The Catholic Church and its bishops have been subjected to a lot of deserved criticism by the Royal Commission, the media, survivors and others for their failures to deal with the sexual abuse of children by priests, particularly over the decades from the 1960s to the 1990s. Victoria Police has largely escaped criticism, though it made similar failures during this same period.
At the first public session of the Commission in August 2015, it said that, as well as religious institutions, were police force were one of the types of institutions it would be investigating.
Catholic Diocese of Ballarat
In its Final Report in Case Study 28, the Royal Commission said: “The scope and purpose of Part Two of that case study involving the Ballarat Diocese was to inquire into:
1. the response of the Diocese and of other Catholic Church authorities in Ballarat to allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy or religious
2. the response of Victoria Police to allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy or religious which took place within the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat”.
The Commission made a full inquiry into the first item. But its inquiry into the second item was in a number of respects surprisingly deficient.
Ridsdale (right) was probably the worst of the many paedophile priests in Victoria, if not Australia. Much of his offending took place in parishes in the Ballarat Diocese. The Commission noted Ridsdale was convicted in 1993, and later, of sexual offences against a total of 65 children as young as four which occurred from the 1960s until the 1980s. This was only part of his criminal activities: according to The Age report of June 14, 2002, [“Ballarat’s good men of the cloth”] just before his first trial in 1993, Ridsdale told his family of his crimes. One family member asked: “How many, Gerald. Four, or five?” “Hundreds,” was his reply.
The Commission at the start of it discussion of Ridsdale in the Case Study 28 Final Report said that “by at least December 1992, Victoria Police were investigating Ridsdale in relation to child sexual offences”. The “at least” here may have been a delphic reference by the Commission to the police investigation of Ridsdale 16 years earlier. Victoria Police had detailed knowledge that Ridsdale was an offender against children as far back as early 1976. The Commission set out some of this evidence but passed over it without comment, critical or otherwise. All the Commission said in its Final Report in Case Study 28 about Victoria Police’s knowledge of Ridsdale by early 1976 was this:
Mr Colin Mooney was a Victorian police officer and in charge of Bendigo CIB. In 1976, he obtained a statement from at least one boy in Inglewood that Ridsdale had indecently assaulted him. Mr Mooney provided the statement to Bishop Mulkearns. According to Mr Mooney, Bishop Mulkearns said he would put Ridsdale in hospital for counselling.
Another passage in this final report notes that “Bishop Mulkearns met with Ridsdale and Mr Mooney, a police officer from Bendigo CIB, in separate meetings on the same day in mid-January 1976.” The passage concludes with findings about Bishop Mulkearns’ knowledge of Ridsdale’s wrong-doing. The Final Report also noted that
After one or two sessions, Dr Evans, Ridsdale’s counsellor, received a phone call from someone who identified himself as the policeman from Bendigo who was investigating the allegations of sexual abuse. This policeman told him they would not be pressing charges against Ridsdale but that the police thought Ridsdale was guilty and should have therapy.
The Royal Commission did not think this behaviour by a police officer in 1976 worth either comment or further investigation. Nor so far as I am aware did any in the media or anyone else.
To get a fuller picture of the extent of Victoria Police knowledge of Ridsdale’s sexual abuse of children as far back as early 1976 it is necessary to go beyond the Commission’s report, to Cardinal Pell’s cross-examination by the Commission’s senior counsel on March 1, 2016. From this we learn that Detective Mooney went to Bishop Mulkearns with information about Ridsdale’s criminal activities because he was told to do so by the Child Exploitation Squad of Victoria Police and was also told by it to inform the bishop of the complaint about Ridsdale. [Transcript 16262-3] The Commission did not say what information Victorian Police had about him, though senior counsel showed Pell the squad’s 1976 report.
