AUSTRALIA’S most notorious paedophile priest still has the support of some members of the clergy who are in denial about his crimes, an inquiry has heard.
Ballarat Diocese priest Father Eric Bryant told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse some veterans of the clergy do not comprehend the devastation caused by Gerarld Ridsdale.
Others refuse to accept there was paedophile ring operating within the Diocese of Ballarat.
"Some are still in denial about the whole Ridsdale thing,” Fr Bryant said. “They look to the good points.
Gerry Ridsdale is an evil person, for the evil acts he performed, but in his life as a priest he also did many good things.”
At a high-level church meeting in 1982, Bishop Ronald Mulkearns told the priests; “We’ve got a problem with homosexuality in the diocese.” But the diocesan consultor from 1982 to 1986 told the inquiry it was extremely problematic to link paedophilia in the clergy with homosexuality. Fr Bryant also told the commission celibacy could not be blamed as a cause of abuse.
“We’re talking about priesthood and sexuality as if we’re stuck in a little bell jar,” he told the inquiry. “I know a a number of clergy who are homosexual and who are the most decent people in the world, who have lived their celibacy to the letter. There’s others who have fallen weak and made mistakes but they don’t abuse children.”
Fr Bryant said the understanding of paedophilia in the Catholic Church only came about because “brave survivors” had the “guts to stand up and say ‘what happened to me wasn't right’.”
He called for policies to be developed including mandatory screening of all men entering the priesthood. “Somehow, lets develop policies, let us screen people, let us have groups within parishes or whatever part of life, where the child is nurtured as a child,” Fr Bryant said.
In May, University of NSW associate professor Carolyn Quadrio told the commission she believed that celibacy was not the driving cause of sexual abuse.
She said celibacy had played little role in past offending, with many paedophiles positioning themselves in the Catholic Church and other institutions because of the access they were granted to young children.
Earlier this week, Fr Bryant said male institutions like the Catholic Church created a place for paedophiles like Ridsdale to hide.
He said former Ballarat Bishop Mulkearns never told his sexually misbehaving men were offending against children.