Australia: Victorian man abused as schoolboy by paedophile priest given $1.5m settlement

The settlement, on eve of trial, is one of the largest payouts Victoria has seen for institutional sexual abuse

Gerald Ridsdale in 1993. Photograph: AAP

A Victorian man abused as a schoolboy by Catholic pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale and two teachers has been given a $1.5m settlement on the eve of the matter going to trial.

It was the early 1970s when the man, who cannot be named, joined Ridsdale’s list of almost 70 child victims.

At the time Ridsdale was a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in regional Victoria and lived at the presbytery next to St Alipius Boys’ School, where he also served as the school’s chaplain.

The then schoolboy was also victimised by others at St Alipius — Christian Brothers teacher Gerald Leo Fitzgerald and Stephen Farrell, who taught him in year 3 and year 5.

Now, five decades after all that abuse, the schoolboy has finally resolved his claim against the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat and the Christian Brothers.

The $1.5m settlement, plus legal costs, is one of the largest payouts Victoria has seen for institutional sexual abuse.

The victim’s lawyer, Dr Viv Waller, is sure it would not have eventuated without the looming threat of court action that was due to start next week.

“Catholic defendants have to be dragged to the door of the court before they offer appropriate amounts of compensation, and this matter was resolved in the shadow of a trial due to start in the next few days,” she said.

The victim has decided not to give media interviews other than a brief comment to Nine newspapers’ the Age: “I feel vindicated and listened to. The church has taken responsibility for what they did to me. It can’t erase the memory but I can move on.”

In 2015, the victim gave evidence to the royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse, under the pseudonym BAQ.

He told of being abused by Ridsdale at the presbytery, of being assaulted by Farrell during a school fishing trip, and of his terror as he waited each day for the other teacher, Fitzgerald, to decide which boy he would abuse at the back of the classroom.

As an adult, he coped by becoming a workaholic, while other survivors turned to drugs and alcohol. He told himself that he wasn’t badly affected. But, after addressing the royal commission, he was unable to work.

Waller, whose firm has resolved dozens of institutional sexual abuse cases, encouraged abuse survivors to re-examine their matters in light of recent legal reforms.

She says that in some cases survivors who may have received small payouts, in some cases as little as $15,000, through negotiated settlements with religious institutions might be able to achieve more just sums.

Diocese of Ballarat vicar-general Father Kevin Maloney also encouraged more victims to come forward.

A Christian Brothers spokesman said the order has been meeting its obligations to victims of abuse for more than 30 years, with payments running into the tens of millions of dollars annually.

Ridsdale is serving a 36-year jail sentence for abusing close to 70 victims. Fitzgerald died in 1987 while under investigation. Farrell was given an 18-month jail term in 2018.

The Guardian

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