The Real George Pell


A. “My name is David Ridsdale. I was born in 1966. I am currently 48 years of age.

I grew up one of nine children in a large Catholic family in Ballarat. As others have expressed, my family was a key member of the community. Both my parents are from large families and there are around 50 grandchildren on my father’s side of the family.

The religion of my parents was an all invasive force in our lives, with every aspect centered on the Catholic community. My mother was secretary of St Alipius Parish
School and was involved in the school for over 50 years. My parents remain committed members of St Alipius Parish. My grandparents lived opposite the Redan Church and my
grandmother was like a mother to all the priests who resided there.

As a young child, I enjoyed the liturgy and believed what the church taught. The church taught me that priests were something more than human with a direct link to God.
They were incapable of sin. In my experience, the church had narrow parameters of sexuality and gender and to fall outside those boundaries was a sin. The church dictated
the boundaries of right and wrong, and the congregation’s relationship to the clergy was one of submission rather than supplication.

My uncle, my father’s oldest brother, is Gerald Ridsdale. He was a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Ballarat. Gerald was treated like a shining light on my father’s side of the family, particularly by my father’s mother. I believe he represented the pinnacle of her
Catholic achievement.

Gerald first sexually abused me on one of the school holidays when I was 11 years old and in Grade 6. We were in a car on a parishioner’s farm near Edenhope where he was
teaching me to drive. He stopped the car, undid my pants and began to pull my penis out to play with it. My naivety was so great at that point that I genuinely had no idea
what was happening. I thought he had broken my penis when this white stuff came out, as my ignorance of my body was so great.

After this, Gerald took every opportunity to initiate sexual interaction with me. He mainly abused me during school holidays or on weekends. Initially it was masturbation and then kissing and then oral sex. I remember the first time we were in the bush somewhere and he tried to make me perform oral sex and I gagged. He used
to get angry if I couldn’t perform the way he wanted. He never fully anally penetrated me, despite trying many times.

When I was 25, my former partner and I were expecting our second child. I began having terrible feelings and dreams. My main fear was that I would turn into my uncle.
I started feeling I was being abused all over again. It all became too much and we decided something had to be done as it was negatively impacting my growing family.
I did not know what to do. I was terrified of ringing the police, I was terrified to go public.

I decided to ring George Pell. And I will only refer to him as George Pell.

I have known George since I was born. He was a family friend. He used to attend church services and activities when he was an assistant parish priest at St Alipius. We continued to see him even when he was headmaster at St Aquinas Teachers’ College and school. Pell as an avid swimmer and I would often see him at either Eureka Stockade or YMCA pools. I have called him George from since I was a child. I never recall calling him Father.

I chose to phone George that day for one reason: he was the only human being in the church who I believed was still a friend and that I could trust.

At 9am on 2 February 1993 I rang George from my home in Bentleigh. My partner at the time was sitting in the room when I made the call. I told George I had been abused by Gerald.

His first reaction was, ‘Oh, right’. There was no shock. His tone then became terse relatively quickly and I could sense anger in his voice. I started to get a sense he was
insinuating things about my story and I felt like I’d done something wrong. I had been clear to George I was concerned about my grandmother and was seeking a private process that could assist me as the pain and distress was overwhelming.

George then began to talk of my growing family and my need to take care of their needs. He mentioned things such as, I may soon have to buy a car or a house for my family. I
do remember with clarity the last three lines we spoke together:

Me: ‘Excuse me, George, what the fuck are you talking about?’

George said, ‘I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet’.

My response was, ‘Fuck you George, and everything you stand for’.

I hung up the phone.

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