A notorious pedophile priest told victims they were special angels and called the abuse “the Lord’s work”.

One of Australia’s worst pedophile priests groomed a four-year-old victim by calling her “God’s little angel” and described his abuse as “the Lord’s work”.

Former Catholic priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale, 79, has admitted his guilt in assaulting 45 children in abuse that spanned 26 years.

Among his victims were the four-year-old girl, siblings he took on holiday and an altar boy.

Ridsdale hid behind the Catholic Church as he abused, said a victim who was under the care of the Catholic diocese when she was indecently assaulted during holiday drives.

“I trusted you, Gerald Ridsdale, you represented God and all that is good,” she said, reading her victim statement to the Victorian County Court on Tuesday.

“You exploited, manipulated and humiliated me while you hid behind the veil of the church.”

Ridsdale told one four-year-old girl she was “God’s little angel” while grooming her for abuse, the court heard.

He then put an ice-cream between his legs and indecently assaulted her.

He later raped her and also abused her in the confessional box after telling her she needed to be punished for her sins.

Ridsdale also told a nine-year-old altar boy that what he was doing to him was “the Lord’s work” as he abused him, the court heard.

Three siblings he took on a holiday were each forced to spend a night in Ridsdale’s room, with the priest telling them “you’re my special friend tonight”.

Ridsdale has pleaded guilty to 30 charges, including 28 counts of indecent assault on 14 children in Victoria’s western district, between 1961 and 1980.

Several victims told the pre-sentence hearing they had lost faith in the Catholic Church because of its refusal to act on complaints against Ridsdale.

One victim said his belief that church figures knew about Ridsdale’s abuse but failed to act was backed up by Cardinal George Pell’s submission to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry.

“I’m unable to have any faith in them as an organisation,” he said in his victim statement.

Defence barrister Helen Spowart said there was no argument in mitigation of the crimes.

“It’s difficult to imagine more serious sex offences than this,” she said.

She said Ridsdale’s guilty plea had saved the victims giving evidence in court.

Ridsdale suffers from serious health problems and is resigned to dying in jail, Ms Spowart said.

Prosecutor Susan Borg said Ridsdale’s abuse had destroyed lives and multiple generations of families.

“His betrayal was not only against the children themselves but against the adults who so readily handed the children on to him,” she said.

She said he was a sexual predator who groomed his victims by calling them angels then abused them when they were alone.

Ridsdale is already serving a long jail sentence for multiple child sex offences.

He will be sentenced at a later date.