Lone arm of the law
Herald Sun 15 October 2005 By Russell Robinson
DenisRyan has finally been vindicated in his pursuit of a powerfulpedophile, Monsignor John Day, the parish priest at Mildura's SacredHeart Catholic Church.
DennisRyan, a young detective at the time, began his pursuit of Day 34 yearsearlier over allegations that Day had engaged in buggery, attemptedbuggery, gross indecency and indecent assault of 14 boys and two girlsunder the age of 16.
In 1971, the deputy principal of St Joseph's College, John Howden,approached Ryan about complaints by two 12 year old girls that they'dbeen indecently assaulted by Day.
One of the girls, Ruth Colben, told the Herald Sun this week of thetimes Day took her and her school friends for drives in his automaticPontiac.
Heinsisted she sit beside him and take over the steering wheel. “He'daccelerate to 80 miles an hour [128km/h] and then whisper in my ear tokeep both hands on the wheel or we'd crash and we'd all be dead. He'dthen interfere with me'', she recalled. Eventually, Ruth complained toher mother, who then went to John Howden.
DuringRyan's investigation, he and John Howden advised Day's bishop, RonaldMulkearns, of the allegations and asked him to remove Day before hecould abuse more victims. Mulkearns didn't reply to their letter butinstead sent out his own letter to all parishioners urging them tostick by their priests and claiming that any rumours they’d heard werewrong.
Oneof Day's assistant priests was the notorious pedophile Gerald Ridsdale,who is now serving 18 years jail after pleading guilty to 46 serioussexual assault charges.
Ryan’spursuit of Day began in 1956. Constable Ryan was patrolling the streetsof St Kilda when he observed a large American car, a Pontiac, with twowell-known prostitutes in the front bench seat.
Drapedacross the pair was a man wearing a priest's shirt with crosses on thecollar. An empty bottle of wine lay at their feet. “The man, drunk as alout, had his strides down and his old fella showing. We told the girlsto go home, and the car was driven back to the station. The Cathedralwas contacted and two priests came to collect him.'' Ryan recalled. Thepriest gave his name as John Day.
Thatwas the last Ryan saw of Day until he was taken to Mildura's SacredHeart Church presbytery by his senior officer, Det-Sgt Jim Barritt, astrong Catholic and well-known as a close associate of Day, to meet themonsignor, John Day.
Ryanimmediately recognised Day as the drunken priest, but said nothinguntil he returned to the station with Barritt where he told him of theincident and of his concerns about the monsignor. ”It upset Barrittgreatly and he became quite annoyed. Ryan said.
Day'scrimes had long been an open secret within the Mildura community,seemingly condoned by the church and swept under the carpet by somepolice. Ryan was threatened by one of Day’s colleagues who sought tomeet privately. This priest, who Ryan knew quite well, told Ryan thatif he didn’t leave it alone he’d be out of a job. “I told him to go andget stuffed”, Ryan recalls.
Hewas called off the case after a directive from Police Commissioner RegJackson. ”The whole business has been a conspiracy from the verybeginning”, Ryan says. He accuses the police and church hierarchy ofcovering up Day's pedophile activities.
But this month, Ryan gained access to police files on the investigation, which generally supported his stand.
Daywas eventually moved from Mildura and soon after sent overseas. Heeventually returned to Australia and, despite statements from 16 minorsalleging indecent assault, he was posted to the Timboon parish insouthwestern Victoria, where he remained until his death in 1978.
Ryansaid that soon after leaving the force he encountered three more ofDay's victims. And, more recently, the church has paid compensation tosome of those who had been sexually assaulted by their monsignor.
Ittook almost a decade for Day’s sins to be revealed; again in the formof a letter to parishioners from the church apologising for the painand anguish caused by the non-completion of Denis Ryan's investigation.
Theletter stated, in part, “As a church community, we offer our sincereapologies to any victims… if the response of church authorities wasperceived not to have been adequate, we express regret andsorrow”.Denis Ryan's pain and anguish remains. He lost hundreds ofthousands of dollars in superannuation and has been refused the policelong-service medal, despite serving 21 years. “It wrecked my life. Mywife became an alcoholic, left me, and then died,'' he said. He has yetto receive an apology from the church or Victoria Police.
Ryan is considering civil action for compensation against the police and the church.
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