Ridsdale told rape victim she was 'God's little angel'

Gerald Ridsdale, one of Australia’s worst paedophile priests, told one of his victims: "It was the Lord’s work", a court has heard.

Another victim said his belief that the Catholic Church hierarchy had known what Ridsdale and other priests were doing was reinforced by Cardinal George Pell’s evidence to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse last year.

Dr Pell told the inquiry he had only recently discovered that former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns had destroyed documents relating to sexual abuse allegations.

Bishop Mulkearns was responsible for shifting Ridsdale and several other priests around parishes after concerns were raised by families.

Dr Pell, who has been appointed the Prefect for the Economy of the Holy See, one of the Vatican’s most senior roles responsible for reforming its administration and finances, lived with Ridsdale at a Ballarat presbytery in the early 1970s but said he was not a close friend.

Former Ballarat priest Gerald Ridsdale being led to court in an earlier appearance. File image.

Former Ballarat priest Gerald Ridsdale being led to court in an earlier appearance. File image.

Dr Pell admitted he made a mistake when he supported Ridsdale at his first court appearance on child sex offences in Melbourne in 1993, claiming he had "little idea of the full extent and gravity of his crimes".

Dr Pell’s last public appearance in Australia is expected to be in the witness box at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse later this week.

Ridsdale, 79, appeared in the County Court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to 30 charges involving sex offences against 11 boys and three girls between 1961 and 1980.

Wearing glasses and a woollen jumper, Ridsdale needed a walking frame to make his way into the dock and kept his head bowed during the plea hearing.

Crown prosecutor Susan Borg said one of Ridsdale’s victims had been a ward of the state at the Nazareth House orphanage in Ballarat when he preyed on her from 1962-1964 when she was aged 10 to 13.

On one occasion Ridsdale wiped away the girl’s tears after abusing her and told her what had happened was "our little secret". He told the girl he loved her and she was his special little girl before giving her a white bag of boiled lollies.

When the young girl decided to tell one of the Catholic nuns what Ridsdale was doing to her, she was told, "Good little girls don’t talk about such things. Off you go."

In her victim impact statement, the woman told the court she had trusted Ridsdale because "he represented God and all that was good".

She had been convinced she was going to hell and felt evil, dirty, scared and confused because of Ridsdale’s abuse.

"You exploited, humiliated and intimidated me for your own self gratification while hiding behind the veil of the church," she said.

A second victim, who had been groomed as an altar boy by Ridsdale, said the priest abused him and told him "it was the Lord’s work".

Another victim told how Ridsdale called her "God’s little angel".

She remembered cutting up vegetables in the presbytery kitchen at St Alipius Christian Brothers School in Ballarat’s east when Ridsdale grabbed her, dragged her into a room and raped her.

Another priest who walked past before going outside had seen what was happening, the victim said.

She said on another occasion Ridsdale told her she was naughty, wicked and had to repent for her sins before taking her into the confessional box. He ordered her to say the prayer, ‘‘Forgive me Father for I have sinned’’, before abusing her. She felt like she was dying.

Ridsdale then gave her lollies and drove her back to her aunt’s home.

In her victim impact statement, the woman said she had grown up in a staunch Catholic family during the 1960s and 1970s where priests were revered, highly regarded and their authority rarely questioned.

She said Ridsdale had used her like fodder to feed his perverse need for sexual gratification.

Ridsdale was first jailed for 18 years in 1994 after pleading guilty to 46 sex offences involving 21 victims - 20 boys and one girl - between 1961 and 1982.

He was convicted of further charges in 2006 for offences against 10 boys from 1970 to 1980 and sentenced to another 13 years' jail.

Ridsdale had been due for parole in August last year before more victims came forward to give evidence about Ridsdale to the parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse and he was charged with multiple new offences against 14 victims.

The plea hearing continues.