When Cardinal George Pell likened the Catholic Church’s responsibility for child abuse to that of a trucking company in his last evidence to a child sex abuse inquiry, clergy abuse survivor Peter Blenkiron clenched his teeth so tightly he cracked his tooth.
There has to be an end to this all, there has to be hope for those still struggling and future children have to be protected, always.Peter Blenkiron
For years Mr Blenkiron, who was abused by disgraced Christian Brother Edward Dowlan when he was 11, battled suicidal thoughts playing like a stereo in his head.
He says he is one of the lucky ones. He’s still here.
But he describes himself as a broken man looking for healing.
A dark history of abuse and rape has shattered lives across the Ballarat region and Mr Blenkiron has spent years searching for the light in the midst of darkness.
“There has to be an end to this all, there has to be hope for those still struggling and future children have to be protected, always,” Mr Blenkiron said.
Mr Blenkiron said the survivors’ trip to Rome was a small step for the damaged men of Ballarat making the journey and a huge step for Australia.
“The message of this trip is really simple, stop the premature deaths in this city and across Australia and keep children safe into the future,” Mr Blenkiron said.
“George Pell has the power to be the man who changed the world.”
As 14 Ballarat clergy abuse victims prepare to travel 16,000 kilometres to Rome they are hoping for one thing from Australia’s most senior Catholic: truth.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s third public hearing into Catholic Church authorities in Ballarat began at the Ballarat Magistrates’ Court this week.
A watershed moment of the sex abuse inquiry is only days away, with Cardinal Pell taking the stand at the Hotel Quirinale in Rome on Monday (Australian time).
He is expected to give evidence about his time as an adviser to former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns and on the movements of priests in the diocese, such as paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.
The trip follows a national crowd-funding campaign to help the survivors bear witness to Cardinal Pell’s evidence in Rome after the inquiry accepted a medical report which said the senior Catholic was at risk of heart failure if he made the journey back to Australia.
The crowd-fund reached more than $200,000 in days and there is still more funding to come with proceeds from comedian Tim Minchin’s number one on the Australian iTunes song, Come Home, yet to be counted.
As the truth slowly trickles out of the sex abuse inquiry, survivors say the burden they have carried for so many years is slowly shifting.
But they say there is still so much denial.
“I hope George Pell will be the boy from Ballarat who says ‘It’s time for us to do this differently, no more jumping the fence. We got this so wrong and it’s time for us to do this differently, no more premature deaths because of what’s happened. How can we support those who need support’,” Mr Blenkiron said.
He is hoping for the best, but he is preparing for the worst.
He said the only way forward was to rewrite Vatican law and protect the children of the future.
Mr Blenkiron believed clergy leaders were taking a 1962 directive from the Vatican to conceal sex crimes against children to save the reputation of the church.
“The survivors are the sons and daughters of Catholics,” Mr Blenkiron said.
“They are the Catholic community and Australia is saying 'no more'. But what takes this beyond words is interaction that stops all this and when the action happens we will see it through the Ballarat community and right across Australia.”
He said sexual abuse of children was an imbalance of power which stripped a child of their innocence.
”Being a part of the inquiry and bearing witness to this evidence is all about a small shift in the reclamation of power that can create big changes, not just for the individual, but their supporters which flows on to a power shift for our community to heal,” Mr Blenkiron said.
David Ridsdale, a clergy abuse survivor who was abused at the hands of his uncle, disgraced paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, said the men travelling to Rome were the human faces of it all.
They represent victims of clerical sexual abuse from all over Australia.
They are the voice of the victims who don't have a voice because they've died prematurely and the ones who turned to suicide because the pain of the sex crimes was too great to bear.
“There are so many people affected by this,” Mr Ridsdale said. “We’ve only ever given the truth and that’s what we are hoping for from Cardinal Pell.”
There was a time when Mr Ridsdale couldn’t make it past St Alipius Christian Brothers Boys School on Victoria Street when he drove into Ballarat off the Western Freeway.
He would pull over on the side of the road and break down.
“Ballarat has had to suffer for being known as one of the worst places for clergy and institutional child sexual abuse in the world,” he said. “We want to change it so Ballarat becomes one of the world’s leading healing centres.”
Mr Ridsdale said the men were there to represent all of the survivors in Ballarat in the hope that future generations of children would be safe. “This is a city I haven’t liked. I used to be terrified to come back. But finally this is a city giving back to people they tried to forget.”
Mr Ridsdale’s cousin, Dominic, who shared his own harrowing story of abuse at the hands of his paedophile uncle publicly for the first time this month, will be by his side every step of the way.