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Archive Story
Transcript: loss of faith
June 9, 2002
George Pell
 George Pell
RICHARD CARLETON: There's no way you could have missed the reaction to last week's story on paedophilia in the Catholic Church. Last week we broadcast the allegation that Archbishop George Pell offered a bribe to keep quiet an episode of child sexual abuse. The archbishop denied that allegation. Tonight you'll hear from a man who was a priest for 24 years and says it beggars belief that Archbishop Pell was unaware of the child sexual abuse occurring within his church. And tonight we accuse the church of paying hush money, this time to a victim repeatedly raped by a Christian Brother. Just last year the victim was paid $50,000 to shut up about the crime.
RICHARD CARLETON: Geoff Fitzpatrick has had a troubled life. A rebellious child with alcoholic parents, he was made a ward of the State and sent to a Catholic orphanage when he was 11. Those years changed him forever.
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: I was there from '69 to '71.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Okay. In that time, how frequently were you sexually abused?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: I was sexually abused, raped, 14 times. I was physically abused on more than 30 or 40 occasions.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Who performed the rapes upon you?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: Brother William Houston.
   RICHARD CARLETON: How long had you been at the orphanage the first time Brother Houston raped you?
   RICHARD CARLETON: How many days?
   RICHARD CARLETON: Did you try to tell anybody about those rapes and what happened?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: Yes, I did and I was told I was a liar. I was told I was a troublemaker and I was made to put my hand on his desk with me hands spread out like that, palms down, and I was given 10 beltings of the strap.
   RICHARD CARLETON: It wasn't until 1996 that Geoff finally came forward and reported the abuse to the police. The brother was charged but the charges were later dropped. Notwithstanding the charges not going ahead, what happened in April last year, just 14 months ago?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: My lawyers from Mordialloc got in touch with the Towards Healing Program and arranged a mediation between the church and myself and as result of that mediation they offered me $50,000 to sign a document to not go ahead with it and not say anything more about this, what happened to me as a child.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Did they walk in and say, "Here's $50,000" or what?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: Not straight off, no. They offered me $20,000 and I laughed at 'em, literally.
   RICHARD CARLETON: You've got a copy of the agreement there. Would you read clause "G" to me please?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: "The church do not admit any wrongdoing has been committed".
   RICHARD CARLETON: So they didn't admit but they paid you $50,000?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: That's right.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Have you got the $50,000?
   RICHARD CARLETON: It has been paid to you?
   RICHARD CARLETON: I will read to you clause "K": "It is a condition of the settlement that you..."
   As a condition of the payment, the church required Geoff to swear that he would That is, they gagged him.
   So you realise you're breaking that agreement by talking to me now?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: Well, I'll give the church 40 cents and they can ring somebody who cares. Clearly, I don't care. I mean, clearly I just want to show what cover-up the church are doing. I mean, it's not only myself that's suffering ...
   RICHARD CARLETON: Many victims like Geoff have come forward since last Sunday when allegations were made on this program against Sydney Archbishop, George Pell. Now, did you tell him specifically?
   DAVID RISDALE: I told him specifically I'd been assaulted by my uncle, Gerard Ridsdale. Very specifically.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Last week David Ridsdale alleged that, in February 1993, he went to Pell, then a Melbourne Bishop, to tell him of the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his uncle, Father Gerard Ridsdale.
   DAVID RISDALE: I said, "Look, this assault has happened to me. I'm really beside myself. I need some assistance, some help". And his response to that was, "I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet".
   RICHARD CARLETON: Now, are there any doubts in your mind that those were the specific words that he used?
   DAVID RISDALE: "I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet". None at all. Not those last two phrases, no. Because it triggered ...
   RICHARD CARLETON: Ten years after the event, how can [you] be so sure?
   DAVID RISDALE: Because of what it triggered in me. It changed everything.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Archbishop Pell denied these allegations.
   GEORGE PELL: I am quite prepared to concede that I would have been rattled, that I was distressed. I have great sympathy towards him and his family and what happened to him was dreadful, but his recollection of some of the things he says are totally wrong.
   RICHARD CARLETON: In this statutory declaration Dr Pell claimed it was implausible that he would try to silence David because
   But that is not how the investigating police remember it. So when did this matter come into the public domain, from your knowledge?
   RAY STEIGER: Well, my interpretation of the two words "public domain" would suggest that it would have been in the media and first time that it was in the media was on the fifth.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Of February 1993?
   RAY STEIGER: Correct, the day after Gerard Ridsdale was first interviewed and charged by the police.
