DISGRACED priest Gerald Ridsdale now believes crimes told in confession should be reported to police.
“Well, from my experience and what I’ve done and the damage that I’ve done, I’d say yes definitely,” he said.
“I don’t know what the church ruling or legislation or thought is about that, but that’s my personal opinion.”
Ridsdale was giving testimony via video-link from jail at Wednesday’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
He also said he believed Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew he had “difficulties” with sexually abusing children, but didn’t know if any other clergy knew.
“No one gave any indication at all that they knew what had been going on.”
Ridsdale said he did not know now-Cardinal George Pell very well at all, even though they were priests in Ballarat at the same time.
He said Cardinal Pell accompanying him to his first court appearance in 1993 was suggested by his barrister.
“I can’t remember having any dealings with George at all.”
He also said he didn’t see Cardinal Pell coming to court with him as “having a very big significance” on his court proceedings.
“I think we were clutching at straws, quite honestly.”
The commission heard Ridsdale had been assessed by a Professor Ball, who said he had a pattern in each parish of having five or more children with whom he had “close and ongoing relationships”, plus a couple of “casual contacts”.
Ridsdale would befriend one or two families, often with an absent father, and abuse boys in the presbytery, on outings or on camps.
As a result, he was moved around parishes, often at short notice and even in the middle of the night after abusing a policeman’s son at Inglewood.
Ridsdale said he was forced to leave Apollo Bay early after someone told him “they are saying things down at the pub about you and kids”.
“I thought it was time to put in for a transfer.”
However, he cannot remember telling then Bishop Mulkearns why he needed an early transfer.
Ridsdale said he would have “cooked up” some excuse for needing to leave Apollo Bay early if asked.
He also said he was “out of control” abusing boys when sent to Inglewood, near Bendigo, but was always fearful of families reporting him.
He said he made sure he was alone when he abused children and made them promise to keep quiet.
He also said he might have threatened them.
When asked if he hurt children, he said: “Yes I did, I know that”.
He also said he was “out of control” when sent to Mortlake, abusing most of the boys at the local school.
“I went haywire there. I knew it was wrong, it was wrong, morally wrong, legally wrong.”
Ridsdale also said he abused more children at Edenhope than he was charged with. Although, he said: “I can’t remember how many.”
He also agreed he was manipulative and learnt to manipulate both children and families for his own gratification.
Ridsdale said he finally “got up the guts” to talk to a psychiatrist or psychologist during his time in Warrnambool and told them he thought he was gay.
But he said he failed to follow it up and talk about “the kids”.
He also spent 12 months away at the National Pastoral Centre to try to improve his relationships with adults – with whom he said he always felt “uncomfortable” – and overcome his sexual attraction to children.
However, during his time in Mortlake, a young boy he met at the centre would often visit on weekends and sleep in his bed.
He was also sent to a Franciscan priest for counselling, but could only remember the “relaxation exercises”.
Ridsdale said he was moved around the diocese with no restrictions or conditions on his behaviour.
He said he was molested twice as a child and “sexually tested” by an uncle.
Ridsdale said he was assaulted by an older cousin when they shared a bed when he was eight or nine, and a Christian Brother a few years later.
He also gave evidence that priests had a great deal of community status and he read a lot of spiritual books when he was growing up.
However, he was told by an older priest friend: “Always remember when you’re reading books like that, that it’s not necessarily how people like that lived, but that’s how they would have liked to live”.
Ridsdale gave evidence that, when he was becoming a priest, he was told at the Werribee Seminary he would have to stop masturbating or leave.
He also realised he was attracted to young boys, not women, and could recall a “need for intimacy, hugging and closeness” with young boys. However he could not remember fondling them. He said he never had a close adult relationship apart from another prisoner when he was serving a three-year jail term.
Ridsdale said he never confessed his offending to anyone because he didn’t want to leave the priesthood.
The commission heard the first complaint against Ridsdale was in his first year as a priest in the 1960s at Ballarat North and the bishop at the time, James O’Collins, threatened to send him to “the missions”.
He said, if his offending came out, he would lose face with his family, his priesthood and faith in himself.
“I was a very proud person,” he said.
Ridsdale said he had never thought about whether he was hurting young children.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Ridsdale said he spent his life hiding his paedophilia.
“That was what I was doing all the time, all my life.
“... threats and logic, they’re no help to a paedophile. The only way out of it is proper treatment.”