The Commission did not criticise Victoria Police for failing to stop Ridsdale’s abuse of children from 1976 until 1992. It was, however, strongly critical of Bishop Mulkearns’s failure to do that. For example:
On 16 January 1976, three days after Bishop Mulkearns had met with Ridsdale and the police officer from Bendigo, Ridsdale was appointed parish priest of Bungaree… it was inexcusably wrong for Bishop Mulkearns to have done so [ie to place Ridsdale in another parish situation] … It showed complete disregard for the safety and welfare of children in the Parish of Bungaree.
It is appalling that Bishop Mulkearns, knowing of Ridsdale’s history of offending, did not report to the police or adequately inform Father Madden [Horsham parish priest] of the risks posed by Ridsdale [when Mulkearns transferred Ridsdale there in 1986]…. Bishop Mulkearns was recklessly indifferent to the safety and wellbeing of the children in and around Horsham.…
Detective Mooney showed a bit more interest in Ridsdale than just doing what the Child Exploitation Squad told him to do. From Pell’s cross-examination it emerges that, as well as checking on what he was told by Bishop Mulkearns about Ridsdale being sent to Dr Evans for treatment for his paedophilia, Detective Mooney called Sampson, the police sergeant at Inglewood, to ask what Sampson knew about Ridsdale’s activities when Ridsdale was parish priest there, from early 1975 to January 1976. Sampson told Mooney that Ridsdale’s activities at Inglewood “were pretty common knowledge all through the Catholic congregation, everyone you would speak to knew about it”. [Transcript 16264-5] Unlike Detective Denis Ryan at Mildura in the same period, Sergeant Sampson did not make any attempt to see if evidence could be obtained in Inglewood that might enable the prosecution of Ridsdale. The Commission showed no interest in why the sergeant acted in this way.
Former Chief Commissioner Mr Miller in his evidence about the Monsignor Day cover-up (see below) said:
This entire episode was a shameful event in the history of Victoria Police. It might well be remembered as a definite disincentive to others, confronted by a similar set of circumstances, to emulate former Senior Detective Denis Ryan’s peerless, principled performance of his sworn duty.
The Commission said of Miller’s comment “We agree”. It showed no curiosity, however, in finding out if Miller’s assessment was correct. Might the example of Ryan’s well-publicised career-ending misstep in 1972 in trying to charge an abusive priest explain why none of the Child Exploitation Squad, Detective Mooney or Sergeant Sampson pursued another abusive priest, Ridsdale, four years later, though “the police thought Ridsdale was guilty”?
The Commission did not suggest that the restrictive evidentiary rules I mention below in the Day matter might be the explanation for the failure of Victoria Police to stop Ridsdale in 1976. The comments by the numerous judges who sentenced Ridsdale between 1994 and 2020 record that he used the privacy of the confessional to sexually abuse a number of his child victims in the 1970s. See, for example, the reports of his sentencing by the Supreme Court on Oct 14, 1994 and at  VCC 1041 and  VCC 597. Given the perverted characteristics of his offending, evidentiary difficulties should not have prevented his prosecution, at least on some charges well before 1993, if police had carried out a proper investigation.
Victoria Police’s interest in the criminally active Ridsdale ended in early 1976. It was not until late 1992 that it started another investigation resulting in his prosecution and jailing in 1993. In 1976, the Child Exploitation Squad told Detective Mooney to take the same action about Ridsdale that Cardinal Pell said a Catholic priest or lay person who learned of another priest’s abuse of children would take in that same period: tell the priest’s bishop. The Child Exploitation Squad, despite its name, apparently took no other action. So far as can be gathered from the Royal Commission proceedings, no Victorian police, including the Child Exploitation Squad or Detective Mooney, attempted to follow up Ridsdale’s behaviour after his 1976 therapy. Ridsdale was then in about the middle of his criminal career of attacking hundreds of children. It appears that Victoria Police was as uninterested in 1976 as Bishop Mulkearns in whether Ridsdale might continue to abuse children. Despite knowing of his crimes by early that year, Victoria Police, like Bishop Mulkearns, took no action after that to follow up on Ridsdale’s behaviour between 1976 and 1992, when they again investigated and finally charged him. If any police had done that, they could have discovered his continued abuse of children and many of Risdsale’s later victims might have been saved the horrors they had to endure.
