The Catholic Church has a shameful history of child sexual abuse in Melbourne and the rest of Victoria — but for decades, the clergy’s behaviour was shameless. High-ranking members of the Roman Catholic clergy went to great lengths to cover up the crimes of paedophile priests like Father Gerald Ridsdale, Father Peter Searson and Monsignor John Day throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
These men were allowed to work in schools and serve in parishes throughout Victoria. Many were moved from site to site, and allowed access to children. The amount of damage and trauma these men caused is despicable. For many Victorian children, now adults, life will never be the same.
In this article, we expose the horrendous numbers surrounding Catholic abuse in Melbourne and Victoria, along with the names of the serial paedophiles that inflicted so much pain.
Church abuse in the Archdiocese of Melbourne
Image: The Age
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse received 454 claims of child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Melbourne. The data showed that 72% of the victims were male and 28% were female, and 71% of all victims were under the age of 13-years-old when the abuse occurred.
It was reported that 88% of claims are alleged to have occurred between 1950 and 1989, but the highest number of incidents occurred in the 1970s with 142 claims (or 34% of all claims). 94% of these claims involved a priest.
Image: Child Abuse Royal Commission
The data identified 203 institutions where a priest was involved and 51 institutions which had two or more claims against a priest. Children were abused in parishes, orphanages and even schools like Rupertswood College, where offenders like Father Julian Benedict Fox, Father Frank Klep and Brother David Rapson walked the halls.
Other offenders include:
- Father Peter Searson — Jailed in 1990 for hitting a small boy but never convicted for the repeated rape and sexual abuse of countless children, nor for the animal cruelty he inflicted. Died in 2009.
- Father Desmond Gannon — Jailed in 2009 at the age of 79 for “serious abuse”. Worked in various parishes throughout Victoria and committed indecent assaults against multiple children.
- Father Kevin O’Donnell — Jailed in 1995 but was released after one year. He travelled throughout Victoria for 50 years and abused children in parishes and schools like Oakleigh’s Sacred Heart Primary School and St Mary’s Primary School.
- Father Wilfred James Baker — Jailed in 1999. Melbourne’s Archbishop Frank Little was aware that Baker “misbehaved” towards children in Victorian parishes as early as 1978. Baker pleaded guilty to 16 counts of indecent assault and one of gross indecency against eight boys.
Church abuse in the Diocese of Ballarat
Image: ABC News
The Royal Commission received 139 claims of child sexual abuse within the Diocese of Ballarat between 1980 and 2015. There were 21 alleged perpetrators — 17 were priests, meaning 8.7% of priests who ministered in the area during this time were alleged sex offenders.
“Bishop Mulkearns again was derelict in his duty in failing to take any effective action to have (infamous paedophile Gerald) Ridsdale referred to police and to restrict Ridsdale’s contact with children,” the report stated.
“The most likely explanation for the conduct of Bishop Mulkearns and other senior clergy in the Diocese was that they were trying to minimise the risk of scandal and protect the reputation of the Catholic Church.”
“The welfare of children was not the primary concern of Bishop Mulkearns and other senior members of the Diocese when responding to complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse against their priests. There is no doubt it should have been.”
Ridsdale was one of the worst offenders in the Diocese of Ballarat. He abused 65 children from the 1960s through to the 1980s. Some of the victims were as young as four-years-old.
The good news is that Ridsdale was brought to justice and he will not be released until he is almost 90 — if he lives that long.
- Ridsdale was jailed in 1994 after pleading guilty to 46 counts of child sexual offences against 21 victims.
- In 2006, he pleaded guilty to an additional 35 charges relating to indecent assault against 10 boys. Ridsdale received an additional 13 years imprisonment with a minimum jail term of seven years.
- In 2013, Ridsdale was charged with 84 more offences against 14 victims. He pleaded guilty to 29 of the charges but asked for the remaining charges to be reconsidered. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2014.
- In April 2017, he pleaded guilty to a further 20 offences against 10 boys and one girl. Furthermore, in August of the same year, he pleaded guilty to 23 charges against 11 boys and one girl. The victims were aged between six and 13.
- In 2020, Victorian County Court Judge Gerard Mullaly extended Ridsdale’s non-parole period to 2024. Ridsdale will be almost 90 years old by the time he is eligible for release.
Following the Royal Commission, the Diocese of Ballarat released a statement admitting that high ranking clergy in the Diocese knew about the sexual abuse claims against Ridsdale but made efforts to conceal them.
Unfortunately, Ridsdale was not the only paedophile offender operating within the Diocese of Ballarat. Other offenders include:
- Brother Robert Best — Repeatedly avoided jail time until 2011 when he was sentenced to 14 years and nine months. In 2017, he received another 10 years and five months in jail. He ruthlessly abused children in Catholic schools like St Alipius, St Leo’s, St Joseph’s and St Bernard’s.
- Father Paul David Ryan — Abused children in Catholic parishes across Australia and the United States. Gave children alcohol and drugs, or duped them into “counselling” and “religious instruction” sessions in order to abuse them. Jailed in 2006 for 18 months and again in 2019 for 17 months.
- Brother Edward Dowlan — Physically, sexually and emotionally abused 50 children across Victoria. Worked at prestigious Catholic schools including St Alipius and St Patrick’s College. Abused boys in classrooms, sports rooms, change rooms, showers and even the boys’ homes. Jailed in 1996 for six years and again in 2015 for a further six years.
- Father Terrence Pidito — Chaplain for the Scouts movement in Victoria as well as Marcellin College, the Marist Brothers’ Assumption College and the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital. Jailed in 2001 and again in 2007. Charged with an additional 15 offences in 2014 but died in 2015 before being jailed.
