Ballarat was one the nation's worst epicentres of clerical sexual abuse that ruined hundreds of lives.
The findings from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse continue to reverberate through the community.
The latest findings, redacted since 2017 for legal reasons, have been met with feelings of sorrow and anger at the failure of leadership and toxic culture within the Catholic church that enabled the abuse.
Cardinal George Pell, the highest profile Catholic cross examined by the commission, knew about paedophile priests as early as the 1970s, unredacted reports from the royal commission reveal.
The Courier examines the reaction of Ballarat leaders and survivors of child sexual abuse to the royal commission findings.
If you are affected by this story, there are a number of helplines at the bottom of the page, including the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault on 5320 3933, or the free-call crisis care line on 1800 806 292.
Stephen Woods, Ballarat-based survivor of child sexual abuse
"Each and every time Cardinal Pell's name comes out in the media, every victim of abuse in the Church just winces. He is such a touchstone of everything that has gone wrong with clergy sexual abuse.
"He exemplifies the amount of money the church is spending defending itself and the fact victims have so little support, so little money and there is so little recourse for all the anger and the frustration that we feel.
"It is only through the victims speaking out that any of this has come out and been exposed and there is now help for victims who come forward.
"This is another hit for Ballarat in that the clergy covered it up. Those who should have helped didn't, those who could have stopped it didn't, those who could have helped victims and families didn't.
"The finding are reinforcement of the pain and frustration of getting those in power to listen, to support and the act. They should have acted and they didn't.
"It is official confirmation of the insult victims and families around Ballarat and district have had to endure for decades and decades.
"Hopefully the unredacted report helps with civil suits. The one thing victims need is support. We need lifelong support because we have had lifelong abuse.
"The abuse on our bodies and our minds didn't stop when the sex stopped. It continues in our minds. We need support. So hopefully this information is used by courts and lawyers to get support for victims."
Phil Nagle, Ballarat-based survivor of child sexual abuse
"We knew. This confirms that. When the first document came out, it was difficult to know because it was redacted. Now it has all been unredacted, the document flows and it shows what went on in Ballarat in the 1970s.
"His fellow colleagues were sexually abusing kids and he did nothing about it. I don't know how much can be done after the fact but the commission certainly confirms that he knew what was going on.
"This is the closure of the royal commission. Ballarat survivors went to Rome in 2016 to watch Pell give his testimony and we didn't have any answers. It was difficult not knowing what the commissioners thought about what Pell knew. It gives closure to that part of our journey through life.
"Obviously you can't change what happened to us. But this confirms our stories and it confirms what happened.
"It confirms someone as high as the cardinal knew what was going on and did nothing about it. He wouldn't have been the only one who knew about it and did nothing, but he is certainly one of the most senior Catholics in the world. You would have thought back then he would have been standing up and trying to stop it.
"This is closure of that chapter with the parliamentary inquiry first and now the royal commission, we have been sitting back wondering what the royal commission thought about the Ballarat story and now we know. They thought the church was covering it up.
"I would like to think the lawyers and the police will take a good hard look at this."
Andrew Collins, Ballarat-based survivor of child sexual abuse
"The findings that Pell knew about children being sexually abused by other clergy is deeply disturbing. By doing nothing other than protect the offenders, he has helped to facilitate the further rape and abuse of more children.
"Raping children was always a crime. For anyone in authority to (stay silent) on this is disgraceful, but for a religious leader, a supposed man of God, this is disgusting.
"These (victims) were the children of families that Pell knew and grew up with. Ballarat families. He interacted with them, yet never did anything. How could he do this? What sort of a person knows that children have been sexually abused yet does nothing to help them?
"Regardless of any of the allegations made against him, this matter will forever define his legacy. Bishop Mulkearns did the same and was buried in disgrace. History will treat Pell the same way. It's time to remove his name from any buildings and for Ballarat to disown him.
What sort of person knows children have been sexually abused yet does nothing to help them?Andrew Collins, survivor of child sexual abuse
"It's another kick in the guts for survivors, both Catholic and otherwise. When leaders held in high esteem cover up child sexual abuse and allow it to happen, then it means that no victim gets justice.
"It just reinforces that victims mean nothing and that those who are famous or powerful always win. Despite the findings of the royal commission, nothing will happen to Pell or anyone else who allowed this to happen. That's wrong.
"It's funny. I knew and expected this, but seeing it in writing has really upset me. It's just confirmation that we were not even seen as worthwhile. Just objects to be used and discarded. And the very people that supposedly set the moral compass for society to follow did nothing. They allowed it to continue.
I knew and expected this, but seeing it in writing has really upset me. It's just confirmation that we were not even seen as worthwhile.Andrew Collins, survivor of sexual abuse
"The church meets every definition of a criminal organisation, yet nothing is done. We have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, despite it not meeting the UN definitions for statehood. It should be a religion or a state, not both.
