St Patrick’s College is taking courageous steps towards confronting its harrowing past and supporting victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
A black line has been put through the name of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale on the board of ordained collegians at St Patrick's College in Ballarat to acknowledge victims of abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy.
A plaque was recently installed beneath it, which read: "The black line above stands both as a symbol of respect to the bravery of victims and survivors, and for the college's deep remorse."
School principal John Crowley concealed the disgraced priest’s name last year after he attended the child abuse hearings in Ballarat.
After listening to Ridsdale's harrowing evidence for hours in the second week of the hearings last May, Mr Crowley said he was left horrified.
"I was both appalled and horrified and I felt the right thing to do was to cover his name pending further investigation," Mr Crowley said.
"We didn't want to erase history but by putting a black line through his name we are showing we are not proud of this individual."
"Many of our old boys have gone on to become priests and we are very proud of those men. But in this instance his (Ridsdale's) actions were so grievous and so damaging to victims, survivors, their families and the community we wanted to make a strong and powerful statement in support of victims."
Mr Crowley met with clergy abuse survivors and former students Peter Blenkiron, Andrew Collins and Phil Nagle earlier this week.
The group discussed what will be created out of the hundreds of Loud Fence ribbons tied to the gates at the front of the school during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse hearings.
In the 1960s and 1970s they were students of St Patrick's College and St Alipius Boys' School, where convicted paedophiles Robert Best, Stephen Francis Farrell, Edward Dowlan, Gerald Fitzgerald and Gerald Ridsdale all worked.
Ridsdale alone sexually abused hundreds of victims. He was shifted from parish to parish enabling his sex crime spree to span three decades.
He has been convicted of 138 child sex crime offences.
Mr Blenkiron said seeing a black line put through Ridsdale's name had moved him.
He saw for the first time a black line put through the name of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale on a wooden honours board hanging in a corridor. It has also placed a plaque beneath it, which read: "The black line above stands both as a symbol of respect to the bravery of victims and survivors, and for the college's deep remorse."
“For the first time I felt like St Patrick’s means more to me than the cause of horror and dread in my body,” he said.
The step to conceal the disgraced priest’s name was taken by school principal John Crowley last year after he attended the child abuse hearings in Ballarat.
“There’s been a real shift and things are starting to happen,” Mr Blenkiron said. “To see the name crossed of the list was a major step forward.”
"Future generations need to be reminded this must never happen again. It’s important we make sure there is a redress scheme put in place today for damaged children of the past. A monument will be a permanent reminder of the past but it will also be a reminder that children need to be kept safe always.”
Mr Blenkiron said he hoped the permanent monument at the school would be just the beginning.
“Children need to be educated in a way that creates their safety and gives them emotional skills to deal with the ups and downs of life,” Mr Blenkiron said. “They need to know that it is ok to ask for help. Changing this culture will save lives.”
Survivor Andrew Collins lauded the support of Mr Crowley and the Loud Fence movement.
Mr Collins said stepping onto the school-grounds and seeing the name crossed out had made him feel like an “old boy” of the school for the first time since he’d graduated.
“John has stood by survivors every day and he has made such a huge difference in tearing down the walls for change,” Mr Collins said.
“For the majority of our lives nobody would talk about child sexual abuse but Loud Fence has opened up discussions about child sexual abuse and in doing so has changed the lives of survivors.”
The next step will involve consulting various artists and sculptors who could provide advice and ideas on how and where the final monument will be installed.