Published: 20 November 2019
Author: Jessica Steele and Kate Malone

Ballarat Schools – sites of unspeakable horrors

Unfortunately, the Ballarat Diocese stands in a league of its own when it comes to the sexual and physical abuse horrors that took place within its boundaries. The abuse committed in Ballarat was the subject of an entire report by the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.*

The final report of the Royal Commission, published in December 2017, listed 136 victims of sexual abuse within the Ballarat Diocese, and named 21 individual perpetrators of abuse. It’s timely to recap on just what happened to make some Ballarat schools the sites of unspeakable horrors.

Just what happened in Ballarat?

The Ballarat Diocese encapsulates two notorious schools operated by the Christian Brothers, where serial paedophiles systemically destroyed lives. These two schools, St Alipius Primary School in Ballarat East and St Patrick’s College in Ballarat collectively had reports from 56 former students of child sexual abuse at the time of the Royal Commission’s report of case study 28 in November 2017. Many more former students of these schools have no doubt been abused but may have either complained in less public forums or, understandably, may not feel comfortable complaining at all.

The report of case study 28 details in over five hundred pages, the calculated efforts made by the Church, in many areas but particularly in the Ballarat Diocese, to move perpetrators of abuse from parish to parish, ignoring or denying those brave enough to speak out of the assaults they had endured, in a desperate effort to avoid public scrutiny and scandal. A consistent theme of the report is the Church’s sole focus on their own public image and reputation, prioritising this over the rights and wellbeing of children and showing a blatant disregard for the principles of natural justice and the mandate of Victoria Police to investigate such crimes.

Perpetrators of abuse in these schools ranged from Christian Brother teachers to the local chaplain, and the vulnerability of students was heightened due to many students boarding at the school and the Brothers residing there with them.

Although case study 28 names many such perpetrators, information remains redacted and perpetrators protected under pseudonyms throughout the report, as criminal proceedings continue to bring some closure and justice to victims. Allegations have been made against a number of individuals involved in St Alipius Primary School and St Patrick’s College, as follows: 

  • Brother Robert Charles Best (sentenced in 1996, 1998, 2010, 2011 and 2017 for child sex offences)
  • Brother Gerald Leo Fitzgerald (deceased without criminal charges being brought against him)
  • Brother Stephen Francis Farrell (jailed in 2018 for child sex offences, following convictions in 1997 and 2013 for similar offences, for which he received non-custodial sentences)
  • Brother Edward (‘Ted’) Vernon Dowlan (now known as Ted Bales) (jailed in 1996 and 2015 in relation to child sex offences)
  • Brother Peter John Toomey (jailed in 2005 and 2019 in relation to child sex offences)
  • Father Gerard Francis Ridsdale (jailed for over twenty years for child sex offences relating to 65 victims)  

Notably, case study 28 does not provide an exhaustive review of all members of the Ballarat Diocese who have been subject to child abuse allegations in past years, and the true number of perpetrators and their victims will likely remain unknown.

Although focusing on the incidences and effects of child sexual abuse, the case study also notes the prevalence of physical abuse by members of the Christian Brothers, who would often exact cruel and painful punishments, both as a means of general discipline and to quieten those who dared raise allegations of sexual abuse.

The Royal Commission heard it was not only children who were ignored, but also concerned parents, teachers, and others in the community. The Royal Commission heard of a student who brought forward complaints of abuse via their role as the voice for the student representative council, only to be forced to apologise at an assembly for telling lies. The Royal Commission also heard how an outstanding member of Victoria Police who pioneered initial investigations into the culture of abuse, was forced to resign.

Although the Royal Commission helped shine a light on the dark horrors of the Ballarat Diocese, the effects of the abuse on its victims, their families and the broader community can never be quantified.

Other schools implicated in sexual abuse

Nor were St Alipius Primary School and St Patrick’s College the only hot spots for abuse. There have also been allegations of abuse made by former students at St Paul’s College (formerly St Paul’s Technical School) and St Alipius Junior School, as well as residents of St Joseph’s Home (also known as Nazareth Boys’ Home), all within the Ballarat Diocese.

While the Catholic Church has previously relied upon technical legal defences in the past, the current avenue for victims to obtain compensation and justice for their past abuse has fewer legal obstacles than ever. A recent landmark civil case brought against the Church by a victim of Gerard Ridsdale, saw the Catholic Church admit to the Supreme Court for the first time that they knew of Ridsdale’s tendency to abuse in 1975 and yet did nothing, confirming their liability for a further instance of abuse in 1982. 

What can be done about it?

The Ryan Carlisle Thomas Group's Abuse Law practice acts for a number of survivors of abuse throughout the Ballarat Diocese, and in particular from St Alipius Primary School and St Patrick’s College. These individuals recount horrific allegations of both physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers, as well as bullying and violence from fellow students.

The Ryan Carlisle Thomas Group is the largest Abuse Law practice in Victoria. Since the early 1990s, we have acted for more than 3,000 clients who have suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, cultural abuse and/or neglect.

Our first appointment is free and we work on a ‘No Win, No Fee OR Expenses’ basis. Survivors are encouraged to make an enquiry via our website, by email at enquires@stringerclark.com.au or call 1800 641 743.

* Subject of the 28th case study of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

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