There is light at the end of a very dark tunnel for female sexual and physical assault victims of Australia”s worst paedophile priest, Fr Gerald Ridsdale and other Catholic clergy, including nuns stationed in Ballarat. Following the SBS Online feature, ‘The girls, the paedophile and Cardinal Pell’ in February and the recent Royal Commission revelations that the Ballarat diocese was a hotbed of cover-ups and paedophilia, CASA (the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault) is now, for the first time seeking expressions of interest for a support group to offer assistance to female survivors. Manager of the Ballarat CASA, Shireen Gunn, says while there has long been a support group for males, they have now identified that a number of female survivors also need ongoing support. “We believe that group work is an important part of assisting recovery to break down isolation,” she says.
No one welcomes the news more than Gabbi Short, now 60, who was regarded as a “lifer” at the Nazareth House Girls Home. She describes her time at the orphanage as a “living hell”; a daily battle for survival. Prey to unceasing violence from sadistic nuns – one in particular – Ms Short was just three years old between 1993 and 1994 when a young Fr Ridsdale, then chaplain of the school, ruled the orphanage with an iron fist. “Ridsdale chose girls on a daily basis to sexually abuse. The nuns knew what was going on and either turned a blind eye or helped clean the girls up after he had finished with them.” The depraved sexual abuse and violence inflicted on numerous girls has had lifelong repercussions for many. “It has shattered so many lives,” Ms Short says. “Who knows how many of those orphans have committed suicide or died from illnesses brought on by post-traumatic stress. This is an opportunity to save lives.”
Julie Braddock, now 61, has also carried the scars of Ridsdale and Sr Imelda’s abuse throughout her life. She was first raped by Ridsdale when she was just seven years old. Her punishment for telling Sr Imelda was to be beaten savagely and locked under the stairs for three days. Ridsdale’s physical abuse, such as throwing her over a church pew and down the convent steps, has also had lifelong repercussions. “A few years after leaving the orphanage, I had to have my spleen, one kidney and appendix removed,” she says. “The doctor told me it was the result of Ridsdale’s abuse.”
Who knows how many of those orphans have committed suicide or died from illnesses brought on by post-traumatic stress. This is an opportunity to save lives.
Ms Short who, with other survivors recently contacted the SANO Taskforce to lay the groundwork for possible charges against Ridsdale (presently serving a prison term for his abuse against boys), says she will not stop fighting until all nuns and priests complicit in allowing paedophilia to flourish in Ballarat are exposed.
Retired Bishop Ronald Mulkearn, who headed up the Ballarat diocese during some of its worst years of child sexual abuse by clergy and who famously said that he didn’t know if paedophilia was a crime, died last week, aged 85. Ms Short says his low-key funeral and burial in a simple grave instead of the cathedral crypt sends a message to abuse survivors to come forward. “The barriers are falling, finally,” she says. “Now is the time to speak up. This is about saving lives. No one will be judging the women. They need to come forward and tell their stories in order to get the help that is desperately overdue.”
To express interest in the group, call CASA on 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292. Lifeline: 13 11 14