   RICHARD CARLETON: And after the time that David Ridsdale claims he, Pell, said to him: "What will it take to keep you quiet?"
   RAY STEIGER: Correct.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Ray Steiger and Lisa McKenzie are the police officers who headed the first investigation into Father Gerard Ridsdale. During their investigation, they sought the co-operation of the Catholic Church and it was not always forthcoming. Such as on the day they had an appointment with the Bishop of Ballarat, the man responsible for moving Ridsdale from parish to parish.
   RAY STEIGER: Our understanding was, when we drove from Melbourne to Ballarat, was that we were to have a meeting with Bishop Mulkearns.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Do you know why he didn't show up?
   RICHARD CARLETON: The bishop knew you were making inquiries about Gerard Ridsdale?
   LISA MCKENZIE: In fact, it was my recollection that he was actually there but that he wasn't able to see us.
   RICHARD CARLETON: What, he was too busy?
   LISA MCKENZIE: Well ...
   RICHARD CARLETON: What they received that day was a typed list of the parishes Ridsdale had been moved to and from. This is a list of where Gerard Ridsdale was appointed?
   RICHARD CARLETON: Apart from that were they otherwise co-operative or not?
   RAY STEIGER: Father Murphy was the gentleman that we saw and he answered the questions that we asked but certainly, um ...
   LISA MCKENZIE: didn't provide any additional information.
   RAY STEIGER: Additional assistance, no. They probably co-operated to the extent that they had to.
   RICHARD CARLETON: That's pretty damning, isn't it?
   RAY STEIGER: Certainly with other investigations that we were conducting at the time there were other organisations that were somewhat more cooperative, wouldn't you say?
   LISA MCKENZIE: That's right, yeah.
   RICHARD CARLETON: In February '93, Lisa McKenzie and Ray Steiger charged Gerard Ridsdale with indecently assaulting 11 boys. He got three months. Later, he was jailed for 15 years for other abuses dating back to 1961. When Ridsdale was moved from Ballarat North to Mildura and then from Mildura to Swan Hill and Swan Hill to Warrnambool, Ballarat and Apollo Bay, did anyone give you the reason why he was being moved from place to place?
   RICHARD CARLETON: Did you ask?
   RICHARD CARLETON: What did they say?
   RAY STEIGER: We inquired when we had that meeting but there wasn't really any explanation given, as such. We were given the list and basically not a lot of other additional information.
   RICHARD CARLETON: From your inquiries, he offended at most of these places here?
   RAY STEIGER: Certainly it unfolded that way, yes.
   RICHARD CARLETON: So you were certainly of the impression that he was moved on because the Catholic Church knew he was offending?
   RAY STEIGER: That certainly was the opinion that we were getting. Wouldn't you agree with that?
   LISA MCKENZIE: That's right, yes. He only stayed, like, a short time in each town.
   RICHARD CARLETON: In your experience, the church would move the offender sideways as one approach and another approach, may I suggest, was to cover it up?
   PHIL O'DONNELL: I think that is a very fair analysis. Certainly, it was, um, transfer was what happened and cover up I use the word that they had a strategy of denial and rejection.
   RICHARD CARLETON: For 24 years Phil O'Donnell was a Roman Catholic priest in Victoria. His is an insider's view of the church's inaction when faced with evidence of paedophiles within their ranks.
   PHIL O'DONNELL: It is horrifying to think of the number of young boys and girls who have been subsequently abused because the strategy of the church was to deny the reality. It was to turn against the victim, it was to blame the victim, it was to make those supporting the victim uncomfortable. All of that stuff.
   RICHARD CARLETON: O'Donnell first alerted the church hierarchy about a particular abusing priest back in 1978.
   PHIL O'DONNELL: I thought I had done the right thing by alerting the authorities because in my naivety or innocence, I would have thought by alerting the authorities that action would happen.
   RICHARD CARLETON: So what happened, he was moved sideways and that was his punishment? He got a different parish?
   PHIL O'DONNELL: Indeed.
   RICHARD CARLETON: And went on doing the same thing presumably?
   PHIL O'DONNELL: Mmm, convicted later.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Why didn't you do something about it then?
   PHIL O'DONNELL: I kept doing things. I've got on record numerous instances where I went to the proper authorities, wrote to them, spoke with them and kept alerting them to the fact of how do they allow a priest with a known problem of sexual abuse against children, staying in active ministry. It is not just one bishop who might not have handled something well. I have to say, I think, it was collective responsibility which I say I'm part of the problem, quite clearly, I should have done, should have gone to the police, there's no doubt about that, but there's ...
