Victorian Enquiry: The Bishops (Or: I’d Give It One and a Half Stars)


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The Victorian Parliamentary enquiry into clerical child sexual abuse has finally been fronted by the Bishop of the Ballarat diocese, Paul Bird, and his predecessor in the position, Peter Connors. As committee member, Ms. Coote, noted “Ballarat was almost the worst of all”. Bishops Bird and Connors then followed the standard script for their defence (see yesterday’s posting).

Firstly, there was the belated admission of the facts, by the well-groomed Bishops. Bird admitted that the Ballarat diocese had received 116 claims of abuse, 107 of which had been substantiated and 67 of which involved convicted pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, the worst serial offender Victoria has known. None were referred to police. It had destroyed documents detailing paedophilia and moved offending priests to new parishes.

Then came the standard apology. Bird said, with a straight face, “On behalf of the diocese of Ballarat, I offer my apologies to those who’ve been abused, their families and their local communities. I offer my apologies through this Parliament to the people of this state for the distress that these crimes have brought about.”

Victorian state Member of Parliament, and deputy chair of the committee, Frank McGuire, appeared to be well ware of the next step in the script. “Before you’ve even come before the enquiry it looks as though the church is trying to minimize the abuse problem”, he noted. Bishop Bird didn’t disappoint. “It wasn’t willful blindness; it was a tragic mistake on [the church’s] part. It proved to be a terrible mistake”, he said of the cover-ups.

Outside the inquiry, Stephen Woods, who was abused by three priests including Ridsdale, picked up on the tendency to minimalize the issues. He said moving pedophile priests “wasn’t a ‘mistake’, it was church policy to cover up”.

Bishop Connors said that he agreed the church had effectively facilitated sexual offences against children by putting a known offending priest in positions that enabled him to continue his abuse. Note the use of the word “effectively” in the statement rather than “deliberately”.

Connors further minimized things by saying he had been told by a victim about a ring of pedophiles in Ballarat, but as far as he knew, Risdale had acted alone. He referred to “accepted opinions at the time” which is a common strategy for making it all seem a little less outrageous. He further pushed this line when said the church “at the time followed legal advice to admit nothing and never say sorry”. Note the frequent use of the term “at the time”.

Next came the emotive words aiming to covey awareness of the gravity of the crimes. Bird referred to “tragic consequences”. Eventually, there was the emotive “I am hurt, too” part of the script. Bishop Bird referred to “the distress everyone has felt on learning of these crimes”.

Finally, there was the “everything’s O.K. now” segment of the script. Bird said that the “focus is now on the victims”, whatever that means. Reference was then made to the Towards Healing program, even though it has been previously discredited.

The script was complete when the good Bishops managed to walk away from the hearing with a passable appearance of dignity.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: Victorian enquiry: The monks speak

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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