Child sexual abuse survivor *Bill feels physically sick when he talks about how former Bishop of Ballarat James O’Collins is still being honoured on Ballarat buildings and by the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat.
In 1982, Bill was a child of nine when he was abused by serial pedophile liacised priest Gerald Ridsdale.
He said he was warned by older boys not to get caught alone with Ridsdale, and for a long time he blamed himself when that happened. Now he says he knows where the real responsibility lies.
Bill says former Ballarat bishops O’Collins and Mulkearns facilitated Ridsdale’s abuse victims under the banner of the church.
“Ridsdale was a sick, sick f**k, but it is Mulkearns and O’Collins ... they should have pulled him up years ago … before he got to me.”
“When it first came to O’Collins’ attention, that would have been the time to stop him. He was one who had the opportunity to stop it all,” Bill says.
It took 33 years to disclose and today – suffering depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder – Bill says he wants the church to “be accountable” because they are “defending the indefensible.”
In 1993, Ridsdale was convicted of more than 100 charges of sexual abuse against children over a period spanning 30 years.
Evidence tendered to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which concluded in 2017, indicated that by the time Bill was abused, both former bishops of Ballarat – James O'Collins and Ronald Mulkearns, had received complaints that Ridsdale had sexually abused children.
A transcript of an earlier interview states that Ridsdale said O'Collins was aware of a complaint during the paedophile's first year as a priest in 1962, but “did not supervise Ridsdale adequately, or take reasonable preventative action to ensure he would not sexually abuse other children.”
Bill says there are several items bearing O’Collins’ name that he finds “offensive”, including the plaque at Damascus College’ campus and the O’Collins school ‘house’, as well as the Foundation Stone outside Child and Family Services (CAFS) in Ballarat.
Bill said “that stone had bothered him” to the extent that he took to covering it with gaffer tape. He said he had raised the issue with CAFS and the response was that “they are going through a process.”
As Bishop of Ballarat O'Collins established St Paul's College in 1948 to enable the Christian Brothers to continue providing technical education for boys. In 1995 it was amalgamated with two other colleges to become Damascus College and today, provides Catholic secondary co-education at its Mt Clear campus.
Bill particularly wants the Damascus College web page taken down, and more specifically, wants the references to O’Collins as “Most Reverend” removed, along with all the other ways he is honoured throughout the College.
He says he is continually retraumatised by seeing the name and all that it represents.
“I find the plaques offensive and I have made a commitment to myself not to go anywhere where there is a plaque, or anything honouring O’Collins ... it triggers me and it is so disrespectful to the victims.”
The abuse could have been prevented and I can't get past that. I wonder what my life would have been like without it.- Ridsdale child abuse victim
Lawyer and advocate Judy Courtin says, “it is both unsurprising and shocking that it is now incumbent on victims to travel the countryside inspecting churches and schools for plaques and other memorabilia that erroneously honour members of the church who failed victims.”
Ms Courtin said the plaques honouring offending Bishops and other senior members of the church hierarchy, “cause significant and ongoing psychiatric harm to victims and their families.”
“Why didn’t the churches get in first, do the right thing and remove them?” she asks.
Fr. Justin from the Cathedral Parish, said the Church was listening and referred to the O’Collins Hall (next to the Cathedral in Ballarat) which has been recently renamed.
“The Cathedral Parish renamed the hallthat was formerly known as O'Collins Hall, before the Royal Commission released its findings, “Fr Driscoll said.
“The area was being refurbished during the Royal Commission hearings and when it became evident it would be inappropriate to continue with this name, the opportunity was taken to rename the refurbished area – now two spaces - after two exemplary women, Mary Glowery, a woman born and raised in the Ballarat Diocese and now on the path towards Canonisation, and Mary MacKillop, Australia's first canonised saint,” he said.
A Diocese spokesperson also said that, “As has been the case at St. Pat’s College, Emmanuel College in Warrnambool which took a different but positive approach, and the pro-active action St. Patrick’s Cathedral Parish has taken under Fr. Justin, it is clear ‘The Church” is doing what it can appropriately to make changes, in line with actions that require discussion and management by different organisations throughout the Diocese.”
Bill does not agree that removing the plaques would be erasing history and not honouring the victims.
“If the name was blacked out (on the plaque) like St Pat’s has done, I wouldn’t have an issue. St Pat’s has done it the right way,” he said.
In 2017 the college put a black line through paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale's name on a board honouring former students who went on to take Holy orders.
The school has also placed a plaque beneath it, saying: "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."
“The thing I can’t get over is that my abuse should never have happened. It could have been prevented,” Bill says.
“I can’t get past that and I wonder what my life would have been like without it.”
*Bill is a name used to protect the victim’s identity.
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