Clergy sexual abuse issue 'widespread'
Victoria Police urge victims of sexual abuse to come forward, following a leaked police report alleging links between young suicide victims and the Catholic Church.PT0M0S 620 349
CONFIDENTIAL police reports have detailed the suicides of at least 40 people sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Victoria, and have urged a new inquiry into these and many other deaths suspected to be linked to abuse in the church.
In a damning assessment of the church’s handling of abuse issues, the reports say it appears the church has known about a shockingly high rate of suicides and premature deaths but has "chosen to remain silent."
Written by Detective Sergeant Kevin Carson, the reports state that while conducting lengthy inquiries into paedophile clergy, investigators have discovered "an inordinate number of suicides which appear to be a consequence of sexual offending.
Rob Walsh, whose cousin Martin, and brothers Noel and Damien committed suicide after being abused. Photo: Paul Rovere
"The number of people contacting this office to report members of their family, people they know, people they went to school with, who have taken their lives is constant. It would appear that an investigation would uncover many more deaths as a consequence of clergy sexual abuse," one of the reports states.
The revelations will increase pressure on Premier Ted Baillieu and state Attorney-General Robert Clark to respond both to the growing calls from victims for a broad inquiry into clergy sexual abuse, and to the February recommendation of Justice Phillip Cummins for a formal inquiry.
The reports by Sergeant Carson were dated September last year and February this year. The most recent report details the "premature deaths of young men in the years following sexual assault by Catholic fraternity".
The report links at least 40 suicides to the sexual abuse perpetrated by a small number of paedophile clergy, including Gerald Ridsdale, Bryan Coffey, Paul Ryan, Robert Best and Edward Dowlan.
One of the reports includes a list of victims' names, dates of births, manner of death and the locations where the abuse is suspected or known to have taken place, including St Leo's secondary school in Box Hill, St Joseph's in Geelong and St Alipius in Ballarat East.
Among those named as suicide victims are brothers Damien and Noel Walsh, and their cousin Martin Walsh. Another brother, Rob Walsh, who was also sexually abused by Best and Ridsdale and testified against them in court, told The Age last night that an inquiry was needed because of "the church's disregard for the law and disregard for victims".
Most of the victims, who include a student who was dux of his school, were abused between the 1960s and late 1980s.
Sergeant Carson wrote that at the end of last year, "the sheer number of young men who were abused/suspected to be the victims or abuse, and who had met a premature death, continued to grow... The list does not take into account the deaths of other ex-students at the various schools the [paedophile] Christian Brothers taught at.
"The list does not take into account the many, many attempts of suicide made by victims of [clergy] sexual assault.
"Needless to say, those many, many victims have met troubled lives — marriage break-ups, abuse of alcohol and drugs and endless contact with police."
Sergeant Carson's inquiries link the deaths of 34 people to Ridsdale and Best, who are both serving lengthy sentences for sexually abusing young boys.
"While speaking to victims who had been abused by Ridsdale and Best, it was apparent the majority of suicides were committed subsequent to abuse having occurred at St Alipius, Ballarat East," one report says.
Brother Robert Best.
"A similar pattern appears to have followed the two [Ridsdale and Best] when they were appointed to other [school] placements — suicides of people attending primary school at Box Hill and Horsham.
"I point out that these facts have only come to investigators' attention while investigating the sexual abuse in the aforementioned matter and would by no means be complete.
"It would appear that the organisation in charge of... Best and Ridsdale (Catholic Church) would be well and truly aware of the existence of these figures regarding these two clergy and would no doubt be aware of many other similar deaths, however have chosen to remain silent on the matter."
Father Gerald Ridsdale.
A spokesman for the Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese last night said: "The only information the Archdiocese of Melbourne has about such suicides is what has appeared in the media. We don't have access to any information that links suicides with sexual abuse."
The police reports argue for a wide-ranging coronial inquiry to examine the deaths. The church spokesman also said the coroner should be given "evidence of suicide by victims of abuse".
But last night, victims and their relatives called on Mr Baillieu and Mr Clark to create an inquiry with royal commission powers to examine sexual abuse involving religious organisations.
Helen Watson, whose son Peter was 15 when he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in Ararat, said the abuse sent her son on a "path of self-destruction" that ended with him taking his life at 24.
"The priest would take those young boys, give them alcohol and watch movies" before abusing them, Ms Watson said.
"I would do anything in my power [to force a full inquiry]," she said. "The church has gotten away with far too much for too long."
Rob Walsh and his brothers and cousin attended the St Alipius church and boys' school, where all were sexually abused.
Rob Walsh is the only one of them still alive. He was a 12-year-old altar boy when he was raped. It was not until many years later, after problems with alcohol and truancy, that he was able to tell anyone.
Noel Walsh, 19, died in a single car crash which Mr Walsh only later determined — by talking to police, doctors and classmates — had been suicide.
Martin Walsh was about 22 when he shot himself, and Damien Walsh was 46 when he hanged himself in his garage.
Rob Walsh says he is now aware of about 12 other boys from the same school who were sexually abused.
"It was going on for about 10 years," he said.
"You're talking about maybe 20 to 30 per cent of the school. Even now, you don’t know the full extent [of what happened]."
Victim's advocate and author Chrissie Foster, who has written a book about the abuse of two of her daughters — one of whom, Emma Foster, died at 25 of a medication overdose — said Mr Baillieu should stop stalling and show the courage to call an inquiry.
Barrister Vivian Waller, who is representing 45 men suing the Christian Brothers over the abuse committed by Best and Ridsdale, said an inquiry would discover "an epidemic of abuse".
A small number of Catholic priests have also recently spoke of the need for an inquiry. In March, The Age revealed that a senior church adviser, Father Tony Kerin, had told Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart that an independent review would clear the air and should be held.
For help or information visit beyondblue.org.au, call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251, or Lifeline on 131 114.