   RICHARD CARLETON: You should have gone to the police but you went to the bishop.
   PHIL O'DONNELL: Yes, exactly. But there was a collective responsibility, I think at this stage, where the strategy just seemed to be just put it off and see if it goes away, and, of course, it just got put off and put off and more kids got abused and when it got to about the early to mid-'90s and the media exposure was horrific, no longer could the issue be covered up and then, I believe, lots of very good things have happened and I just think now if someone was abusing a kid in a position of trust, as a priest is, they wouldn't be doing it for long.
   GEORGE PELL: It is a matter of regret that the Catholic Church has taken some time to come to grips with this sexual assault issue adequately.
   RICHARD CARLETON: In 1996, George Pell, then Archbishop of Melbourne, established a panel to deal with sex abuse cases. The panel caps payouts at $50,000.
   GARY: It would appear to be a maximum based on protection of the church rather than protection of the victim.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Gary and Elizabeth's two daughters were sexually abused by their local priest. They applied for compensation and have been offered $50,000 on account of their first daughter. They consider this money was offered to buy their silence. Pell's lawyers say the offer is a realistic alternative to litigation that will otherwise be strenuously defended.
   Fifty thousand dollars for a destroyed daughter's life?
   GARY: Absolutely.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Was that reasonable?
   GARY: I don't believe so. I feel as though we've been told to take the $50,000 and shut up.
   RICHARD CARLETON: When victims still come forward today the church is still applying the stratagem of running them through the courts, making it as difficult as possible.
   PHIL O'DONNELL: Yeah. When they try and, in a sense, take on the church an individual's financial and legal resources compared to the might of the Catholic Church finances and legal, and our experience has been that so many victims have tried to run the litigation, the civil matters, and have just been worn down under the weight of financial, legal might of the opposing party. David and Goliath. That's where again there's so much hurt with these people.
   RICHARD CARLETON: At the time Gary and Elizabeth's daughters were being abused, the auxiliary bishop was George Pell.
   GARY: He was a very senior part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. He was the bishop for the area in which we reside. He should have known.
   RICHARD CARLETON: What's your opinion as to whether the likes of Archbishop Pell would have known this sort of thing was going on?
   PHIL O'DONNELL: I think anyone in authority would have known it was going on. Anyone who was a bishop in the Catholic Church through the '70s and '80s and '90s had to be aware of the volume of victims who were coming forward telling their stories. It beggars belief that anybody in a position of authority through the '70s, '80s and '90s was not aware of this as a very major crisis in the Catholic Church.
   RICHARD CARLETON: The family of the some of the victims have said to me if the likes of Pell had done his job their daughters would not have been abused.
   PHIL O'DONNELL: Mmm. If Pell and let's name how many others do you want to name?
   RICHARD CARLETON: Two days ago I took Geoff Fitzpatrick to the Christian Brothers' establishment where the Christian Brother he alleges had repeatedly raped him still serves. Geoff wanted me to ask the brother for an apology.
   Brother Houston, how do you do? Richard Carleton is my name from 60 Minutes television, sir.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Could you tell me, do you feel you have an apology to offer to this gentleman?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: Remember St Augustine's, 1969? Do you remember? I do!
   RICHARD CARLETON: No, No. Please, please. Brother, thank you.
   BROTHER WILLIAM HOUSTON: Please leave the premises as you have been requested.
   RICHARD CARLETON: What do you want from the church now?
   GEOFF FITZPATRICK: I want them to admit their fault. I want them to weed out the perpetrators that did these things to me. I want them to weed out the ones that are doing it to other victims, as we speak.
   PHIL O'DONNELL: God only knows how many kids have been violated, how many kids have been abused, but in fairness to victims, I think it's time that people on the inside say their stories are true. They should be listened to. They should be believed. They shouldn't have to fight and continuously fight to prove that these cases going over such a long period of time, are true.
   RICHARD CARLETON: Dr Pell declined an invitation to reappear on the program tonight. Christian Brothers leader Brother Peter Dowling also declined to be interviewed.

Previous Stories
 Jul 2002 | Jun 2002May 2002 | Apr 2002 |

Click Index Click Headline
  Date   Story
 June 30, 2002  Fever pitch
   Prime Suspect
   About a Girl
 June 23, 2002  Blackboard jungle
   Shanghai Surprise
   Mid-life lift
 June 16, 2002  Framed
   Risky business
   Croc of gold
 June 9, 2002  Loss of Faith
   Talk ain't cheap
   Best of British
 June 2, 2002  Born a champion
   Loss of Faith (part one and two)
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