Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse can only shed so much light on western Victoria and the Catholic Diocese | Opinion

The royal commission's report into the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat leaves behind the question of what might never be brought to light.
The royal commission's report into the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat leaves behind the question of what might never be brought to light.

Behind the high walls and electric fence that surrounds Ararat’s Hopkins Correctional Centre is the living embodiment of the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat’s past failures to protect its flock.

Frequently described as Australia’s worst sex offender and its most notorious paedophile priest, Gerald Francis Ridsdale was last seen by the public during his video evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual abuse.

The same royal commission on Wednesday delivered a new report into the hierarchy that controlled the houses of worship, community groups and primary and secondary education of Catholics across western Victoria.

The commission described the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat’s response to abuse claims, or lack thereof, as a “catastrophic institutional failure”.

Ridsdale, and a few other priests and Christian Brothers like him, were allowed to pack up and leave for another parish when children and parents started to complain en masse.

Paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale is serving time in prison for sexual abuse. Photo: Supplied

Paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale is serving time in prison for sexual abuse. Photo: Supplied

It was nowhere near as easy for the victims to get away from what happened, with many having to carry the profound impacts of abuse for the rest of their lives.

In response to the report, Ballarat Diocese Bishop Paul Bird said the Church should be a safe place for everyone but the history brought to light by the royal commission showed otherwise.

"Where the failures of my predecessors allowed abuse to occur, I offer my heartfelt apology," he said.

Ex-Christian Brother and convicted child sex abuser Edward 'Ted' Dowlan in 1994.

Ex-Christian Brother and convicted child sex abuser Edward 'Ted' Dowlan in 1994.

Through the new report, Ararat also learned of a new connection to the patterns of abuse that were allowed to continue through so many western Victoria parishes.

It appears through the commission report that the church only started a formal investigation of Christian Brother Ted Dowlan after his first convictions for indecently assaulting young boys in 1996.

By then, it had been more than 20 years since rumours were going around Dowlan’s former Ballarat school that he had ‘played funny buggers’ with boys on a camp to Mount Cole near Ararat.

Almost 20 years after that, the public gets to see part of that internal investigation. It leaves behind questions of what might have gone unrecorded and what might never be brought to light.

Rex Martinich is Senior Journalist for the Ararat Advertiser and Stawell Times-News.