PAEDOPHILE priest Gerald Ridsdale said it would have “saved so many others” if the Catholic Church hierarchy had reported him to police after his first offences.
Ridsdale also told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse he should never have been a priest and the church’s screening processes needed tightening.
“There should have been a better screening process that was much more thorough, psychological process that was much more thorough, than anything that was conducted then,” Ridsdale said.
He also admitted he personally approached George Pell to accompany him to court to face sexual abuse charges in 1993.
Ridsdale also said Cardinal Pell – then the Melbourne auxiliary bishop – knew what the offences were and probably that he was pleading guilty.
It contradicts Ridsdale’s evidence on Wednesday that his barrister arranged for Cardinal Pell to join him at court and that he barely knew his fellow priest.
When told by senior counsel Gail Furness he actually approached Pell directly, Ridsdale said: “Yes, well it looks like I must have done that”.
He also admitted he told Pell what the charges were and he “may have” told him he was pleading guilty.
Ms Furness also said a female victim had said another priest was briefly present when Ridsdale sexually assaulted her in his Ballarat East presbytery bedroom in the early 1970s, but didn’t intervene.
Ridsdale admitted he was living in the presbytery with Cardinal Pell at the time.
“... you tell me that George Pell was there at the same time, so I have to accept that, that George Pell was there,” Ridsdale said.
When asked if another priest had witnessed the assault, Ridsdale said: “There could have been, yes. There probably would have been.”
When asked who the priest was, Ridsdale said he didn’t know.
When asked if he recalled the assault, particularly unusual because the victim was a girl, Ridsdale said: “A lot of them I don’t have, no.”
Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan also asked Ridsdale if anyone visited him in jail after a private hearing between the two of them in Ararat on March 17 this year.
Ridsdale said only retired priest John McKinnon had visited him, but Justice McClellan warned prison records could be checked.
Ridsdale also said he couldn’t recall any conversation with then Bishop Ronald Mulkearns about being removed from the priesthood, despite his numerous offences against children. But Justice McClellan described this testimony as “incredible”, describing the priesthood as the most important thing in Ridsdale’s life.
Ridsdale also admitted both he and Bishop Mulkearns knew they were talking about crimes against children.
However, he said no one ever suggested going to the police.
Justice McClellan said: “There can be no doubt about it, you both knew you were talking about engaging in criminal activity?”
“Yes, your honour, yes,” Ridsdale said.
After Mortlake, Bishop Mulkearns sent Ridsdale to Sydney but made it clear it was to a desk job at the Catholic Inquiry Centre with no contact with children.
However, Ridsdale not only joined a prayer group, but applied for a parish when Sydney Archbishop Cardinal Clancy – who knew of his “certain sexual problems” but had forgotten them – was away in Rome.
“You were flouting what you understood to be the reasons for your transfer,” Ms Furness said.
Ridsdale also said no conditions or restrictions were placed on him during his time in Sydney, where he offended again.
He abused a 10-year-old boy by “worming his way” into a family he met during the prayer group by loaning the boy his keyboard.
Ridsdale admitted abusing the boy at least two weekends out of three when he took him with him when he relieved at Bulli parish.
He also abused children at his underground holiday home at White Cliffs, near Broken Hill.
After returning to Victoria, Ridsdale became an assistant priest in Horsham in 1986, where he again assaulted two young boys.
Despite a parent asking for Ridsdale to be moved from all contact with children, this didn’t happen until nine months later when he left parish work altogether in 1988.
Ridsdale said counselling he began with Father Augustine Walsh in 1992 hadn’t worked, but he hadn’t told anyone it wasn’t effective.
“... you left parish work because you had been offending against children for, in fact, decades,” Ms Furness said.
Ridsdale then took extended leave after being temporarily removed of his priestly faculties and returned to White Cliffs, where he offended again.
He was sent to the New Mexico Servants of Parachete treatment centre, in which two-thirds of his group were paedophile priests and which was paid for by the Ballarat diocese.
Ridsdale was told by Bishop Mulkearns he couldn’t work in the Ballarat diocese again.
But, in a letter to centre staff, Bishop Mulkearns said he would “sound out” other bishops at an upcoming Australian Catholic Bishops meeting about having him placed elsewhere, if “deemed prudent to do so”.
Ridsdale was also asked if his treatment reports from New Mexico were destroyed by Bishop Mulkearns to avoid litigation but said he didn’t know.
He said he hadn’t offended again after returning from New Mexico in 1990.