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  Home :: 2006 November :: Primary school haven for sexual predators - THE PELL CRISIS

IT WAS supposed to be a place of learning and safety for young boys intent on following the Catholic faith.

But St Alipius Primary School in Ballarat proved to be a horrific -- and in some cases deadly -- experience.

In the early 1970s, the school was inhabited by predators posing as a priest and a team of religious brothers.

The entire school teaching staff -- Father Gerald Ridsdale, headmaster Robert Charles Best and Brothers Edward Vernon Dowlan and Stephen Farrell -- preyed on pupils aged between 8 and 11.

The members of the paedophile ring routinely molested, assaulted andsometimes raped their terrified victims, often during class whilefellow students copied from the blackboard.

Robert Walsh, now 41, was among scores of unfortunate schoolboys to be enrolled at St Alipius in that era.

In a six-month period he was raped by Ridsdale and regularlyassaulted by Best. The effects of his torture were long-lasting,leading him to crime as a teenager and forcing him to flee Ballarat,where he recently returned for the first time in 22 years.

"Some of my friends from school are drug addicts, one is in prison at the moment," Mr Walsh said yesterday.

"It's been a very painful, long time for me. I have my scars.

"I'm divorced. I got my first criminal conviction at 14.

"I have made suicide attempts, but I'm a rape survivor."

At least eight of his classmates are not.

"There have been a number of deaths. We are up to about eight suicides," Mr Walsh said.

"Two of those suicides were my family members."

Mr Walsh is now calling for a Senate inquiry into the abuse.

Ridsdale, the St Alipius priest who is also at the centre ofcover-up allegations against Archbishop George Pell, is serving 18years' jail after pleading guilty to 46 child sex charges in 1994.

In 1996, Edward Dowlan was sentenced to 10 years' jail while RobertBest received a nine-month suspended sentence after being acquitted ofmore serious charges.

Stephen Farrell was convicted of similar crimes in 1998, while another offender is deceased.

At the height of the torment in 1971, pupils were molested during class, at sick bay and even after making confession.

During his sentencing, it was revealed how Dowlan would choose hismark at the start of class, then molest the young victim at the back ofthe room while fellow pupils concentrated on their lessons, too afraidto glance back.

Best was found guilty of one assault which involved rubbing thebuttocks of a boy for about 15 minutes while the student read acatechism lesson in front of class.

At a sentence hearing, Best's lawyer unsuccessfully argued the actwas not lustful, but just a "display of affection gone wrong".

After the convictions came to light in 1996, Dr Pell -- Melbourne'sthen archbishop-designate -- described the horrific situation as a "sadday for the church".

Tell us your story

Readers who have similar stories of abuse by members of a religiousorder are invited to tell them through The Daily Telegraph. Contact usvia phone on (02) 9288 2584, via email: news@dailytelegraph. orfax on (02) 9288 2608.


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia