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Make no mistake: This is what a monster looks like.

Trigger warning: This post deals with child sexual abuse.

As 81 year old Gerald Ridsdale shuffles towards the witness box, he looks like an unremarkable old man. He gums his words. He is forgetful. His head is bald and peppered with age spots.

He could be your great uncle, your grandfather, a neighbour. You wouldn’t look at him twice if you saw him buying a newspaper at the shops.

As he gives evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, Ridsdale speaks gently, openly and apparently with sorrow and regret about his crimes.

But make no mistake: This is what a monster looks like.

This kindly, droopy, age-spotted face is the face of pure evil.

It is the face of a man who systematically sexually preyed on children as young as four, for over 30 years. Ridsdale has confessed to abusing 50 children, but admits that number is more likely in the hundreds.

Like so many monsters, Ridsdale the paedophile may have been a creature who was created, not born. He has said that he himself was sexually abused as a child. First, by a cousin. Then, by an uncle. Later, by a Christian brother.

There are 33 boys in this Grade 4 photo. Twelve of them took their own lives.

His vile urges flourished at the seminary, where he says he knew his sexual attraction to children was wrong (he also indulged in frequent masturbating, which he confessed to a priest and was warned about). It was here that he honed his technique for stalking victims: seeking out poor families without a father and insinuating himself into their lives. He was a trainee priest when he first sexually assaulted a child, at a camp for disadvantaged children.

The Inquiry was told that this was his “pattern”: “[He would] develop close relationships with the children, which then merged into the sexual in the context of a variety of opportunities within the presbytery, on various outings and camps, et cetera.”

Church properties were the home of at least some of his offending. On one occasion he thinks that another priest was in the room while he assaulted a child in his bed. He can’t recall who that priest might have been, but there were apparently only a handful of other priests living with him at the relevant time.

Ridsdale says that he always craved comfort, and has a “vague recollection” of sleeping close to and cuddling his first victim back in the 1960s. “It seemed to be just a need for intimacy, hugging and closeness,” he told investigators from the church’s insurance company. “I think I have always felt the need for closeness,” he told the Commission.

But he never hankered for that closeness with adults – it was sexual intimacy with young boys he craved. The only time he sought that comfort and closeness with an adult was a three-year relationship he had while in prison with another prisoner.

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Ridsdale says he tried to talk to people about his crimes, including psychiatrists who apparently were only ever concerned with the risk that he might be homosexual. They treated him with relaxation exercises as treatment. Ridsdale says that senior priests were aware of his offences, though it’s not clear who knew and when.

According to Ridsdale, his depravity was some kind of open secret: “It was no secret around Mortlake eventually about me and my behaviour; there was talk all around among the children, and one lot of parents came to me,” he said.

“I got out of control again. I went haywire there. Altar boys mainly.”

Reports are that he abused every single child in a school. He has recounted at least one offence for the Inquiry:

“I do remember there was one lad there who was a bed wetter, and one night I discovered that he had wet the bed so I took him to where my room was and got him fresh pyjamas and then I said, ‘We’ll get into bed here as your bed is wet’, and I’m pretty sure that I fondled his penis. I don’t know if I masturbated him. He would have been perhaps 10. As far as clear details, I do know and can remember washing him and putting fresh pyjamas on him and then getting him to bed with me.”

The Catholic Church moved him from place to place, allegedly to keep him away from children. But every single time Ridsdale moved, his warped desires saw him stalk more victims and destroy more young lives.

He was, at the time, oblivious to the devastation he had wrought. The head of the Royal Commission, Justice McLellan asked him: Justice McLellan: “Did you know, Mr Ridsdale, that the effect you had on children you offended against was that they wouldn’t let anyone touch them and they wouldn’t let their fathers touch them. Did you know that?”

Ridsdale says he didn’t. He didn’t think about the effects. He didn’t know then. But he says he knows now.

Gerald Ridsdale is an old man. He is forgetful. He says he has forgotten the names of his victims. He has forgotten the circumstances of his crimes. What he remembers seems unreliable. But the same can’t be said for his victims.

For the victims of Ridsdale’s crimes, he will never be the shuffling, hesitant, benign old man we see on the witness stand.

He will always be the monster who assaulted them.

The demon who took their childhoods.

The nightmare who haunts their dreams.

Don’t be fooled: His is the face of evil. We must never forget it. Because his victims never will.

For more: 

Notorious paedophile Gerald Ridsdale feared confession would cost him priesthood, royal commission hears.

Adam is a 19-year-old paedohpile who has never touched a child. This is his story.

This woman survived a paedophile ring.