Catholic Church Forced to Pay Victim of Child Sexual Abuse

by Sonia Hickey

A man who was sexually assaulted as a child by notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale will receive up to $3 million in a landmark legal settlement with the Catholic Church.

The financial settlement is the in which the church has admitted liability for the actions of one of its priests in Australia, and there are expected to be many more cases to follow.

In fact, the church is expected to face hundreds of civil suits for child sexual abuse in the wake of the abolition of the so-called “Ellis defence” which had previously prohibited victims of child sexual abuse from taking civil action against unincorporated organisations such as the Catholic Church.

The ‘Ellis defence’

As of 1 January 2019, legislation came into effect in New South Wales which requires such organisations to nominate a defendant with sufficient funds and assets to pay a victim’s claim.

Victoria has also abolished the defence.

The present case

In June this year, Victorian Supreme Court Justice Michael McDonald put the new rules into effect, ordering that the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat face civil proceedings for negligence in respect of sexual abuse perpetrated against a child by one of its priests.

This paved the way for the man, known only as JCB, who was sexually abused as a nine-year old child in a confession box in a Mortlake church in 1982, to sue convicted sexual offender Gerard Risdale, a former priest of the Diocese.

The $3 million settlement comes after the Catholic Church admitted in court documents it knew of a complaint against Ridsdale as far back as 1975, when he was a parish priest near Ballarat.

The victim has dedicated his payout to victims of clergy abuse who have taken their own lives.

He says he is relieved that both the criminal and civil cases are now over and that while nothing will make up for “what happened to me and many others … I feel we have achieved something … we held the church accountable and I feel vindicated.”

Country Victoria an ‘epicentre’ of child sex abuse

Country towns in Victoria, particularly those covered by the Ballarat Diocese, were an epicentre of the Australian child sex abuse scandal. At least 140 people have made claims against the Catholic church in the diocese – an extensive region covering 41 parishes.

It has been reported that priests and brothers in the Ballarat diocese were sharing their victims, passing on intelligence about vulnerable kids, and helping to cover up each other’s conduct.

Sending offending priests to the US

Both the Ballarat diocese and Christian Brothers also exported known paedophiles, such as Gerald Ridsdale, Paul David Ryan, Donald Paschal Alford, and Brother Paul McGlade to the US under the guise of “treatment.”

According to law suits lodged in Connecticut, USA, dozens more victims are seeking their own redress for sexual abuse at the hands of Australian paedophile priests.

Gerard Ridsdale was sent to the US in 1989, after years of being moved from parish to parish within the Ballarat Diocese, serving at Warrnambool, Inglewood, Apollo Bay, Edenhope and Mortlake.

He eventually admitted to molesting hundreds of children here and in the US, and is now in prison – where he will most likely die.

A win for victims

The Catholic Church has long been criticised for hiding behind its lawyers and rulings like Ellis, paying out a total of just $57 million to victims of sexual abuse in the two decades leading up to 2015. This has been described as a “paltry amount” given the extent of abuse and the fact that the value of the Church’s assets in Australia alone are estimated at $30 billion.

Victims’ advocates have expressed disgust with the Church’s tactics when faced with circumstances such as recent findings by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that at least 4,444 victims have been sexually abused within Catholic institutions, with potentially thousands more remaining silent. And, more recently, the conviction of one of Australia’s most well-known Catholic Priests, George Pell on child sexual abuse charges.

Legal experts say that the record payout to JCB, and the legal liability precedent are likely to pave the way for many more cases. In the wake of the settlement there is hope that finally, victims will receive the redress they seek, and the financial support they need to put their lives back together.

Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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