"We allow tax free status and they receive government funding for their activities, yet pay pathetic compensation with little ongoing support for victims. Survivors expect that our leaders will protect us, but everyone turns a blind eye to the church. And because of that, others ride on their coat tails, meaning no justice for any victims of child sexual abuse.
"These final reports should be the impetus needed for our government to sanction and take action against the Catholic church. But they won't."
Belinda Coates, Deputy mayor City of Ballarat
City of Ballarat deputy mayor Belinda Coates was in Rome when Cardinal Pell was giving his testimony in 2016 - she joined a delegation of Ballarat survivors and supporters to hear it in person.
The release of the unredacted document might not bring too many surprises, she said, but it had been a "very long wait".
"For those of us that sat there, hour after hour after hour, basically in the middle of the night - we were jetlagged, we were exhausted," she said."This has been such a protracted process, but it shines a light on how much has to change in our society."
She said the final document provides a "formal and official analysis of the evidence", providing a "conclusion to that chapter"
."It's absolutely devastating, the sheer impact of the ripple effect on Ballarat, and our immediate area, but just so broadly and widely as well," she said.
"My heart aches, it goes out to everyone impacted directly and indirectly by institutional and other abuse.
"We can't forget that so much abuse that occurs goes unreported and rarely are there cases heard in court, let alone with convictions found - it's a long road to shining a light on ways for our society to prevent abuse in the first place, and that's what we want to see in a genuinely safe society."
Viv Waller, lawyer and victims advocate
"The findings of the royal commission are not unexpected but it is a great relief to have confirmed by the royal commission what many of us have thought for a very long time, which is that senior people within Catholic organisations knew of sexual offending against children, could have done more but didn't.
"The royal commission had already released its findings that there was catastrophic failure of leadership in the diocese of Ballarat and that failure led to the sexual abuse of more children. Now we have a bit more shape to put to those findings and in particular the royal commission found Pell was aware of child sexual abuse by catholic clergy as early as 1973.
"The release of the report will be important for the civil claims for compensation. Waller Legal currently acts in 260 child sexual abuse claims for compensation against catholic entities including the Christian Brothers and the Diocese of Ballarat. 35 of those claims are currently issued in the Supreme Court of Victoria with many more to follow in the coming months. The release of the commission's findings just cements our view that significant authorities within Catholic entities knew about the sexual offending amongst priests and didn't do enough to help keep children safe. The findings will be an additional support in those civil claims for compensation to establish catholic entities breached their duty of care to children.
"I represented Tim Green, he was a survivor who gave evidence in case study number 28. He gave evidence five years ago, so he has been waiting a long time for the royal commission to release their findings. It has been just a few days shy of five years. He was a student at St Patrick's in 1973 and he was 11-years-old when he commenced. In his first year Christian Brother Dowlan was his teacher for a number of subjects. He was sexually abused by Dowlan and Tim Green gave evidence to the royal commission and said it was common knowledge that Dowlan was sexually abusing many boys in the school.
"Dowlan was convicted of sexual offending against Mr Green and other complainants in 2005. But what is of interest at the moment is Mr Green gave evidence to the royal commission that he had a conversation with George Pell in late 1974 at the Eureka Swimming Pool in Ballarat. He said he said to Pell words to the effect of 'we have got to do something about what is going on at St Pat's and that brother Dowlan is touching little boys'. Mr Green gave evidence at the royal commission that Pell said 'don't be ridiculous and walked away'.
"We have been awaiting the unredacted version of case study number 28 to see what the royal commission has made of this evidence. The royal commission noted in its report that Pell did not deny the conversation with Mr Green occurred and the commission found Mr Green to be an honest and credible witness who gave a consistent account, including under questioning by Pell's counsel. Mr Green not only gave evidence once, he was called back by Pell's legal team and questioned further. The royal commission has accepted Mr Green's account and observed his evidence about what he said to Pell and Pell's response was clear and unequivocal.
His worry that maybe he didn't do enough to help others is equally heartbreaking. The failure wasn't his, it was that of Catholic priests and brothers who knew and failed to report suspected child abuse to the police.Viv Waller, Tim Green's lawyer
"Mr Green spoke of Pell's stature within the Ballarat community. For a young boy to complain about a Christian Brother to a man of Pell's esteem must have required great courage and must have been a very memorable encounter he is unlikely to forget.
"Tim is feeling a bit tearful and overwhelmed today. He is quite relieved. The long interval of five years has left him with some sort of uncertainty about his belief the unredacted report has now been released. He wants to thank the royal commission for their work and wishes to acknowledge the courage of all survivors who engaged with the royal commission.
