A BALLARAT diocese priest says he would have been more likely to report a priest for stealing from a parish till over clergy he suspected were sexually abusing children.
Warrnambool priest Father Lawerence O’Toole told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse he took a confession at the hospital bedside of a man in 1988 who disclosed to him he’d been sexually abused by Gerald Ridsdale. The inquiry heard the man was a school boy in Edenhope at the time he was abused by Ridsdale in 1980. Fr O’Toole who was parish priest at Edenhope at the time said he felt the conversation with the man was a “confession” and therefore he was bound by the Catholic Church’s confessional seal.
“From my point of view, I would have felt that I was acting as a priest and freeing him,” Fr O’Toole told the inquiry. “Trying to free him of any guilt he may have and any shame.”
Fr O’Toole told the inquiry he did not ask the man at the time if he would consent to him passing the sexual abuse allegation onto police, despite admitting to the inquiry he knew it was a crime.
“I would believe that he was old enough and man enough to be able to do that himself,” Fr O’Toole said. “There was no anger in him, he didn’t knock on my door. I got invited to the hospital as if it were to give him counselling and peace.”
When probed by commission chair Justice Peter McClellan, Fr O’Toole admitted he would have been more likely to report a priest stealing money from a parish than a colleague he believed was molesting a child. He also said he would have been more likely to report it if he’d heard a priest had committed a property crime. Fr O’Toole said he never told Bishop Mulkearns about the sexual abuse complaint and presumed the bishop would be aware of any sexual misconduct allegations against priests.
“I didn’t think it was my role to,” he told the inquiry.
Fr O’Toole also admitted he was aware victim Paul Levey was living inside the presbytery with Ridsdale in Mortlake in 1982. He told the inquiry he had seen Mr Levey inside a car with Ridsdale. He said while he was concerned about the “unusual” living arrangement he did not voice concerns to Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns.Fr O’Toole said in hindsight it was “naive” of him to think Ridsdale took the boy in as a noble gesture. Fr O’Toole said historically there had been a lack of understanding about what paedophilia was in the church.“Experience has taught me such things as mandatory reporting,” he said.