- Brother Bryan Desmond Coffey — Started inappropriately touching children the moment he was ordained. His peers heard about his behaviour for 37 years and continuously concealed his crimes. He was jailed in 1999 after facing 12 counts of indecent assault involving eight boys and one girl.
- Brother Gerald Leo Fitzgerald — Targeted boys who were eight years old on average. He was part of a paedophile ring at St Alipius in Ballarat. It is rumoured that Cardinal George Pell heard about Fitzgerald kissing boys and swimming naked with students as early as 1973.
- Monsignor John Day — Received more than 100 complaints against him through the Towards Healing program and was well known for visiting Melbourne’s brothels. Detective Denis Ryan collected 16 sworn statements from 14 boys and two girls from Mildura but Day walked free and died unpunished in 1978.
- Brother Stephen Farrell — Part of a paedophile ring at St Alipius alongside Gerald Ridsdale. Sentenced to two years in jail in 1997 with two years suspended, meaning he did not spend time behind bars until he was sentenced again in 2013 and 2018 respectively.
Catholic school abuse in Victoria
On average, it takes 23.9 years for victims of abuse to come forward and share their experiences. Around 60% never disclose their abuse. Now is the time to come forward.
Below, we’ve shared just a few of the worst offending Catholic schools throughout Melbourne and Victoria. If you believe you were abused by a teacher or member of staff, we’re here to help. At Kelso Lawyers, we want to hear your story. Apply for compensation today — we’ll do everything in our power to achieve an excellent outcome for you.
Image: The Age
Ballarat was crawling with Catholic paedophile priests in the 1970s. St Alipius Primary School remains one of the most horrific child abuse sites in the history of Victoria. In 1971, every male teacher along with the school’s chaplain repeatedly molested students – with devastating consequences.
One survivor shared a class photo with the Royal Commission — he told the commissioners that of the 33 students pictured, 12 had committed suicide. According to Broken Rites, the numbers throughout the school could be much higher. It is estimated that up to 50 suicides have been linked to the abuse at St Alipius.
The students were fondled and molested on a daily basis by a ring of paedophile priests including the Father of St Alipius Catholic Church Gerald Ridsdale, Brother Robert Best, Brother Edward Dowlan, Brother Stephen Farrell and Brother Gerald Leo Fitzgerald.
The men would trap students in the sickbay, in classrooms and in church pews, or even in the darkened bedrooms of the presbytery.
St Patrick’s College
Image: ABC News
St Patrick’s College (St Alipius’ sister school) is one of Ballarat’s most enduring and prestigious Catholic Schools, responsible for educating many important members of the Catholic community — in fact, Cardinal George Pell was named St Patrick’s school captain in 1959.
However, the school has a dark underbelly. The college’s grand facade hides decades’ worth of trauma, violence and sexual abuse perpetrated by the very people in charge of educating and caring for its young pupils.
Alongside Father Gerald Ridsdale, Brother Edward Dowlan and Brother Bryan Desmond Coffey, Brother Robert Claffey stalked the halls of St Patrick’s College. He was convicted in 2016 for abusing a dozen students.
In 2017, headmaster John Crowley apologised to St Patrick’s College survivors alongside survivor Phil Nagle.
“What happened to myself and other survivors cannot be changed or fixed, but the overwhelming support and compassion from the community, particularly the Ballarat and St Pat’s community, helps to ease the pain,” Mr Nagle said.
“In life, you will be judged and measured on what you did that was wrong but more so on what you did about it.”
Image: Sydney Morning Herald
Former students of Rupertswood College said living there was like Lord of the Flies — there was a hierarchy of paedophile priests who had their favourites and the good reputation of the college concealed a terrible culture of abuse.
Originally, the 50-room mansion hosted distinguished guests including royalty but in 1927, Rupertswood was bought by the Roman Catholic Salesian Order. From 1929 to the early 1990s, it was a school for boys.
The students suffered repeated physical and sexual assaults. On one occasion, boys sleeping in the school’s infirmary were drugged with Milo and lemonade, only to wake up to the cries of a boy being abused.
Several paedophile offenders worked at the school at its peak when there were over 100 boys living at Rupertswood. Staff members included:
- Father Frank Klep — Former principal. Escaped to Samoa in 1998 before he was to face five charges of indecent assault at Rupertswood. Returned to Australia in 2004 and was jailed in 2006 for five years and 10 months.
- Brother Peter Paul Van Ruth — Former dorm master. Molested boys in their dorms at night at Rupertswood. Jailed in 2011 for 28 months.
- Father Julian Benedict Fox — Former head of the Australian chapter of the Salesians. Teacher, administrator and Principal for a short time at Rupertswood College. Punished the boys harshly for small mistakes and sexually assaulted a boy with a pool cue. Jailed in 2015 for four years.
- Brother David Rapson — Raped and abused boys as young as 11-years-old at Rupertswood and Lysterfield. Jailed in 2015 for 12.5 years.
- Brother Gregory Vincent Coffey — Accused of physical and sexual abuse while teaching at Rupertswood. Jailed in 1972 for the indecent assault of a child but his sentence was suspended. He then abused children at Immaculate Heart College and was eventually charged for abusing eight students. He died in 2011.
- Father Michael Aulsebrook — Former dorm master. Jailed for two years and 15 months wholly suspended in 2015. Pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent assault against a 12-year-old.
If you believe you were abused by Catholic clergy in Victoria, contact us today
Catholic abuse in Victoria was rampant throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. The number of survivors is damning and there are still so many who have not come forward to share their stories and receive compensation.
At Kelso Lawyers, we have helped survivors of institutional abuse from all over Australia. Our team of experienced abuse lawyers will do whatever it takes to ensure you receive a personalised apology and the compensation you deserve.
It’s never too late.
Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme.
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