"Mr Green has repeatedly told me he wishes he could have done more to help other boys in 1974 and he has told me he feels some regret and guilt that he did not do more to bring child sexual abuse at St Patrick's to light. I have spoken with him about these concerns and have tried to allay his worries about this by reminding him he was 12 or 13 years old at the time and responsibility for the proper investigation of child abuse didn't rest upon his young shoulders. His report to Pell was a remarkably courageous act for a kid of his age. It is absolutely heartbreaking his complaint was not acted upon.
"His worry that maybe he didn't do enough to help others is equally heartbreaking. The failure wasn't his, it was that of Catholic priests and brothers who knew and failed to report suspected child abuse to the police.
"We act for Mr Green in a civil claim for compensation against the Christian brothers in regards to the abuse by Dowlan. That matter is currently going through the courts. We have 260 other child sexual abuse claims for compensation against catholic entities. We have a concentration of clients who come from Ballarat. 35 of our current claims are issued in the Supreme Court of Victoria and there will be many more claims issued in the months ahead."
Ingrid Irwin, lawyer and victim of child sexual abuse
"I am concerned that even though now it has been revealed what Pell did know, where is it going to go? The royal commission made the change in the law that it is a criminal offence to have known about child sexual abuse but not report it, but look at what happened with Archbishop Phillip Wilson in South Australia. He was charged and the community was happy, but he appealed and it sits there as a precedent that Phillip Wilson, even though he knew about it, he got away with it and his conviction was overturned on appeal.
"If we are going to get all excited about the possibilities of Pell and the ramifications of what he knew, I am concerned that fat precedent is sitting there about Phillip Wilson. I think people forget about that because they are still so hung up on the fact there has to be justice against Pell.
"The commissioners have made these findings based on the evidence, it is a wonderful thing and I shouldn't undervalue that, but there are not many news flashes for me in relation to Pell. People in Ballarat already knew that he knew what was going on.
"It is always the victims who are having the character assassination and the defendants in a trial get the chance to have all those references to say what an upstanding member of society they are. The problem is no one ever hears the victim is an upstanding man in a criminal trial. All that comes out about a victim is a stop start false narrative that comes out through the questioning, they don't get a full time to have their narrative in the court. This is why I like the royal commission report because it is a good thing for survivors to see at least the commissioners were convinced.
"Commissioners were on the side of the victims in the royal commission but I am here to say it is kind of meaningless because in the criminal matters it doesn't work unless they plead guilty like Ridsdale. That is the real issue. In the royal commission all of the survivors had a lawyer like me, but in their criminal cases against these priests, I can't represent them. That is the problem when the law keeps flicking the switch off and on as to when I can be their lawyer.
"I am skeptical because I am worried about these hope bubbles that keep erupting... This report is probably going to be the last thing that survivors can hold onto because in reality this doesn't translate into justice for victims. Unless there is action and convictions, it doesn't translate into why victims tell. Victims didn't tell so they could read a report. It is $540 million and I can count on one hand how many convictions we have had. Do we really think our justice system works? Do we really think the 99 per cent that don't get convicted didn't do it?
"The criminal justice system and the sex assault laws are exactly the same as before the royal commission. This sounds good for a moment but what you are left with at the end of the day is the same attrition rate for child sexual abuse cases at the police station, through the office of public prosecutions and through the trial if you are one of the lucky ones that get to run your case all the way through to a trial.
"Now that we know Pell knew, what is going to happen? Why was I allowed to be the lawyer in the royal commission but then when it goes to trial the victims don't have a lawyer?
"I am the negative one because I am the one at the coal face that has to deal with the reality of what happens when victims don't get justice in the criminal system. I have got to manage their expectations, their mental health and their suicide risk, that is the reality of why I am so negative.
"We need to change the legislation to allow victims to have a lawyer in criminal matters, otherwise it is going to be this disconnect. What was the point of the royal commission if the findings don't suggest major radical changes to our criminal justice system?"
Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault
It is anticipated that the release today of redacted reports relating to George Pell's evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will lead to an increase in community distress, and referrals across Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA).
Ballarat CASA Operations Director, Shireen Gunn, said that 24hr support services were open, and intake workers were ready to take calls.
"If anyone feels overwhelmed or distressed with the information outlined in these reports, they are encouraged to pick up the phone and seek support. At a time when we are required to distance ourselves from others, reaching out over the phone is vitally important. You are not alone. We are here."
CASA intake workers provide support to those in need and can coordinate additional counselling over the phone. The frequency and duration of phone counselling is flexible, and all services are funded by the Victorian Government, so are free of charge.
In addition to seeking support from CASA, Ms Gunn encouraged those affected to reduce their exposure to news coverage and nurture themselves "turn off the television, or close the media apps on your phone. Try to protect yourself from destressing material on the internet and instead infuse your days with positive influences as much as possible."