The Commission’s interest in Risdale’s offending between 1976 and 1992 was confined to the failings of Bishop Mulkearns and other Catholic clergy: it did not extend to what looks like similar failings by Victoria Police in those same years to put a stop to Ridsdale.
Monsignor John Day’s criminal activities at Mildura in the 1960s and 1970s were well known to senior Victorian police who repeatedly blocked former Detective Ryan’s attempts to investigate him in respect of at least 14 of Day’s child victims.
The Commission looked in detail at the experiences of Ryan, who lost his police career as a result of his persistence in trying to prosecute the paedophile Day (right). It did not break much new ground: a lot of the same detail was exposed in Ryan’s book, Unholy Trinity, published in 2009. This, however, provoked no reaction from any Victorian authorities until immediately after Ryan and Miller gave evidence to the Royal Commission in late 2015. Chief Commissioner Ashton then said Victoria Police would apologise and pay compensation to Ryan — 40 years after senior officers had blocked his investigation into Monsignor Day and destroyed his career. Chief Commissioner Ashton was also reported as saying that Mr Ryan’s evidence and efforts to publicise “the scandal” over the years had helped Victoria Police better understand its past failings. [“Police to apologise to detective over cover-up of child abuse investigation“, The Age 8, December 2015]
In the 1970s, after public and parliamentary questions about the Day investigation, the police finally got internal legal advice that a prosecution was likely to fail and should not be brought: it was thought that restrictive rules of evidence limited the admission of evidence on Day’s trial which would be confined to what he had done to one victim. So the jury would not hear of his abuse of other children. The deputy commissioner subsequently obtained advice from the Victorian Solicitor-General, who agreed. He ended his advice with this comment:
Having regard to the similarities of the various accounts, there would appear to be little room for doubt that Day misconducted himself. With some reluctance, therefore, I agree that no prosecutions should be launched.
The commission examined the barriers to prosecuting child sexual offenders raised by these rules of evidence in Part VI of its Criminal Justice Report and recommended legislative reforms.
But even accepting that Victoria Police can rely on such evidentiary barriers to justify not prosecuting Day in 1972, there is no doubt from the Commission’s findings and its review of the evidence [at pp 201 to 237 of the Final Report in Case Study 28] that senior police repeatedly blocked the attempts by Detective Ryan to investigate Day, finally forcing Ryan out of Victoria Police. And as the Commission found, some senior police wrote false reports, whether to protect Day or to cover-up the failures of Victoria Police in this episode or for some other unidentified reason.
The Commission accepted the evidence of Mr Miller, “an impressive witness “, who was Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police from 1977 to 1987. He said:
Chief Commissioner Jackson [Miller’s immediate predecessor] was the ‘architect of Victoria Police’s response to Denis Ryan’s investigations into Monsignor Day. It couldn’t have operated in the manner it did without his knowledge and consent … everyone down the chain of command – from Assistant Commissioner Crowley to the Swan Hill superintendents and Inspector Irwin – appears to have fallen into line [in blocking Ryan’s investigation] …
…The function of all of those people was to counsel Denis Ryan and to assist him in the performance of his duty … Not one of them did this.
Miller described the conduct of many involved in the Day matter
as misconduct by senior Victoria Police officers, including dereliction of duty, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and inciting other members of the police force to join the conspiracy against Denis Ryan in order to conceal the crimes committed by Day.
Ryan mentioned the existence in the 1950s of pro-Catholic bias in some Victorian police officers who protected wayward priests. But sectarianism does not seem the explanation for the Day cover-up: Ryan named Catholic and Masonic superiors who were involved, and Chief Commissioner Reg Jackson (right), the “architect of Victoria Police’s response to Denis Ryan’s investigations into Monsignor Day” was unlikely to have been motivated by pro-Catholic bias. Mr Mick Miller said he did the eulogy at his funeral and “it was not a Catholic service”.
