At least 35 suicides following catholic clergy sexual assaults by two clergy

The state government’s recent decision to put on hold a public inquiry into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is unconscionable and carries a serious risk of further suicides by victims of clergy sexual assault.

A Ballarat detective discovered the names of some 26 Victorian men who committed suicide in the years following sexual abuse by one or both of convicted paedophiles Robert Best and Gerald Ridsdale.

After publicity about these suicides, family members of more victims came forward. This brings the above number to 35. This number relates to just two clergy in two schools. The real number in Victoria is unknown.

The details of all the young men who have committed suicide must be immediately handed over to the State Coroner. A primary purpose of the Coroner’s Act is to reduce the number of preventable deaths in Victoria. Further deaths by suicide of victims of Catholic clergy abuse are preventable.

The State Coroner has the power to reopen these cases if she is satisfied there are new facts and circumstances and that it is appropriate to do so. The Coroner also has broad powers to subpoena documents and witnesses, to make findings and to offer recommendations.

Independent inquiry into sexual assaults

and the Catholic Church

Our Australian legal system protects the church and its paedophiles at the expense of the victims and their families.

There is no legal entity for the church, including religious orders such as the Christian Brothers, that can be sued for historical sex offences. What is known as the ‘Ellis defence’ prevents victims from being able to sue the Catholic church which hides behind its corporate veil, immune from litigation in these types of historical sex cases.

Also, the Catholic Church cannot be held vicariously liable for the sexual crimes of its priests and brothers.

The only choice left for the victims is the church’s own internal processes, Towards Healing, a national process, and the Melbourne Response, which considers Melbourne Archdiocese cases. These processes and decisions are ‘privatised’ and the church is not accountable to any civil authority in relation to these protocols and there is no external review process. Ex gratia compensation rates are very low and involve a deed of release preventing any further civil action. Re-abuse and re-traumatisation are common.

Government action is imperative. Ongoing inaction increases the risk of further suicides and augments the deep-rooted injustices present in our legal system.


Parliament House steps at 12 noon


Lawyer and PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, Monash University.

Judy is examining sexual assault and the Catholic Church, in particular, the avenues available for victims to find justice.


Survivor of three Catholic Paedophiles in Ballarat, Father Ridsdale, Brother Best and Brother Dowlan and classmate of multiple suicide victims from St Alipius and St Patrick’s College, Ballarat.


Elected Labour representative for the electorate of Oakleigh.

Along with many other individuals and organisations, Ann has called for an independent inquiry in Victoria into the Catholic church and sexual assault.