Mother of abuse survivor to sue the Catholic Church

PATIENT: Catholic clergy abuse survivor Paul Levey, with partner Michelle.
PATIENT: Catholic clergy abuse survivor Paul Levey, with partner Michelle.

The mother of clergy abuse survivor, Paul Levey, may be the first parent and secondary victim to sue the Catholic Church.

Anne Levey, who is haunted daily by knowledge of Paul’s horrific abuse by laicised and jailed priest Gerald Ridsdale, said she will be pursuing a case against the Catholic Church as a secondary victim because of the damage and pain suffered.

Ms Levey and son, Paul, are represented by Sydney-based Dr Martine Marich and Associates.

“We have been patient. They (the lawyers) have assembled all the paperwork and we’ve just been waiting for the legislation change,” Mr Levey said.

The quashing of the Ellis Defence, which closes a technical legal loophole that prevented the Catholic Church from being sued, marks a significant shift for survivors of clergy abuse who, until now, have been unable to sue unincorporated organisations.

Ms Levey is one of many secondary victims of the child sexual abuse epidemic and, as a first, her case against the church may become a ‘test’ case.

“I have funny feelings about it [the case]. I am not doing it for money, I couldn’t care less about the money but I put my trust in the Church and I just want to show them that they can’t do this … I want them to stand up and admit what they’ve done,” she said. 

“I had to sit in the court and listen to what he [Ridsdale] did to Paul. It nearly killed me.”

Until three years ago, Mrs Levey had been a devoted and staunch Catholic. “I prayed every day and I went to church every Sunday for 73 years.” 

After she gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Ms Levey stopped attending church. “I just couldn’t face it after what they’ve done. I won’t be buried from the church and that upsets me … when you have followed a religion all that time.”

She said the past few years had been really hard. “I am alright now, a lot better now than what I was. When I went to the Royal Commission I got the biggest shock that I ever got.”

“I blame myself all the time but, in my day, if you couldn’t trust the Catholic priests, who could you trust?”

“Ridsdale even went to church (at my church) with Paul and me and he got up and said mass with the priest for God’s sake! How could he do that,” Ms Levey asked and the pain over what happened to Paul and the hurt of betrayal by the Catholic Church is evident in her voice.

“I gave my life to the Church,’’ she said. “I used to go to Church in Sunbury and I was freezing to death, no heater and I come up to church here [Albury], and no heater.

“Then I find out they (the Catholic priests) are tripping around the world, having holidays and here we are freezing. I thought the Church money was meant to be for the people?” 

Ms Levey said both her parents were Catholic, and even though her sister and two brothers “gave it away”, she kept going to church.

“I was just brought up like that. I was the youngest and my mother was a very strict Catholic. She worked for the priests, cleaning the presbytery, they paid her $10 and I reckon she took $30 worth of food there every week.

“When she died they gave her a celebrated mass – very few people have that. That’s when three priests say the mass.”

“It was the last straw when I went to the Royal Commission and I heard everything that had been going on, the lies … I just couldn’t walk in the church. I still believe in God but I just can’t walk into the church knowing what they are preaching and what they are doing,” Ms Levy said.

Does she think things will change with the Catholic Church? “I don’t think so,” she said. “It is still happening. It won’t change. You can’t stop those pedophiles.” 

Ms Levey said she can see now what a soft target she was. “I was devastated when Geoff (Paul’s father and Ms Levey’s husband) left but that’s when Ridsdale moved in. They know."

“The abuse started well before he took Paul to Mortlake. When my husband left, Ridsdale kept coming around and taking him (Paul) out … to the zoo, the theatre.’’

I told  Mulkearns if he didn’t do something about it, I would call the police and … straight away they shifted Ridsdale,” Ms Levey said.

“I didn’t know anything about grooming then. I had a dream recently, and I was bashing and bashing Ridsdale and I am not an aggressive person … that’s how it is playing on my mind.”

“I couldn’t control myself if I came face to face with him. Anyway, we don’t want him to die and get away with it like Mulkearns did.”

Gerald Ridsdale is led into court in 1994. File photo

Gerald Ridsdale is led into court in 1994. File photo

“Paul was playing up at school, he got kicked out of three schools and there was nowhere to go. Then (Gerald) Ridsdale said he’d take him up there (to live at the Mortlake Presbytery) and I thought, ‘Well he’ll get a good education and it might straighten him out. I was at my wit’s end about where I was going to send him to school,” Ms Levey said.

“I later found out that Ridsdale said to Paul: ‘Your mother and father don’t want you, that’s why you are up with me and if you say anything, no one will believe you.” 

Ms Levey said though she didn’t know then that Paul was being abused, her instincts told her something was wrong.

“I kept ringing Mulkearns (Bishop Ronald Mulkearns) and he wouldn’t come to the phone. I said I am going to sit on the phone until he answers … then I said to him (Mulkearns), “Do you think it’s appropriate that Paul is living there (at Mortlake with Ridsdale) … I didn’t know then he was being molested but I just wanted him out of there.”

Paul was about 14 when he returned to live with his mother. “At 15 he wanted to leave school. He got a good job with the railways but he left because he couldn’t cope, couldn’t get himself together after everything that had happened.

“I asked at the railways if they would take him back and they said Paul was the cleverest boy they’d known and he could have gone to the top (of the railways) but he’d had his father leaving, and then he had Gerry Ridsdale … he couldn’t cope.” 

Mrs Levey said they didn’t know or understand about post-traumatic stress disorder and the other ongoing mental, emotional and physical damage that abuse victims suffer.

“When he came to live at Albury, he just played up for 10 years … I do understand it now, that it was all the trauma, but I didn’t know that then.”

Ms Levey said she didn’t know about what Paul had endured until many years later. “When he told me, I believed him straight away. I have always believed him,” she said.

Gerald Ridsdale, now 84, has been in jail since 1994.

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