Former Ballarat priest found guilty of historic indecent assault charges
23 Aug 2016, 5 p.m.
From the Link: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/4115070/former-priest-found-guilty/
A former Ballarat priest has been found guilty of indecently assaulting a young girl in her own bed more than 40 years ago.
Leslie Sheahan, 85, who was an assistant priest of St Columba’s Church at the time of the offence, will return to the Ballarat Magistrates Court next month for sentencing over the historic indecent assault.
The woman assaulted as a young girl by the former Ballarat priest while she slept told the court the traumatic experience still haunted her.
The woman, who was aged nine or 10 at the time of the incident, gave evidence she woke one night in the 1960s to find Sheahan in her bed with his hand down her pants while he forced her hand on his penis.
“He kept telling me how nice it felt for me and I kept thinking no it wasn’t nice at all,” she told the court.
Left feeling ashamed, she said Sheahan, who would visit the house often with other members of the clergy including Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns and Cardinal George Pell, told her “that’s our secret” and not to tell her parents.
“I just curled up in a ball and cried,” she said.
“I remember it as if it happened last night.
“It’s a shadow that stays with you and hangs over you for the rest of your life.”
It was decades later before she told anyone about the night.
She told the court she originally wrote a letter to Bishop Mulkearns advising him of what happened because she wanted to make sure Sheahan was not working around children, but she never followed up on an invite to talk about the complaint.
She added a number of years later she found out Sheahan was still working in a Victorian parish and out of shock decided to ring him.
“He denied the incident and started to cry … but he didn’t respond to questions about why he was crying,” she told the court.
But it was not until seeing Sheahan at a funeral she decided to make a complaint to police.
Sheahan denied the allegations and made a no comment interview to police.
Sheahan’s defence lawyer, Raymond Alexander, put to the woman she had fabricated the incident in which she responded “I had absolutely no doubt it was Father Sheahan in my bed.”
He also asked if the complaint was born out of desires to gain compensation, to which she told him she had not lodged for any compensation by the Catholic Church.
Mr Alexander argued Sheahan never groomed the young girl, which the woman also agreed never occurred, and said Sheahan risked the girl screaming or telling her parents if he had molested her.
“The likelihood of someone exposing themselves to that great of risk is unreasonable,” he said.
He added if the assault had occurred, it may have been another priest, as many frequently visited the Ballarat property.
He told the court no evidence of the letter could be found, and no diary notes were made by the woman which could support the allegations.
After the one-day contested hearing, Magistrate Cynthia Toose ruled Sheahan was guilty of two counts of unlawfully/ indecently assaulting the woman.
Ms Toose, who indicated Sheahan was looking at a period of imprisonment, said in her view there was clear identification by the victim of Sheahan on the night.
The matter was adjourned until September 28 for a plea hearing.
Abuse responsibility not equal: Pell
In compelling evidence to the child abuse royal commission, George Pell has explained how responsibility for protecting children is shared in the church.
Cardinal George Pell says he had ‘no interest’ in Gerald Francis Ridsdale’s offending in the mid-1970s and was not told the priest was being moved because he was a pedophile
Cardinal Pell, who was then a Ballarat priest, says he did not know that Ridsdale’s offending was common knowledge in the Victorian parish of Inglewood in 1975 and did not know about the allegations.
“It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me,” he told the child abuse royal commission from Rome, drawing gasps from some observers in the room.
“The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that, but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated.
He was asked if it was not necessary to avoid repeat offences to fully understand the circumstances of cases like Ridsdale.
The cardinal said that everyone in the church approached the task differently according to their level of responsibility.
Ms Furness asked him if he was saying it was not the case that if a parish priest heard of events dangerous to children happening in a neighbouring parish or a distant parish he had no responsibility to the children who were in danger.
Cardinal Pell: “Well, very obviously I said nothing of the sort. I said that a person from a neighbouring parish or distant parish has less responsibility for the care of children in those distant parishes than he does in his own.”
He told commission chair Justice Peter McClellan that he agreed that every member of the church had a responsibility to do what they could to protect children.
He also agreed that office bearers had a greater responsibility.
Cardinal Pell also said that Bishop Ronald Mulkearns lied to him about Ridsdale.
Former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew about complaints against Ridsdale when he moved him between parishes but Cardinal Pell said he was not told about it when he was an adviser to the bishop from 1977.
Cardinal Pell said the bishop and senior cleric Monsignor Leo Fiscalini deceived him and other advisers at meetings which discussed moving Ridsdale.
The commission has heard Ridsdale’s offending was common knowledge in at least two parishes but Cardinal Pell maintained he did not know.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said Cardinal Pell would be held to be culpable if he, like Bishop Mulkearns, did know about the offending.
Cardinal Pell said that was correct.
“It is very clear of course that the decision is one of the bishop’s, that the consultors only have an advisory capacity and of course all of us have to respect the evidence,” Cardinal Pell said.
Pell account unbelievable: Abuse survivors
Child sex abuse survivors say it’s unbelievable a man of Cardinal George Pell’s intelligence was unaware of a pedophile priest’s offending when two Victorian communities and local clergy knew about it.
The cardinal told the child abuse royal commission on Monday night that while he was on a Ballarat diocese committee that advised on the transfers of priests he was never told of the offending of pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale in the 1970s.
Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, now head of the Vatican Treasury, met the pontiff after his initial grilling by the commission and told reporters before resuming his evidence on Tuesday: “I have the full backing of the Pope”.
By videolink from Hotel Quirinale in Rome he told the commission sitting in Sydney that then Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns and his advisor Monsignor Fiscalini had deceived him by not telling him Ridsdale was moved between parishes because of his offending.
Ridsdale was able to continue his offending as he was shifted from one parish to another as “talk” began among parishioners about his interfering with children.
His nephew David Ridsdale, who was sexually abused by his uncle, is among a group of survivors hearing the cardinal’s evidence in Rome and told reporters it appeared the Catholic Church was behaving “with lies and deceit” within its own structure.
He said he assumed Victorian Police would be taking up the matter in relation to church officials moving pedophile priests to parishes where they could continue their offending.
Bishop Ronald Mulkearns admits not dealing with pedophile priests properly and wanting to protect church’s reputation
February 24, 2016 10:30pm
Christian Brother authorised funding for private investigator to track down abuse victims, child sex abuse hearing told
A senior Christian Brother authorised spending on a private investigator to track down victims of notorious paedophile Brother Edward Dowlan, the royal commission into child sexual abuse has heard.
Brother Brian Brandon was a provincial council member of St Patrick’s province of the Christian Brothers, which covered Victoria and Tasmania, between 1984 and 1996.
Since 1993, he has dealt with sex abuse claims brought against the Christian Brothers as part of his role with the order’s Professional Standards Board.
Testifying before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat, he revealed the tactics engaged by the Christian Brothers to bully people who took sex abuse claims to police.
In 1995, he authorised spending on a private investigator who was targeting victims of Brother Edward Dowlan, who is now in jail for molesting dozens of boys.
In a letter, the investigator, Glynis McNeight, reported back to Dowlan’s lawyers, saying one of her employees tracked down a victim and confronted him about the allegations, adding the victim began to cry.
“As a witness, his credibility can be very easily destroyed as he has had enormous emotional problems all his life,” she wrote to the order’s legal team.
“He’s a very nervous, excitable type who will reduce to tears and bad language easily.”
Brother Brandon gave evidence he was opposed to the strategy of using a private investigator, however he would not answer direct questions put to him about whether he instructed the lawyers to use that strategy in the first place.
“I said if that’s what it will cost, I’m prepared to pay for that. I said we’d pay for it,” he said.
Brother Brandon said the tactic was used on one other occasion.
“I was not happy with the way victims, survivors, were put under stress in this process,” he said.
“I’m sorry this strategy was adopted even though I wasn’t the source of the strategy being adopted.”
Bishop unlikely to remember abuse cases: friend
Bishop Ronald Mulkearns was in charge of the Ballarat diocese when several paedophile priests were moved from parish to parish abusing children.
