Clergy sex abuse victims to sue Ballarat catholic diocese

At least 20 victims of former Ballarat paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale have instructed a lawyer to prepare a class action against the Ballarat Catholic diocese.

The landmark class action against the Catholic Church will be the first test of Cardinal George Pell's recent commitment to make the church less hostile to litigation from sex abuse victims.

Lawyer Vivian Waller said the victims had instructed her to launch claims against the Diocese of Ballarat and argue that the church's negligence or cover-ups allowed Ridsdale to remain as a priest after it was known he was a sexual predator.

It is understood the church could be forced to pay out millions in compensation if the cases succeed.

On Tuesday, Ridsdale, who admitted to abusing at least 53 children between 1961 and 1982, was sentenced to eight more years' jail, after he pleaded guilty to 39 new charges involving sex offences against 11 boys and three girls, he having already been jailed in previous court cases.

Gerald Ridsdale in 1993.

Gerald Ridsdale in 1993.

County Court Chief Judge Michael Rozenes said Ridsdale's ''unfettered sexual deviance'' had been a blatant breach of trust.

He abused one young girl in the confessional box after ordering her to say the prayer ''Forgive me Father for I have sinned'' and told a nine-year-old boy the abuse was ''the Lord's work''.

One victim, who was in court on Tuesday, said Ridsdale's sentencing amounted to ''winning a battle but not the war''.

''There are other people who should be made be accountable because they [the church] knew what Ridsdale was doing,'' said the victim, who asked not to be named.

''There will not be full closure until those people are made responsible for their action.''

The victim is one of Ms Waller's clients.

Ms Waller said Cardinal Pell's recent appearance before the royal commission into sexual abuse suggested the church would no longer rely on legal technicalities to avoid proper compensation.

''I hope that the Archdiocese of Ballarat will abide by the indication of George Pell that the church won't employ certain defences to defeat sexual abuse claimants,'' she said.

On Tuesday, Judge Rozenes said it was disturbing that one of Ridsdale's victims believed another priest was present when Ridsdale abused her when she was aged 10 or 11.

Judge Rozenes said victim impact statements tendered to the court collectively revealed ''a feeling of being exploited; feeling trapped, powerless, worthless and humiliated; anger at, and distrust of, the Catholic church; loss of faith and innocence; loss of the enjoyment of childhood; a sense of bewilderment and disbelief; and the fracturing of family relationships''.

The judge said that, tragically, many thought themselves to blame for Ridsdale's actions.

''To me, one of the most tragic comments I heard was that 'if I had 'taken my turn' maybe my little brothers would have had happier lives'.''

Ridsdale, 79, who has been in prison since 1994 and is in poor health, had been due for release on June 29, 2019. He will now not be released, unless granted parole, until 2022 and is expected to die in prison.

Read more: