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December 14, 2015

‘All it takes for bad things to happen is for good people to do nothing’

The evidence of Bishop Brian Finnigan, former priest from the Diocese of Ballarat and current Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane, was under scrutiny today at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.

Counsel Assisting the Commission criticised Bishop Finnigan for providing evidence that ‘did not assist public understanding’ of the offending of Father Ridsdale in Ballarat. Counsel also described Bishop Finnigan as consistently distancing himself of any knowledge of child sexual abuse in order to protect himself and the church.

Counsel noted that this approach lacked compassion, and was consistent with the experience many survivors of child abuse have had when dealing with Church officials in relation to allegations of abuse.

Father Brian McDermott, also a retired priest from the Diocese of Ballarat, gave evidence today that he passed allegations of sexual abuse of children by Father Gerald Ridsdale while assistant priest in Horsham to Bishop Mulkearns in August of 1987, but that Fr. Ridsdale did not leave his position until May 1988. When questioned whether ‘all it takes for bad things to happen is for good people to do nothing’ Fr. McDermott replied that he was merely acting under the authority of the Bishop, but agreed that this was a failing of misplaced authority.

The evidence given today by Bishop Finnigan raises concerns that responses like Fr. McDermott’s in the 1980s still persist in the Catholic Church today. This only confirms the important work of the Royal Commission in bringing such issues to light.

Father John McKinnon, a retired priest from the Diocese of Ballarat, stated today that the Church’s approach of responding to allegations of child sexual abuse was insensitive. Fr. McKinnon stated that he thought this insensitivity was reflective of a deeper cultural problem within the church to do with vows of celibacy and the lack of women in positions of authority.

Fr. McKinnon explained that issues of sexuality within the church and issues of sexual abuse overlap, and that celibacy does not allow priests to form relationships leading to a Church that is not emotionally developed enough to recognise the sensitivity and sacredness of children. He also questioned whether this meant that sexuality was often kept clandestine, hidden and secret.

Fr. McKinnon stated that the Catholic Church will benefit from the work of the Royal Commission, and that this culture of secrecy and insensitivity can only be addressed by having people from the outside looking in.

Fr. McKinnon will continue to give his evidence at tomorrow’s hearing.