VICTORIA'S most notorious pedophile has written a belated letter of apology to dozens of victims as he contemplates dying in prison.
Former priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale, 72, concedes he'll probably spend the rest of his life in jail, but says he's finally realised the damage he caused to hundreds of people.
His victims, many of whom are expected to receive the letter in coming months, have given mixed reactions to the apology.
Most said it meant little in comparison with the lives he has ruined.
But Cardinal George Pell and Ballarat Bishop Peter Connors said if the remorse was genuine, it was at least a small step towards healing.
"I know I will never be able to make up for what I have done, but I hope that the knowledge that the courts have punished me with prison terms of 18 years in 1994, and 13 years in 2006, and that I will never again be able to live freely in a community, will help in some way to bring a sense of justice into your life," Ridsdale wrote from his Ararat jail cell.
Sources say Ridsdale helps counsel and care for other pedophiles at Ararat jail, attends mass every Friday and organises an annual Christmas dinner.
The defrocked Catholic priest, considered possibly Victoria's most prolific child sex offender, is serving a minimum 19 years for raping and molesting 40 children, aged 6-16, between 1961 and 1987.
He will be 79 before becoming eligible for parole in 2013 but believes he will be ordered to continue living under close supervision on the Ararat prison grounds.
"I am now well aware of the far-reaching effects of my disgraceful behaviour, not only to you who would be considered to be my primary victims, but to so many other people and communities who have been affected," Ridsdale wrote.
"To parents and families of those I have abused, to their partners, to their extended families, to the communities in which they live, to the church communities, clergy and religious and teachers, to police who have had to investigate and deal with complaints, to social workers and counsellors, and not least of all to my own family and friends -- you are all victims of my acts."
Ridsdale said he particularly regretted his victims had lost religious faith as a result of the abuse.
"I hope and pray that with help and support you will be able to find peace in your life and relationships."
One of his victims, in Victoria's far west, said no apology could make up for the abuse inflicted on he and his brother.
"My belief is there should still be capital punishment and he should have hung," he said.
Cardinal Pell, who knew Ridsdale and accompanied him to his first court appearance in 1993, said he hoped the apology was genuine.
Some victims spoken to by the Herald Sun see the apology as part of a future attempt at parole.
Stephen Woods, 45, who was raped by Ridsdale in 1975, said he would prefer to see an apology from senior clergy who covered up concerns about Ridsdale's behaviour for years.
"It sounds like it's a selfish man in his last years trying to placate his own conscience," Mr Woods said.