A BALLARAT Diocese priest who warned a family to stay away from paedophile Gerald Ridsdale says he felt “powerless” to stop the serial abuser.
Father Eric Bryant told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Wednesday, he trusted Bishop Ronald Mulkearns was “monitoring” the situation.
The inquiry heard Ridsdale’s sexual behaviour was raised at a high-level church meeting in 1982.
Fr Bryant said problems managing Ridsdale were raised by Bishop Mulkearns at the meeting of seven priests including Cardinal George Pell.
Fr Bryant said Bishop Mulkearns told the priests; “We’ve got a problem with homosexuality in the diocese.”He said it was later decided to shift Ridsdale from the parish of Mortlake.
“I don’t think anybody knew how to handle the situation,” Fr Bryant said. “I think the diocese took a great dive at that stage and sort of ended up in the dark ages.”
The diocesan consultor from 1982 to 1986 said the church's handling of Ridsdale was catastrophic.
“I felt somewhat powerless about it and I’m sure at some stage I did try and talk to the Bishop about it only to be told that it was being handled,” he said.
Fr Bryant told the inquiry he began to warn parents to keep their children away from Ridsdale in the late 1980s.
He said he tried to warn a family in Hopetoun who were allowing their children to go away on trips to White Cliffs with Ridsdale in the late 1980s.
“I was quite convinced of, at that stage, what was happening,” Fr Bryant said.
When asked why he did not give the warning more broadly Fr Bryant said he had profound remorse but he was “young and naive” and just starting out in the priesthood.
“I regret that deeply,” he told the inquiry. “I still feel great guilt for what’s happened to people personally. I didn’t do the right thing as far as Ridsdale was concerned and perhaps I didn’t know how to handle it and I was presuming all the time that the Bishop and others were doing what was seen to be right.”
Fr Bryant said the church, like many male institutions, created a place for paedophiles to hide.He told the inquiry he had to accept responsibility on behalf of the diocese for what happened, even though he was not fully aware of the circumstances at the time.
“It’s our story and we have to own that,” Fr Bryant said. “If I had of known things perhaps I could have done things to save some of the anguish some people went through.”
The commission also has heard Bishop Mulkearns knew in 1975 that Ridsdale had abused children but concealed the real reason why paedophile priests were being shuffled from parish to parish. Other priests and vicar-generals who were part of the Ballarat Diocese College of Consultors will be cross-examined about their knowledge of paedophile priests in the coming days.