The Commission’s examination of the Day matter and its acceptance of the evidence Miller revealed a major failure at the highest levels of Victoria Police as an institution. Even if all the culpable senior police were dead by 2017, as Miller suggested, the Commission showed no interest in asking how such a major institutional failure could occur. This, despite the evidence of Miller, who said:
In my experience, the epitome of the Police Commissioner’s administration is that he doesn’t bring a Royal Commission down on his police force. Victoria has had more Royal Commissions than the rest of the police forces in Australia put together. We average one every nine years. If I had to speculate as to why Chief Commissioner Jackson reacted as alleged in Unholy Trinity, it would be that he wanted to avoid another Royal Commission into Victoria Police, that investigated his administration.
Might such extensive failures by numerous senior Victoria Police to perform their sworn duties to keep the peace, detect offences and apprehend offenders have been due, in part, to a culture of protecting the force and its senior command from public exposure and criticism for serious dereliction of duty, even at the risk of further harm resulting to children, as Miller implied? The Commission did not attempt to find out. It contented itself with criticising some of the dead senior police involved in protecting Day. But if such a culture explains what happened in the Day cover-up, that was a matter which should have interested the Commission, given paragraph (d.) of the matters it was required to inquire into by the Letters Patent that set it up.
And such a culture may still flourish.
In 2012, future Chief Commissioner Graeme Ashton attempted in the Victorian Parliament Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government Organisations to shift blame from Victoria Police onto the Catholic Church for deficiencies in Cardinal Pell’s 1996 Melbourne Response to victims of priestly abuse. The Parliamentary Inquiry rejected Ashton’s criticism of the Church. The Inquiry said: “In establishing the Melbourne Response the Church consulted with both Victoria Police and the Victorian Government, both of whom welcomed it as an innovative measure to provide victim support….”
Ashton, however, complained that the Church had not thereafter referred a single complaint about a priest to the police. The Inquiry said of this:
… nothing in the documentation examined by the Committee nor in any of the submissions or evidence it received suggests that any significant problems were drawn to the attention of Mr O’Callaghan QC, [the independent commissioner for dealing with abuse complaints in the Melbourne Response] or were even seen to exist by Victoria Police. As far as the Committee is aware, Victoria Police made no complaint about the absence of reports and made no request for a review of the protocol for at least 12 years. It is clear that Victoria Police paid inadequate attention to the fundamental problems of the Melbourne Response arrangements until relatively recently in April 2012 and that, when they did become the subject of public attention, Victoria Police representatives endeavoured quite unfairly to distance the organisation from them.
Chief Commissioner Ashton, who retired from the force in June 2020, more recently attempted to use problems for Catholic clergy in an attempt, ultimately unsuccessful, to deflect public scrutiny onto the Church and away from Victoria Police‘s own wrongdoing. Victoria Police is currently involved in the Lawyer X Royal Commission into its handling of informants. Ashton and the two previous chief commissioners, Simon Overland and Christine Nixon, have become involved in it. Premier Daniel Andrews was forced to set up this inquiry by the unanimous decision of all seven judges of the High Court in which they said in November 2018:
Victoria Police were guilty of reprehensible conduct in knowingly encouraging [Lawyer X] to do as she did …. As a result, the prosecution of each Convicted Person was corrupted in a manner which debased fundamental premises of the criminal justice system.
When the Lawyer X story broke in the media, the assistant director of Victorian Police’s media section in his email of 1 April 2014, Exhibit RC0890b in the Lawyer X Royal Commission, advised Ashton not to comment because “the Pell stuff is coming tomorrow and will knock this way off the front page”. [Cardinal Pell was then due to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse]. There are media reports, supported by internal Victoria Police emails, that Ashton accepted this advice.[ABC News 12 Dec 2019: “Emails reveal how Victoria Police tried to keep revelations about Lawyer X off the front page”]
If the explanation for the reprehensible conduct of so many senior Victoria Police in covering-up Monsignor Day’s crimes in the 1970s was to protect Victoria Police command from exposure to public criticism even at the expense of the safety of children, that is little different from the motivation of the Catholic hierarchy in protecting priests and the reputation of the Church at the expense of children for so long, which attracted the Royal Commission’s condemnation.
