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  Home :: 2006 November :: Primary school haven for sexual predators

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 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 and sometimes raped their

terrified victims, often during class while fellow students copied from the blackboard.

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

During a six-month period, he was raped by Ridsdale and regularly assaulted by Best.

The effects of his torture were long-lasting, leading him to crimeas a teenager and forcing him to flee Ballarat, where he recentlyreturned 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 in front of class.

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

After the convictions came to light in 1996, Dr Pell -- Melbourne'sthen-Archbishop designate -- described the situation as a "sad day forthe church".


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia