Ridsdale abuse victim wins $1.5m payout

Former priest Gerald Ridsdale is serving a 36-year jail sentence for abusing dozens of children.
Former priest Gerald Ridsdale is serving a 36-year jail sentence for abusing dozens of children.

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

It was the early 1970s when the man, who can't be named, joined Ridsdale's long list of child victims, a list that would ultimately carry close to 70 names.

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.

He was also the school's chaplain but instead of offering spiritual guidance to his young charge he inflicted unspeakable acts of sexual abuse.

The then-schoolboy was also victimised by others at St Alipius - Christian Brothers teacher Gerald Leo Fitzgerald and Stephen Farrell, who taught him in years three and five.

Now, five decades after all that abuse, the schoolboy who would wind up a broken man has finally resolved his claim against the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat and the Christian Brothers.

The $1.5 million 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 told AAP.

The victim has decided not to give media interviews other than a brief comment to The Age newspaper: "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 his life began to unravel.

He could no longer work and the true gravity of what he'd endured revealed itself.

Dr 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 try again to achieve more just sums.

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

"The whole affair has been horrible," he told The Age. "A lot of people have been hurt because of what happened at St Alipius."

A Christian Brothers spokesman told the paper 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 handed an 18-month jail term in 2018.

Australian Associated Press