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Bishop must bear blame for Ballarat child sex abuse: priest -

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MARK COLVIN: A Ballarat parish priest has told the child abuse Royal Commission that the former bishop of the Diocese must bear some of the responsibility for the clerical abuse in the region.

Father Adrian McInerney gave evidence that Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew that Father Gerald Ridsdale was abusing children but just moved him from parish to parish.

Father McInerney's evidence has raised more questions about how much Cardinal George Pell knew about the sexual abuse of children in Ballarat in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The royal commission has heard evidence that the former Bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, knew that Father Gerald Ridsdale was sexually abusing children, and moved him from parish to parish any time complaints were made.

Today Bishop Mulkearns’ former secretary, Father Adrian McInerney, told the commission the now retired Bishop should take some responsibility for the child abuse in the diocese.

RONALD MULKEARNS: In retrospect, they'd say you needed to remove people completely from ministry.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The decisions to move priests in the Ballarat diocese were made at meetings between the Bishop and a select group of priests known as the College of Consultors.

George Pell was a member of the College from 1977 to 1984.

In a statement released to the media last week, Cardinal Pell reiterated that he had never "condoned or participated in a decision to transfer Ridsdale in the knowledge that he had abused children."

He said Bishop Mulkearns did not raise any paedophilia allegations against Ridsdale at the Consultors meetings he attended or at any time before or after such meetings.

The minutes of the Consultors meetings make no reference to any discussion of why Ridsdale was being moved. But Father McInerney, told the commission today that discussion of a confidential matter at a meeting wouldn't be recorded in the minutes.

As an example of that practice, commission chairman Peter McClellan asked him about a meeting held a year before George Pell joined the college.

PETER MCCLELLAN: Was it commonplace for the Bishop to stress the confidentiality of Consultors meetings?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: No, that's a bit exceptional.

PETER MCCLELLAN: So this tells us that something rather extraordinary was happening, does it?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: It would indicate that, I think.

PETER MCCLELLAN: It would logically follow from that that he was going to tell you things that needed to be kept confidential, do you agree?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

PETER MCCLELLAN: And in relation to what those matters might have been in January 1976, having regard to Ridsdale's movement and short appointment, what do you think the Bishop might have been talking to you about?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Given the - what we now know of his life, it may well have been that he was talking about some sort of sexual abuse issue. But I couldn't say that for certain at this point, but I would speculate that.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Peter Gray SC is counsel for the Catholic Church.

PETER GRAY: At any meeting while you were the Bishop's secretary, that is between about 1973 and 1978, do you have any recollection of anyone, whether Bishop Mulkearns or anyone else, saying such a thing i.e. something to effect that Ridsdale had abused children or might have done so?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: In those meetings?

PETER GRAY: Yes.

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: No.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Senior counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness.

GAIL FURNESS: Is it the case that you first became aware of his offending on the day that his charges were first heard in court?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

GAIL FURNESS: And that's when you accompanied him?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

GAIL FURNESS: And you accompanied him to court without knowing the charges he was facing?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

GAIL FURNESS: That seems preposterous now, doesn't it Father?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes. It does. I know how it looks, but I'm saying I did not know.

GAIL FURNESS:Is it the case you didn't ask because your view was anything a priest did in those days should be protected so as to protect the reputation of the church?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: No, it was not about protection. It was simply he asked if I could give him help, and I said yes. I even had an admiration for what he did for youth.

GAIL FURNESS: Because he spent so much time around children and boys?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Well, no. I had occasion to visit...

HEARING ATTENDEE: Yes or no?

PETER MCCLELLAN: No, no, come on.

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: I had occasion to visit...

PETER MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, it would be much better if we had no interjections from the audience.

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: I had occasion to visit him, and I saw in his room a small billiard table and a TV screen that you could play games and so forth on. And asked him about it, and he said, "Oh, it's for the young people of the parish." And I thought, "What a good idea."

When the trial came up and I started to look back and I began to realise what they were there for.

GAIL FURNESS: They were a trap, weren't they?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

GAIL FURNESS: They were a trap for young children to come so he could molest them.

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

GAIL FURNESS: Well you stayed and gave evidence, didn't you, on his behalf?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: I did.

GAIL FURNESS: And you did so in order to protect ultimately the name of the church?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: No, not at all.

GAIL FURNESS: You realise that it was in fact horrendous crimes that he was being charged with?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

GAIL FURNESS: Why didn't you just turn around and walk away?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Well, I don't know.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Royal commission chairman Peter McClellan found it difficult to accept Father McInerney was unaware of what Ridsdale was charged with.

PETER MCCLELLAN: When you say 'not that you recall,' if you were told that he'd been charged with assaulting - sexually assaulting - a child, that would stand out.

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: I think I would remember that.

PETER MCCLELLAN: I think you might too.

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

PETER MCCLELLAN: So you were being asked to go to court, to say that Ridsdale was a good man...

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

PETER MCCLELLAN: Without any knowledge of why he was there...

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Yes.

PETER MCCLELLAN: What his attitude to being there was, and not the slightest idea of what the outcome of the proceeding might be?

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: No.

PETER MCCLELLAN: Some might think that's naive.

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: It was naive.

GAIL FURNESS: Some might think it's more naive, it was reckless.

ADRIAN MCINERNEY: Well, I accept that judgement.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Gerald Ridsdale is due to give evidence to the royal commission tomorrow via video link from jail.

MARK COLVIN: Samantha Donovan.