Home Roland Rocchiccioli The Ballarat Royal Commission into institutional abuse answered many questions but, regrettably,...

The Ballarat Royal Commission into institutional abuse answered many questions but, regrettably, left even more unanswered.

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roland250The Ballarat Royal Commission into institutional abuse answered many questions but, regrettably, left even more unanswered.

The victims’ statements were as harrowing as they were shocking.

The anticipated appearance of Gerald Ridsdale did nothing to answer some of the more important questions, or satisfactorily explain the far-reaching decisions taken by retired Bishop Mulkearns. The minutes of Consultors’ meetings taken by Father Adrian McInerney, who was secretary to Mulkearns, were – by his own admission – unsatisfactory, leaving important questions unanswered.

Ridsdale admitted that, during his time at the Werribee seminary of Corpus Christi, he suffered from a habitual masturbation problem. He gave evidence that when he reported the problem to his superior it was summarily dismissed with an admonishment to cease the practice since it was a mortal sin. Had the problem been expeditiously resolved with professional advice, Ridsdale would be been expelled from the seminary. Even when it was known that Ridsdale was offending against children – and it was a criminal offence –it was not reported to the police and the support offered him was appallingly inadequate, and far below the required level of commitment needed to deal with a major paraphilic disorder. The evidence of Bishop Bird was disappointing. While the events were before his tenure as Bishop of Ballarat, and he bears no direct responsibility for those events which occurred, there were reservations that, while the bishop did respond to every question, too often his responses appeared to lack specificity; were wrapped in religious parlance; that he quibbled over points which were irrelevant and only served to protect the image of the church and the religious; that he lacked a real understanding of the impact of abuse; that he was gratuitously vague; and prevaricated on too many occasions. Some questions were answered ambiguously.

On several occasions Justice McLellan and Ms. Furness appeared confused by the convoluted explanations and were forced to ask for a simpler and more intelligible response. On leaving the hearing the bishop declined to answer any questions from the media. It is regrettable that he failed to take advantage of an opportunity to reach-out to the victims assembled outside the court house – regardless of the level of antagonism. In talking with Virginia Trioli on ABC television, Church Council chief executive, Frances Sullivan, said the church had agreed to cooperate fully; that it would be transparent with all information, and that included individuals fronting-up and fessing-up – be it a cardinal or brother.

Mr. Sullivan believes that Cardinal Pell – whom he knows well has a problem in openly expressing his feelings. In his opinion the Cardinal has lots of concerns about individuals who have been abused but it does not always come across. That Cardinal is his own worst enemy when it comes to that.

There were revelations last week of Consultors’ meetings back in the mid-80s of which the Cardinal Pell – then an assistant priest was a member, and Ronald Mulkearns was the bishop.

According to Mr. Sullivan the church in Australia cannot afford to send any signals, at any time, that its image and the leadership of the church is more important than the lives of those who have been abused. He admitted there is a general frustration about that. Many would have been surprised to see an ABC interview with retired priest John McKinnon which took place outside Bishop Mulkearns’ house on the Great Ocean Road. McKinnon, who is now retired from regular priestly duties, maintains an active website which lists his on-going activities within the Ballarat diocese. He has been a visitor to Ridsdale in jail. The door-stop chat with McKinnon was both thoughtprovoking and enlightening. It is understood that

Mulkearns – who has reportedly suffered a stroke – was, on medical advice, excused from appearing before the Royal Commission. Given his involvement with Ridsdale, and his numerous decisions to move the paedophile priest from one parish to another where he was able to continue his abuse of children, Mulkearns’ evidence is of paramount importance. Surprisingly, and with alacrity, McKinnon, who had been visiting his friend the bishop, revealed that he and Mulkearns had discussed the proceedings of the Royal Commission. One could be forgiven for wondering why, if the bishop is capable of discussing the happenings with a fellow priest, he is incapable of having the same discussion with Ms. Gail Furness, Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission? His evidence would be most informative and interesting. While noone would suggest the devastating consequences were intentional, many people have suffered, and lives have been ruined, as a direct result of Mulkearns’ aberrant decisions.

It has been announced that Cardinal Pell will appear before the commission in Ballarat. It is to be hoped the commissioners will be made aware of the McKinnon interview and Mulkearns subsequently issued with a subpoena to appear and answer questions when next the Royal Commission convenes in Ballarat. It is what the victims and survivors want, and have a right to expect.

Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30 with Dan Lonergan. rolandroc@bigpond.com