Sex-abuse victims take on Catholic Church in class action

THE CENTRE Against Sexual Assault (CASA) Ballarat has welcomed a class action against the Catholic Church by victims of institutionalised sexual abuse. 

JAILED:  Gerald Ridsdale outside court in 1993

JAILED: Gerald Ridsdale outside court in 1993

Yesterday Melbourne lawyer Vivian Waller launched a class action against the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat.

Dr Waller said the civil case was in response to Ballarat paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale’s eight-year prison sentence, with a non-parole period of five years, which was handed down in the Melbourne County Court on Tuesday.

He plead guilty to 39 new charges involving sex offences against 11 boys and three girls and admitted to abusing at least 53 children between 1961 and 1982.

Ridsdale was already serving a prison sentence for other sexual offences. 

Dr Waller claimed the church was aware of, but did not act on, repeated sexual abuse of children who were in its care. 

CASA Ballarat manager Shireen Gunn said she was eager to see how the class action would unfold. 

“I am looking forward (to the class action) in a positive manner,” Ms Gunn said. 

“I don’t think the victims are tiring of this at all. (The hearings) are a very stressful experience for them, but they do have the expectation (their stories) will be heard.”

“It’s not over yet. There has not been a nationwide outcome in Australia,” Ms Gunn said. 

Ms Gunn has recently added 16 new names to CASA’s group submission for the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Dr Waller has 20 clients for the class action, but yesterday had received instructions to contact more people.

“A decision was made by the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat for (Ridsdale) to leave as a priest,” Dr Waller said. 

“They did not take away his responsibility and moved him along from parish to parish.” 

“(The church) had the opportunity to take him out of circulation and prevent him from harming countless people,” she said. 

Francis Sullivan, chief executive of the church's Truth Justice and Healing Council, said the church wanted an independent and transparent body to handle child sex abuse cases.

He said drawn-out court cases placed too high a burden of proof for too many people, meaning some cases never made it in front of a judge.

"The litigation system is probably the worst system to get people what they need," Mr Sullivan told media.

Mr Sullivan said all Catholic dioceses and religious orders had been told to make a legal entity that can be sued over child sex offences.

The so called Ellis defence used by the Catholic Church in the past is based on a High Court ruling that found the Catholic Church cannot be held legally or financially responsible for the actions of its priests who sexually abused children, because it is not incorporated as a single entity.

“No case has gone to trial in Victoria because of the technical legal difficulties (the case) might face,” Dr Waller said.


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