Priest admits child abuse

The Courier, Australia/August 8, 2006

One of Victoria's most infamous pedophiles, former Ballarat Catholic priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale, has pleaded guilty to a 17-year spate of child sex abuse.

Ridsdale, of Ararat Prison, appeared at the County Court in Ballarat yesterday to answer 35 fresh charges involving 10 young boys between 1970 and 1987.

The court heard the 72-year-old committed the offences following a wedding, a funeral, Mass, during confessions, on fishing trips, and at his victims' homes.

Ridsdale, who is serving an 18-year jail term for similar offences, faces a maximum of 15 more years behind bars for his crimes.

He stood with his head bowed while the prosecution detailed his offending, raising it only to utter "guilty" to 24 counts of indecent assault with a male under 16, four of buggery, and seven of gross indecency.

Some of Ridsdale's victims and their supporters attended court yesterday.

One man, now aged 45 years, exclaimed "Oh, Jesus" as one of Ridsdale's "abominable" crimes was read to the court.

Crown prosecutor Tim Doherty said the defendant preyed on boys as young as six-years-old, including altar boys and students, in Ballarat, Bacchus Marsh, Horsham, Edenhope, Mortlake and Warrnambool.

The court heard Ridsdale warned his victims not to share their "secret".

Mr Doherty said the defendant told one 11-year-old he would "let his parents down if he didn't do what he was told" and that "they wouldn't like it if he didn't become an altar boy".

Ridsdale also told the child "he was closest to God" and "knew what to do".

The court heard it took until 2003 for all 10 victims to report their abuse to police.

Mr Doherty said most felt they would not be believed, "such was the high regard of priests at that time".

But the complaint process began in 1994 when Ridsdale was sentenced to 18 years' jail, with 15 years non-parole, after pleading guilty to 46 charges involving 21 children. Twenty boys and one girl, all aged between nine and 15, were abused between 1961 and 1982.

Defence lawyer Trevor Wraight said, although Ridsdale was diagnosed with significant psycho-sexual dysfunction, he was contrite and remorseful.

Mr Wraight also said his client, who marked 12 years in custody on Sunday, pleaded guilty because he was "not at all prepared to put any one of his victims through cross-examination or questioning about what they have put (in their complaints)," he said. The court heard Ridsdale had health problems including high blood pressure and a heart condition which would soon require surgery.

For these reasons, Mr Wraight called for his client to receive "not a crushing sentence," giving him some "light at the end of the tunnel". Judge Bill White is expected to sentence him on Friday.

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