It is not as though cultural drivers of institutional behaviour were of no interest to the Commission. In contrast to its lack of interest about a possible malign culture in the higher command that was damaging to abused children, the Commission investigated in detail in Volume 16 of its Final Report, Section 13.11, the culture and doctrines of the Catholic Church in its search for links with child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions. It discussed and made many recommendations for the Holy See itself to re-consider factors such as the culture of clericalism in the Church; its organisational structure and governance; canon law; celibacy; selection, screening and formation of priests; oversight, support and ongoing training of clergy and the role played by the sacrament of reconciliation (confession and forgiveness).
The Commission’s Final Report in Case Study 28 was hardly the searching inquiry into the response of Victoria Police to allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy or religious, such as the evil Ridsdale and Day, which took place within the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat that the Commission said it would make in that case study.
A lack of understanding about the consequences of childhood sex abuse
In its Final report on Case Study 28, the Commission recorded Bishop Ronald Mulkearns’ apology for his handling of allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy in the diocese in which he said that, at the time. “I had no idea of the effects of the incidents that took place,” Mulkearns (right) said.
That sounds pathetic to contemporary ears – until you read what Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana said about the poor responses by Victoria Police to child sexual abuse complaints through the 1960s to the early 2000s in the hearing in Case Study 30 into abuse in three Victorian residential institutions. Fontana said that, historically, police had ‘very little understanding of the complexities of sexual offending, sexual offenders and, in particular, victims and their experiences’. He said that police ‘did not fully understand’ how a victim of sexual abuse might present, why they might delay reporting to police or others, and why they may suffer ‘broken recollections’.
Fontana said that this position did not change much until 2004, when the Victorian Law Reform Commission prepared its Sexual Offences: Law and Procedure final report (2004 VLRC Report) which became the catalyst for major structural, practical and cultural reforms in Victoria Police. He said that the VLRC report found ‘the police response to sexual assault was undermined by a culture of disbelief [in complainants], a deficit in the skills and knowledge of investigators and a lack of transparency in the process’.
The Commission did not comment on Bishop Mulkearns’ explanation of a lack of understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse. It accepted what Assistant Commissioner Fontana said to the same effect as explaining the poor responses of Victorian Police for so long. It concluded, “We accept that before 2004 members of the Victoria Police were not adequately trained to recognise, understand or respond to child sexual abuse. We are satisfied that many responses to reports of child sexual abuse were entirely unsatisfactory”. [Findings, Case Study 30, p67]
In his cross-examination in the hearing in Case Study 28, Cardinal Pell offered explanations for the Church’s lack of action against abusive priests through most of the last half of the twentieth century. For example, Pell said this:
Q. The tendency also at that time was not to report to civil authorities?
A. I think that is the case … but the general community attitudes were different, within the police, within the government service, within the Catholic Church, were different from what they are now. [Transcript p16196] …
Q. Can you help us, Cardinal, with why you think it is that the Catholic Church has operated in such a similar way across many different countries in the world?
A. Unfortunately, original sin is alive and well; the tendency to evil is in the Catholic Church too… but for good or for ill the church follows the patterns of the societies in which it lives. [p16186] …
Q. You’ve said that the general attitude of the church to disclosures of child sexual abuse before that period of time you’ve described, that is, the late 1980s, was generally to not believe the child; you accept that?
A. I think that — no, I — that, I would now say that that is an overstatement, but it certainly was much, much more difficult for the child to be believed then. [p16206]
Pell also said ‘I must say, in those days, if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial’.