He has previously been found to be too sick to give testimony but on Thursday is expected to give evidence to the royal commission through a video link.
One of his childhood friends Eileen Piper doubts he will be up to the task.
“I’m only hoping that when he goes into the stand he might, he might remember. I wouldn’t be very confident,” she said.
Pope’s commissioner for child protection says Cardinal Pell is a ‘dangerous individual’ and ‘almost sociopathic’
- June 1, 2015
Tony Abbott defends Cardinal Pell’s role in church handling of abuse
- November 14, 2013
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended Cardinal George Pell’s role in the Catholic Church’s handling of child sex abuse cases, saying he deserved credit for being the first senior churchman to act.
Interviewed on Fairfax radio on Thursday following the release of a Victorian parliamentary report into institutional sex abuse, Mr Abbott said the church hadn’t handled the issue well, but defended Cardinal Pell.
“The only thing I’d say … is that my understanding is that the first senior cleric who took this issue very seriously was in fact Cardinal Pell,” he said.
Mr Abbott said it was well known that he had a lot of time for Cardinal Pell.
“Does that mean that he is perfect? No. Does that mean that he doesn’t bear some responsibility for the errors of the church? Of course not,” he said.
But he said Cardinal Pell was “a fine human being and a great churchman”.
Mr Abbott had not read the Victorian government’s report on clergy child sex abuse, but said that in the past the issue “wasn’t handled well” by the Catholic Church and had to be taken seriously.
“Of course, all of the institutions which have in the past – and maybe even still – not handled this thing well need to lift their game, and obviously anyone who has committed the hideous breach of trust involved in child abuse needs to be brought to justice,” he said.
He added: “I suspect that it wasn’t just the church that didn’t handle these things well.
“A generation ago, there was this general view in our community that certain things just didn’t happen. We all know now that they did happen. It was hideous, it was gruesome. It cost some people their lives. It cost some people their sanity.”
The 800-page parliamentary report said Cardinal Pell’s evidence revealed “a reluctance to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the Catholic Church’s institutional failure to respond appropriately to allegations of criminal child abuse”.
It was scathing of the Catholic Church’s leadership prior to the 1990s, giving specific examples in which former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns and former Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little moved known sexual offenders between parishes without reporting them to police.
Mr Abbott said the issue could have, and should have, been handled better, but he didn’t know about cover-ups.
“I just don’t know for a personal fact what was done,” he said. “I absolutely know that it wasn’t handled well.”
His comments came as the Catholic Church said it was prepared to fund an unlimited national compensation scheme for child sexual abuse victims.
The church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council – a national mouthpiece established after the royal commission was announced – issued a statement saying that it would ask the attorneys-general of the federal, state and territory governments to begin working on the scheme.
The Victorian parliamentary report recommended an independent redress scheme run by the government but paid for by non-government organisations to replace the Catholic Church’s internal systems for dealing with victims – called Melbourne Response, and its national equivalent Towards Healing – which victims criticised throughout the inquiry as lacking transparency.
The Catholic council chief executive Francis Sullivan said governments should consider extending the state inquiry’s proposed scheme nationally, and that it should have consistent investigative powers and payments.
“A national compensation scheme, funded by the church and other organisations, and with no caps on payments, is an important first step in taking away from institutions such as the Catholic Church the role of investigating complaints and determining compensation for victims,” he said.
This departs from the church’s traditional position to argue that its internal processes were proof that its approach to abuse had improved over time.
The Catholic Church’s Melbourne Response scheme currently places a $75,000 cap on victims’ compensation claims in Victoria, while its national equivalent, Towards Healing, is unlimited.
In Good Faith & Associates director Helen Last has said that the church had settled thousands of claims outside of Melbourne Response, in an attempt to silence them.
Mr Francis said the state inquiry’s recommendation, coupled with the royal commission’s potential to do the same, should be enough for governments to consider a national approach to child sexual abuse and child protection.
He said: “We will also call on all governments to start working towards a national approach to uniform police reporting requirements and statutory complaint-handling processes.”