Herald Sun



- ALEKS DEVIC Aleks.devic@news.com.au

THE boys being schooled at St Alipius in Ballarat faced a horrifying maths problem.

What were their chances of escaping the predations of their teachers, given that at one stage in 1971, the entire male staff were paedophile­s?

The Christian Brothers, the headmaster, and the chaplain — all were awaiting their chance. Only a sole lay female teacher could be subtracted from the sum of evil.

Now there is a new addition to the notorious ring of paedophile­s among the clergy in Ballarat at that time: George Pell.

Until recently, his status in that circle had merely been as a housemate of one of Australia’s worst sex offenders, the then parish priest Father Ger- ald Ridsdale. No boys were abused by Pell at St Alipius, which closed in 1976, though he has been much blamed for seeing, hearing, and speaking of none of this evil.

But now he, too, is a convicted and jailed abuser.

Over the years, Pell fiercely denied any knowledge of what was going on, once saying of Ridsdale’s perversion­s that it was “a sad story” which “wasn’t of much interest to me”.

In 1996, he said: “I lived with him (Ridsdale) and there was not even a whisper.”

And last year, addressing the subject of his knowledge about child abuse, he said: “I can’t remember any such ex- amples, but my memory might be playing me false. I don’t have perfect recall.”

Yet St Alipius — where Pell gave some of his first sermons — was the church’s epicentre of child abuse, just as Ballarat was once the epicentre of Australia’s gold rush.

The roll call of paedophile­s at the parish in the early ’ 70s is long: Fr Ridsdale, Brother Leo Fitzgerald, Br Stephen Farrell, Br Robert Best, Br Edward Dowlan, and now Pell. All but Br Fitzgerald, who died before any charges could be laid against him, are now in jail.

The Christian Brothers took part in the school’s music and sporting events, took the children on camps, and showered them with TV and video games. At swimming sports, the boys would swim naked: this was common knowledge and accepted as a “tradition”.

Some Brothers would ask the boys to sit on their knees, and touched and fondled them.

Others boys who lined up after class were kissed goodbye.

Of Br Fitzgerald kissing primary school boys, Pell said: “The general conviction was it was harmless enough.”

But the boys at the Ballarat school were treated like God’s garbage. The Brothers recycled the most vulnerable of them among each other to gratify their disturbed sexual urges.

A failure to do homework could result in thighs and private parts being stroked, or boys being pushed up against a wall where sex acts were simulated. Some boys cried; others vomited later in the toilet.

Complaints of molestatio­n to other Christian Brothers or to parents were often dismissed. After all, it was hard to fathom that was being said could possibly be true.

“Are you sure you’re not making this up?” one victim was asked after complainin­g his crotch was touched.

“Are you sure that’s where he touched you?”

Any complaints that were raised were not addressed to stop any more offending. Protecting the church’s reputation was always priority one.

So the Brothers were just shifted into early retirement

or, worse, moved on, from school to school, widening the scale of the devastatio­n being wrought. And private investigat­ors and hush money were employed to maintain the veil of secrecy, which granted the predators yet greater impunity.

Ridsdale’s nephew, David, himself a victim, claimed he told Pell of being abused in 1993, only to be offered a bribe for his silence.

David Ridsdale said Pell told him: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.” It was a conversati­on Pell would later deny occurred, describing it as “implausibl­e”.

The same year, in his clerical garb, Pell walked with Ridsdale as the priest fronted court on child sex offences.

“He was a brother priest who made terrible mistakes and it was simply a gesture on my part,” Pell later explained.

But that public show of support, and his lack of understand­ing of why it outraged many, would haunt Pell.

In later years, he said: “I realise that was a mistake …

“I’ve always been on the side of victims. Priests regularly visit people in jails. He (Ridsdale) was at the absolute bottom of the pile.”

It was Ridsdale’s charging in 1993 that ultimately led to the uncovering of the unholy web of paedophile­s.

All the Brothers were later charged, and the local bishop, Ronald Mulkearns, was removed from his post.

And ever since, dark rumours have swirled about Pell.

The beautiful building that housed the St Alipius boys’ school in the 1970s, which was built by volunteers and paid for from the collection plate, is the home of dark and ugly secrets.

Though some have leached out through the red brick over the years, many still linger to haunt the victims.

Some who fell prey to the paedophile clergy found peace only by taking their own lives.

One former pupil said: “We had a paedophile priest, we had a paedophile grade 3 teacher, a paedophile grade 5 teacher, and a paedophile grade 6 teacher.

“I was thrown into a ring of paedophile­s at the age of 10.”

Father Adrian McInerney has been the St Alipius parish priest since 2001.

He says the Catholic Church’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal has seen the numbers attending Mass decline over the past two decades.

“I am confident that some people — in St Alipius parish, in particular — have walked away from the church because of the scourge of child sexual abuse in Ballarat,” he said.

For those who were there, St Alipius remains ground zero. The pain and despair of what happened to so many within its walls will take years to pass.

Some numbers will just never add up.

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