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The pedophile father Gerald Francis Ridsdale – a call for witnesses

The history of the Catholic Church shows a disturbing pattern of widespread church cover-up of sexual abuse and unacceptable behaviour by priests, for example, institutional sexual abuse. Such was the case with Gerald Ridsdale, whose danger to the children had been known since 1970. However, the Catholic Church continued to move him around various parishes, allowing him to hide his crimes and harm more and more children for a long time. Only in 1993 was Gerald Ridsdale convicted for the first time, but only a fraction of the survivors achieved justice.

Child Abuse at Nazareth House, Ballarat

The Ballarat House of Nazareth was opened in December 1888. It housed, among others, girls as young as six years old. The institution was located in one of the best parts of Ballarat and equipped with excellent facilities for the time, making it a comfortable place for children. Why, then, do children remember it as a place of horror and nightmare? People make the place, not the buildings. The paedophile father, Gerald Francis Ridsdale, played his own unique role in creating the dark history of the Nazareth Ballarat House. Some of Ridsdale’s victims were residents of Nazareth House in Ballarat.

Australia’s worst priest for child sexual abuse

Gerald Francis Ridsdale is regarded as Australia’s worst priest for child sexual abuse. Before 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard Ridsdale’s testimony for two days while they were seated in Ballarat. From his cell in prison he has been in since 1994, he appeared by videolink.

It was a rare exception to the rule when a criminal told the story of his crimes, covered by the Catholic Church, on his own. His testimony about child sexual abuse in person and the older records offer a chance to gain insight into the thoughts of a pedophilic priest.

A brief biography of Gerard Ridsdale

  • Gerald Francis Ridsdale was born in 1934,
  • Attended St. Patrick’s College, Ballarat,
  • Was the oldest of eight children,
  • According to his 1994 statement, he survived sexual abuse by an uncle and a Christian brother,
  • Dropped out of high school at 14 and worked in accounting,
  • His priest friend inspired him to become a priest,
  • Was ordained in 1961,
  • Served as an assistant priest in parishes in the diocese of Ballarat,
  • Although he was often caught, he did not lose his priesthood until the 1990s, when he was facing legal proceedings,
  • Ridsdale admitted to sexually abusing 65 children, including boys and girls, in Victoria during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. But it’s thought that the actual number of survivors may have been much higher.

He maintained tight, continuing relations with groups of five or more kids in each parish where he was assigned, in addition to having occasional contact. He typically developed close ties with the children in one or more families where the father was ill, overworked, or completely absent. Then these relationships developed into sexual ones.

Ridsdale’s main locations

Apart from various brief relief stints, Father Gerald Ridsdale’s primary ongoing placements from 1961 until 1993 were:

  • Ballarat Cathedral parish (the early 1960s);
  • Mildura, (mid-1960s);
  • Swan Hill (the late 1960s);
  • Warrnambool, (1970-1971);
  • Ballarat East (the early 1970s);
  • Apollo Bay (1974-1975);
  • Inglewood, (1975);
  • denhope, (late 1970s);
  • Melbourne, (1980);
  • Mortlake, (1981);
  • parishes in the dioceses of Sydney and Broken Bay, in New South Wales (1982-1986);
  • Horsham, (the late 1980s);
  • parishes in the USA, (1990);
  • Western Sydney, (1991-1993).

Gerald Ridsdale’s court cases

Ridsdale’s first arrest occurred in February 1993. As early as May 1993, the priest was charged with 30 episodes of child sexual abuse of 9 boys (ages 12 to 16) between 1974 and 1980. Ridsdale pleaded guilty.

Already in 1994, he was charged again. He pleaded guilty to 46 counts of abusing 20 boys and one girl (1961 – 1982). The court sentenced him to 18 years in prison with a non-parole period of 15 years. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to 35 charges related to indecent assaults on ten boys between 1970 and 1987 and received a punishment of 13 years in prison with a seven-year non-parole period. Some survivors considered this sentence too tolerant of the horrors the priest committed.

In 2013, Ridsdale was charged 84 more crimes against 14 victims between 1961 and 1981. After pleading guilty, including the rape of a four-year-old child, Ridsdale was sentenced to eight years in April 2014. During a 2014 trial, the prosecutor said one of the survivors was a ward of the state at Nazareth House Children’s Home in Ballarat. Ridsdale abused her from 1962 to 1964, when she was 10 to 13.

In a moment that the survivor remembers, he wiped away her tears after the abuse and called what happened their little secret. He told the girl he loved her, called her unique, and gave her a white bag of boiled lollipops.

In 2017, Ridsdale pleaded guilty to charges involving rape and child abuse he committed between 1962 and 1988 in and around Ballarat. One of the survivors testified to the court that Ridsdale repeatedly abused her, including assaulting her on the altar of a Ballarat church. The court sentenced him to 11 years in prison.

The non-parole period for Ridsdale was initially set to expire in 2022, but on May 14, 2020, the court increased it by an additional two years, to 2024.

No one still knows with certainty the exact number of children who have suffered Ridsdale’s institutional sexual abuse.

The impact of child sexual abuse on the survivors

The Catholic nuns who oversaw the Ballarat girls’ homes and were connected to Gerald Ridsdale didn’t complete the necessary paperwork to sign the National Redress Scheme until 2020.

The harm to the Ballarat Nazareth House students had already been done, even though this signing was a positive start.

It is difficult to imagine how the lives of survivors of historical child abuse should have turned out in the future.

Those who have survived child sexual abuse in religious institutions are traumatized for life. They do not trust people, become insecure adults, and blame themselves for what happened. Many survivors suffer from alcoholism or drug addiction. Some end their lives by suicide because they can never find a place in society. So it’s crucial to get justice and compensation for a childhood that was an overnight nightmare because of Ridsdale or any other paedophile priest.

A Call for Witnesses

Koffels represents numerous survivors of child sexual abuse and is therefore seeking witnesses in connection with allegations of child sexual abuse committed by, among others, Father Gerald Ridsdale.

If you or someone you know would like to talk to one of our historical sexual abuse specialists, for free and in confidence, about your legal options, please feel free to either complete the form below with the best way and the best time to contact you, or you can call us on 02 9283 5599.

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