All that sounds rather lame to contemporary ears. The Commission did not comment on what Pell here said. But in Part II of the Commission’s Criminal Justice Report of August 2017, it echoed some of Pell’s opinions, without mentioning what he had said, in its conclusions on responses by police, including Victoria Police, to child sexual abuse in the decades from the 1950s to the 2000s. In the Executive Summary [p17] it said:
In general terms, many of the negative experiences [of survivors of sexual abuse as children] of police responses that we have been told about occurred in earlier periods of time through to the early 2000s. We know that the criminal justice system, including the police response, has improved considerably over recent times in recognising the serious nature of child sexual abuse and the severity of its impact on victims.
After referring to its Redress and Civil Litigation report as its source of information, the Commission also said :
Police responses to children in these institutions in the 1950s are likely to reflect broader social attitudes in favour of these institutions and those who ran them and against the children living in them. … It is clear to us that the police were no less affected by these attitudes than other members of society, and that these attitudes were likely to have affected police responses from before the 1950s through to at least the 1980s. In some cases, those attitudes continued into later decades. [CJ Report p262]
The Commission in its Criminal Justice Report recorded what survivors of abuse said of their experiences of reporting abuse to police in the 1950s: “some accounts suggest that, while police did not necessarily disbelieve the victims or survivors, they did not take steps to investigate the allegations. Other accounts suggest that police responded with disbelief and violence”. [p262] The Commission said that many survivors of institutional child sexual abuse committed during the 1960s [p264], 1970s [p268] and the 1980s [p272] told it of similar experiences with the police. In the 1990s, the Commission said, some responses by police started to change. But even in this decade, it said it heard examples of failures in police responses.[pp277-278]
The hearing in Case study 30 into responses in three Victorian child detention institutions, showed how badly Victorian Police responded to children complaining of sexual abuse from the 1960s to the early 2000s. Assistant Commissioner Fontana stated that, historically, there was ‘a lot of disbelief’ within the Victoria Police about child sexual abuse. [Report in Case Study 30, p67]. Responses ranged from what Assistant Commissioner Fontana described as the ”surprising” and “disappointing” failure of police to charge the man who raped the absconding child Norman Latham in the 1960s to the appalling responses to the runaway/absconding Katherine X, culminating in 2002, when Katherine X said the Victorian policewoman from the police SOCIT unit (Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team) told the social worker who had reported Katherine X’s latest complaint against her father, who had fathered four children on her, that she was considering charging Katherine X herself. It was not until 2008 that a Victorian policeman responded properly to another complaint by her. He prosecuted the father, now serving a 22-year sentence.
Victoria Police had to advertise to find the complainant in the cathedral abuse case against Pell. But if Task Force SANO were minded to investigate any of them, it will not have to advertise for complainants against Victorian Police who did not act properly on information about child sexual abuse offenders during the last half-century. When Chief Commissioner Ashton gave evidence to the Victorian Parliament Inquiry, on October 19, 2012, he said:
At Victoria Police we have conducted an analysis of material that we have available to us on child sexual abuse involving religious organisations in Victoria. That work stems from material we have gathered since 1956 to the current day … In terms of general offending by religious organisations, Victoria Police were able to identify 2110 offences committed against 519 distinct victims between January 1956 and June 2012. Of those 519 distinct victims, 370 were within the Catholic Church system. It is the first time we have undertaken that analysis … 88.6 per cent of offenders were aged between 20 and 40 and had predominantly committed offences between the 1960s and the 1980s. Of the 66 distinct offenders, 50 per cent were identified to be priests and 27 per cent were brothers.
It is unlikely that Ashton’s analysis of all this offending was based on information only discovered outside its record system by Victoria Police for the first time in 2012. That is not how Ashton’s evidence reads. The 1976 Child Exploitation Squad report that told Detective Mooney to speak to Bishop Mulkearns about Ridsdale must be part of the material gathered over the years and analysed by Victoria Police in 2012.
Will Victoria Police ever be held to account?
Premier Daniel Andrews endorsed the decision by Victoria Police to prosecute Pell with his message to abuse victims, allof whom he said he sees, hears and believes. It is unlikely that he will hold an inquiry into the failures by Victoria Police to stop child abuse by Catholic clergy in the past, at least perhaps so long as Victoria Police maintains its sceptical attitude to allegations of criminal behaviour by Victorian Labor politicians.
