Australian bishop accused of protecting paedophile priests dies

Shortly before he died, Bp Mulkearns gave evidence to the Royal CommissionRoyal Commission/YouTube

The Australian bishop accused by Cardinal George Pell of "gross deception" for covering up for paedophile priests has died of colon cancer aged 86.

Ronald Mulkearns, Bishop of Ballarat from 1970 to 1997 during the worst of the scandals, knew that Gerald Ridsdale and others were abusing children. He moved the guilty priests from parish to parish so they could escape justice, and even destroyed documents in their files.

One abuse victim, Stephen Woods, accused Mulkearns of leaving a legacy of trauma and devastation and said the Catholic Church should on no account honour him with a high-profile funeral.

In his evidence to Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse last month, Mulkearns said: "I am terribly sorry that I didn't do things differently." He admitted there were problems both with paedophile priests and the way he dealt with them. "I certainly regret that I didn't do it differently. We had no idea, or I had no idea, of the effects of the incidents that took place." He said one reason he took early retirement was because of his failure to deal adequately with the paedophile priest problem.

His lawyer had argued unsuccessfully that he was too ill to give evidence and in the end he spoke via video from his nursing home. He had not finished his testimony when he died.

In his own evidence via video link from Rome, Australian Cardinal George Pell blamed Mulkearns for deceiving him as to why Ridsdale was moved around so often.

"It probably would be possible to imagine a greater deception, but it's a gross deception," Cardinal Pell told the Sydney inquiry.

Leonie Sheedy, of Care Leavers Australia Network, said Mulkearns was one of the worst enablers of paedophiles ever. She told Guardian Australia: "He failed to report any crimes. He failed to acknowledge that so many priests were abusing children despite the complaints made to him. He knew the reputation of a list of paedophile priests, but the reputation of the Church was foremost in his mind."

Survivor Phil Nagle regretted Mulkearns had died without revealing how much he knew. "He certainly told us enough to know he was truly an evil man in covering up what was going on in Ballarat, in particular when he was in charge," Nagle told AAP. "Even though he wasn't a perpetrator, he certainly knew and certainly covered it up. He ruined a lot of lives."