Since the Loud Fence Campaign started seeing the tying colorful ribbons around surrounding iron fencing of St Patrick’s Church and St Patrick’s College in Ballarat, Australia, a world-wide visual recognition of the systematic child abuse by pedophile priests has brought attention to the royal commission currently being heard in Rome.
This week, Australian victims of the Catholic church arrived in Italy; the child abuse commission hearing was set, with the Catholic church’s most senior representative Cardinal George Pell to give evidence. Australian abuse cases in the capital city Melbourne, and regional city Ballarat where Cardinal Pell was educated at St Patrick’s College, stretched between the 1960s to the 1990s. Two separate cases involving Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Diocese of Ballarat were the focus of the commission.
The costly trip, which saw funds raised for several of the victims wishing to fly to Italy’s capital Rome for the hearing, has left the abuse survivors unconvinced. When Cardinal Pell was questioned about the inappropriate touching by teachers and principles against students, Pell stated he couldn’t recollect such events.
“I don’t remember any such thing happening and therefore I don’t believe it did but my memory is sometimes fallible,” he said. At the time he acknowledged that the church’s instinct was self-preservation. “At that stage, the instinct was more to protect the institution, the community of the church, from shame,” he said.
One Ballarat priest, Gerald Ridsdale was convicted of 138 offences against 53 children. His nephew, David Ridsdale, testified in the commission that he phoned Ballarat born Cardinal Pell in 1993 to tell him that he was also a victim of his uncle, but that Pell attempted to silence him.
“In those days, if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial,” said Cardinal Pell.
However, according to some victims, they were beaten by their child abuser, evidence difficult to miss. “It was survival of the fittest,” former St Patrick’s student Timothy Barlow told the commission.
Those who were members of the once strong Catholic community in regional Ballarat remember the Cardinal as a central figure. A Ballarat abuse survivor recalled his grandmother’s words, “”I remember my Grandma saying, ‘if you ever need someone in the church, ask George Pell’, and I think that was common for most of us,” Andrew Collins said.
The commission has also heard about the worst abuse cases at Ballarat St Alipius Boys School, where Australia’s worst and most notorious pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale worked; and who was systematically moved post to post when complaints were made against him. Until his sentencing in 1993 after admitting to offending in the U.S., which was suspended after three months, the acknowledgement of the ritual abuse took form of denial only. Since the beginning of the commission, a Melbourne Catholic Church has been criticized for removing the Loud Fence Campaign ribbons, stating they never knew the meaning behind them.