A retired Ballarat priest told a sexual abuse inquiry an external investigation of the Catholic Church was the only way to bring about change. Father John McKinnon told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse he had failed victims by not questioning why several priests were moved around the Ballarat Diocese during the 1970s and 80s.
But he said the prevalence of child sexual abuse could not be separated from the church’s “culture of immaturity” which he believed allowed sex offenders to go undetected for decades.
“I sometimes wonder whether the fact we’re celibate means that we miss out on the normal incentive to grow,” he told the inquiry. “’It’s so hard when you’re part of the culture to recognise what you’re in or what it’s like. We need people from the outside looking in.” Fr McKinnon said most men who joined the priesthood went from the seminary to school and missed life experiences which allowed them to grow, like falling in love and having a child.
“Some men would have grown and would have their own families and develop that capacity and sensitivity to a child and sense of sacredness of the child,” he said.
Fr McKinnon told the inquiry he believed celibacy and chastity fuelled the culture of immaturity.
Fr McKinnon also told the hearing he felt if there were women in positions of power in the clergy during the period of rampant sexual abuse, the outcomes for victims may have been different. “I do believe they’d be instinctively sensitive to these things and we weren’t,” he said.“I’d say today, we’re all much more alert to paedophilia that at least they’d be open to that.”
The inquiry also heard from retired Ballarat priest Brian McDermott who said there was no process to handle allegations of sexual abuse other than to report it to then Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns. “There were no protocols at this time in the diocese,” he said. “No written directives about how to handle these matters.”
Fr McDermott denied an accusation made by a Mortlake mother, BAE, who said Fr McDermott ignored her cries for help. Fr McDermott told the commission it became clear to him Gerald Ridsdale was offending against children in 1981 after a parishioner raised it with him.
He said in hindsight, his “faith and belief” in Bishop Mulkearns to take action against sexual abuse allegations was “misplaced.”