You can phone Ballarat CASA on 5320 3933, or free-call the crisis care line 24 hours on 1800 806 292. Or phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Catherine King, Federal Member for Ballarat
"I am glad that the full findings of the Royal Commission have been released. The documents released today provide more disturbing insights into the Catholic Church's catastrophic failure to take seriously sexual abuse occurring within its institutions in our community.
"These failures have had lifelong impacts on members of our community, impacts which are being felt in Ballarat to this day.
"My thoughts today are with survivors. They are at the heart of our community, and we all support them always.
"The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established to deliver truth and justice to survivors, as well as ensuring that such failures can never be allowed to reoccur.
"Today's release, along with the final report of the Royal Commission, delivered truth. The truth is George Pell and all the Catholic clergy in Ballarat and Victoria were in a privileged position of trust. They betrayed this trust in the most extreme way imaginable.
"While full justice for the crimes of the past can never be reached, we must continue to strive for the full implementation of the Royal Commissions recommendations. Survivors in our community and around Australia have already waited too long.
"It is integral that the leaders of the Catholic Church, institutions and governments all around Australia reflect closely the findings of the royal commission and make the changes required to ensure that such failures can never be repeated."
Cr Ben Taylor, City of Ballarat mayor
"The City of Ballarat is a city and community of compassion. We are committed to supporting all members of our community, especially during difficult times.
"On behalf of council, I want every victim and survivor and their families to know, we are with you, we are thinking of you, we hear you, and we believe you.
"The City of Ballarat remains committed to strengthening the vital support services needed for survivors of institutionalised child sexual abuse.
"I would encourage anyone who is affected by today's events to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault on 5320 3933 or the free call CASA crisis care line 24 hours on 1800 806 292."
Paul Bird, Bishop of Ballarat
"The diocese is pleased that the sections of the final report of the royal commission released today are now publicly available and we will consider particularly the findings, which relate to Cardinal Pell's time as a priest and consultor of the Diocese of Ballarat.
"I acknowledge the past failings in governance in the diocese that allowed the terrible abuse of so many children who were entitled to feel safe in their interactions with the church. The diocese also acknowledges the tragic consequences of that abuse to those abused and their families.
"The diocese responds to all allegations of abuse and concerns about the welfare of children by reporting the allegations and concerns to the authorities.
"The diocese is also continuing to meet its legal and pastoral responsibilities to the victims of sexual abuse."
Father Kevin Maloney, Catholic Dioceses of Ballarat vicar-general
"We are pleased the final report from the royal commission has been released. We have recognised the failings of the past.
"As a church community on various levels we are trying to help survivors the best way we can and our response to anything like that these days would be extremely different to what it was 40 years ago.
"We will take on board what has been said. At the moment we are in the process of looking at it. For a good number of years now we have been trying to respond as positively as we can to people who have been affected by the child abuse that occurred in the past.
"Once you start looking into this area there is always a sense of disappointment with the church's response in the past. All of us are trying to be positive and make every effort that what happened in the past will never be repeated again."
Australian Catholic University spokesperson
"Cardinal Pell's case has been through a robust and thorough legal process concluding in his acquittal by the High Court.
"As it has throughout the case, ACU respects the legal process and does not have any further comment about these matters.
"This has been a very difficult time for many in the community. We remain mindful of the survivors of sexual abuse and their families who require ongoing support and comfort."
St Patrick's College, where George Pell went to school
"Edmund Rice Education Australia, the St Patrick's College Board, the Old Collegians Association and the executive of St Patrick's College acknowledge today's release of the full and unredacted findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse - Case Study 28 and Case Study 35.
"The important work of the royal commission provided the opportunity for many victims and survivors of abuse to have their stories told and their voices listened to, and for systemic historic failings across many organisations to be exposed.
"It also provided the opportunity for reconciliation and for ongoing solidarity around the journey towards the hope of healing. St Patrick's College remains unwaveringly committed to this course.
'In 2019, the College revoked honours which it had previously bestowed upon Cardinal George Pell. This included renaming a building and removing his status as a Legend of the Old Collegians Association. St Patrick's College stands by these decisions.
"At all times the College's highest priority is the welfare and well-being of our students. They remain at the very centre and heart of all we do."
Affected by this story? There is help available.
You can phone CASA, Sebastopol on 5320 3933, or free-call the crisis care line 24 hours on 1800 806 292. Or phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380 between 9am and 5pm, or Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277.
Other support numbers include:
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
- Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
- Mensline: 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au
- Survivors of Suicide: 0449 913 535
- Relationships Australia: 1800 050 321
- Ballarat Community Health: 5338 4500
- headspace Ballarat (for 12-25s and parent support): 5304 4777
- QLife: 1800 184 527 (Support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people)
- Soldier On: 1300 620 380
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