Nor has the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission shown any interest in investigating Victoria Police responses to complaints of historical child sexual abuse.
Assistant Commissioner Fontana told the Royal Commission that Victoria Police Task Force SANO was set up to investigate historical cases that have come out of both the Royal Commission and the earlier Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Catholic Church and a whole range of other historical matters that have been reported. He added, “There’s been a very busy time for police investigating both historic and current offences”.
In his opening address at the first public hearing in case study 28 in May 2015, the Chairman of the Royal Commission said it “has the power to refer matters that come to us to other relevant authorities, including the police, for investigation.” In its Final Report, Fast Facts, the Commission said it had made 2575 referrals nationally to authorities (including police). I do not know if any of these referrals to police were of Victoria Police members. Nor am I aware of SANO investigating any serving or retired Victorian police who may have failed in their duty to bring Catholic Church child abusers to justice.
The precision of the information referred to by Ashton, all gathered from an examination of Victoria Police records covering 56 years, indicates that there is a lot of material available to Victoria Police that, if they choose to follow it up, could well lead to the identification and to the prosecution of the police who failed to perform their sworn duty to apprehend offenders including child -abusing Catholic clergy. And the age of any such offending should not deter the police. They prosecuted Cardinal Pell, unsuccessfully, for offences allegedly committed at the Ballarat swimming pool nearly half a century ago and Pell’s acquittal by the High Court produced a media report [Herald Sun 13 April 2020] that Victoria Police are now investigating him over a new allegation of child sexual abuse dating back to the 1970s.
A Victorian Supreme Court media release of February 4, 2020, announced the establishment of a specialised Institutional Liability List to handle civil claims including “claims for damages which have arisen from or following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and/or the Victorian State Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations”.
A Sydney Morning Herald report on May 8, 2020, said that the Catholic Church is facing hundreds of civil claims by victims of clerical sex abuse, bolstered by the Commission’s findings about Cardinal George Pell’s role in the “catastrophic failure of leadership” in the Ballarat diocese. At the end of April, there were 347 cases on the list.
This civil litigation may provide an avenue for forcing on Victoria Police some accountability for its own historic failures to stop some priests before they completed their evil criminal careers if the Catholic Church joins Victoria Police under the proportional liability regime in those cases on the Institutional Liability List where the facts justify that.
One such case may be JCB v. Bishop Paul Bird for the Diocese of Ballarat, in which a claimant is suing the diocese for his rape, at age 9, by Ridsdale at the town of Mortlake in 1982. According to The Age of Sept 6, 2019, the diocese admitted its liability to JCB on the ground that Bishop Mulkearns breached his duty of care to the victim because he knew about a complaint of Ridsdale sexually abusing a child at Inglewood in 1975, seven years before JCB was raped. The knowledge of Ridsdale’s conduct by the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Squad and Bendigo CIB chief Mooney in 1976 and their failure to do anything effective then to stop Ridsdale’s subsequent offending seems as causally related to exposing JCB to the harm he suffered in 1982 as did Mulkearns’s own conduct.
Some in the media may say that by claiming contribution from Victoria Police, the Catholic Church is thinking only of its wallet. It will be a bit harder to make such an accusation if the Church refuses to settle a claim for police contribution on a confidential basis and insists on it going to judgment in open court. Then again, Victoria Police may publicly admit liability to contribute to the damages payable to victims such as JCB. The Royal Commission said in its Justice Report [p261]:
We note media reports that the Australian and New Zealand Police Commissioners Forum is considering whether Australian police agencies should make a formal apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse who did not receive appropriate responses from police when they reported or attempted to report child sexual abuse.
From 1981 to 1992, Douglas Drummond was Queensland’s Special Prosecutor following the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and subsequently a judge on the Federal Court of Australia, from which he retired in 2003