the process.