After several complaints of child abuse were lodged with police against a Christian Brother in the 1990s, Gerard believes the Church moved the former school principal to another state to help him avoid charges.
Gerard told the Commissioner that, in the 1960s, Brother Ridgeworth sexually assaulted him when he was a student at a Melbourne Christian Brothers’ college. He said that it was well known among the students that Ridgeworth was an abuser.
‘He assaulted me once when I was 13. I think I managed to avoid further attacks because I broke down and cried during the attack. I pleaded with my parents to change schools, but they said no.
'I didn’t know who to go to. I was shit frightened to tell my old man because he had enormous respect for the Christian Brothers. The power of the Church back then was enormous.’
After watching a program about institutional child abuse, Gerard felt compelled to ring the 1800 number aired at the end of the show.
‘A couple of days later a fellow named Paul came from the archdiocese of Melbourne and interviewed me. Even though what I told him was fiercely denied, he asked me to sign a waiver indemnifying the archdiocese before he could continue with my complaint about the Christian Brothers.’
Gerard contacted police in the early 1990s, but believes that their resources were ‘too stretched’ to extradite Ridgeworth from interstate until several more statements against him were received.
‘Five years after I’d made a report, the police went to get him … Then the case was adjourned, adjourned, adjourned and then finally he was found fit to plead.
'As soon as that happened, the plea bargain came. Because the last thing the Church wanted was to have him sitting in an open court.’
Ridgeworth pleaded guilty to four charges and received a two-and-a-half year suspended sentence.
‘Gee, I remember that day. I had the pleasure of seeing him say “Guilty” four times, but he should have said it 400 times.
'He had all the Christian Brothers there supporting him. If the police had pursued it more aggressively when I made my report, they’d have got him when he was 71 rather than 81, and he could have done the time. You get this sort of empty feeling.’
After the sentencing, Gerard said he contacted the head of the Christian Brothers and effectively accused the Church of harbouring and protecting an ‘active criminal’.
‘They were still paying for this man to live in Queensland, and they came back to me and said, “Something terrible has happened to you, it’s a crime”. But then it was like they were trying to evoke empathy from me for Ridgeworth, it just blew my mind. These things hurt me because it’s just an abdication of responsibility.’
Later the same year, Gerard successfully pursued a settlement of $29,000 from the Church, as well an agreement it would cover the cost of 15 counselling sessions.
‘The crime will never go away unless the institution itself, not the individual, takes responsibility. When I told my mother what happened to me, three or four years after Dad died, she was horrified.
'She looked at me and said, “I wouldn’t have believed you, but your father would have”. That’s the biggest regret of my life, that I never told my dad.’