Catholic sexual abuse cases in Australia

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The Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Australia is part of the much wider Catholic sexual abuse scandals which are a series of convictions, trials and ongoing investigations into allegations of sex crimes committed by Catholic priests and members of religious orders.[1]

As of August 2011, according to Broken Rites, a support and advocacy group for church-related sex abuse victims, there have been over 100 cases in Australia where Catholic priests have been charged for sex offences against minors, as well as others involving non-custodial sentences and inconclusive proceedings.[2] There are also highly numerous cases involving members of religious orders (both priests and brothers) and lay teachers.

Other sources of concern in addition to the abuse itself were the failures of the Roman Catholic Church to prevent future abuse by clergy who had come to the attention of religious authorities (of dioceses, religious orders or schools), transferring clergy and religious to further opportunities for abuse, the handling of allegations of abuse and the continuing honouring within the church of known sex offenders.[3] In 2012 a police report detailed 40 suicide deaths directly related to abuse by Catholic clergy in Victoria.[4] In October 2012, the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Ken Lay, in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry on the issue, recommended that some of the church's actions to hinder investigations (including dissuading victims from reporting to police, failing to engage with police and alerting suspects of allegations against them) be criminalised.[5] A bishop in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese supported some form of public inquiry into the issue.[6]

In November 2012 Archbishop Hart, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, stated that he welcomed and promised co-operation with a Royal Commission, announced by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to broadly investigate child sexual abuse in institutions across Australia. George Pell, Cardinal-Archbishop of Sydney, stated that he hoped the Royal Commission will stop a "smear campaign" against the Catholic Church.[7] During a press conference held on 13 November 2012, Cardinal Pell voiced his support for the Royal Commission and welcomed the opportunity to help victims, to clear the air and to separate fact from fiction.[8] Through the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Catholic Church established a national co-ordinating body, called the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, to oversee the church's engagement with the Royal Commission and the pastoral and other ramifications that arose from the sexual abuse scandal.[9] The council was chaired by the Honourable Barry O'Keefe AM QC until his 2014 death.[10] He was succeeded by the Honourable Neville Owen, a former judge, barrister and solicitor.[11]

In January 2013 the terms of reference were announced for an Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which would investigate institutional sexual abuse of minors related, but not exclusive, to matters concerning clergy of the Catholic Church.[12]

In February 2017 the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released a report revealing 7% of Australian priests, as well as other non-ordained religious brothers and sisters and other Church personnel, were accused of abusing children between 1950 and 2009, with 4,444 sex abuse incidents recorded, and with the local Brothers of St John of God having up to 40.4% of their priests with allegations against them.[13][14][15] The report also stated that the Church was unwilling to investigate the reported abuse and also assisted in covering up the incidents after they were reported,[16][17][14] with the Senior Counsel Gail Furness noting to the Commission that "Children were ignored or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past. Documents were not kept or they were destroyed."[16][17] Of the 1880 alleged perpetrators, 32% were religious brothers, 30% were priests, 29% were lay people and 5% were religious sisters.[14] The average age of victims at the time of abuse was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys.[14]


Archdiocese of Adelaide[edit]

On 13 September 2011, Senator Nick Xenophon used parliamentary privilege to name an Adelaide priest as the alleged perpetrator of six sexual assaults on John Hepworth about 50 years earlier. Senator Xenophon alleged that the Vicar-General of Adelaide, Monsignor David Cappo, had been provided with detailed allegations in 2008 but had failed to act upon them, the investigations still being "at a preliminary stage" and the priest concerned not being stood down during the investigation.[18] Monsignor Cappo subsequently resigned from several governmental positions.[19] The Catholic church established a formal independent inquiry, conducted by Michael Abbott, QC, found that there was no substance to the allegations.[20]

Father Albert Davis (d. 2007), a member of the Dominican Fathers, was charged in 2006 with 17 incidents of indecent assault involving seven boys at Blackfriars Priory School between 1956 and 1960. Davis was committed to stand trial in the Adelaide District Court, but he died before proceedings were commenced.[21]

Father Charles Barnett pleaded guilty in 2009 (after extradition from Indonesia) to three child sex charges for events between 1977 and 1985 at Crystal Brook and Port Pirie.[22]

Archdiocese of Sydney[edit]

In 2007, Ross Murrin, 52, a former Sydney Catholic school teacher and Marist brother, accused of indecently assaulting eight male Year 5 students at a Daceyville school in south-east Sydney in 1974, pleaded guilty to some of the 21 charges.[23]

Diocese of Armidale[edit]

This diocese incorporates 25 parishes and 24 schools within about 90,000 km²[24] and is clearly, one of, if not the highest density locations of Catholic Child Sexual Abuse in Australia on a per capita basis. The extra-ordinary and shocking story of 'Father F', later to be identified as former Armidale local, and former Catholic Priest John Joseph Farrell, was central to the ABC Television program Four Corners expose "Unholy Silence".[25] This was first broadcast on Monday 2 July 2012[26] and was potentially the final trigger that led to then Prime Minister Julia Gillard announcing the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The reaction of Armidale locals to the program was strong and one of indignation that something should have been done sooner by the Catholic Church.[27] Case Study 44 of the Royal Commission (Held Monday 19 to Thursday 22 September 2016[28]) focussed specifically on this case of a former Catholic Priest abusing children over a 20-year period and the alleged cover-up by the Church hierarchy including Father Bernard Flood, Father Richard Gleeson, Monsignor Wayne Peters (Dec), Father Brian Lucas, Monsignor John Usher, Bishop Gerard Hanna (Ret), Bishop Bede Heather (Ret), Bishop Luc Matthys, (most of whom gave evidence to the Royal Commission[29]), and even Australia's most senior Catholic Cardinal George Pell.[30]

Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle[edit]

The diocese has been referred to as the "epicentre of Catholic clerical sexual abuse in Australia"[31] due to a number of paedophile priests with extensive abuse records being jailed since 1997, a dedicated clergy abuse police strikeforce (Strike Force Lantle) having laid more than 170 abuse charges.[6] Convicted abusers include Father Vincent Ryan (a $6 million compensation payout to victims, setting a record for the Catholic Church in Australia), Father David O'Hearn (serving a 23 year sentence)[32] and Father James Fletcher (died in jail in 2006).[33]

John Sidney Denham pleaded guilty to 29 child sex charges involving 27 boys under his care while a priest in Newcastle in the 1970s.[34] It has been alleged that the Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, knew about clerical sexual abuse when serving in the New South Wales' diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in the late 1970s and 1980s.[31] On 27 July 2012, John Pirona was found dead in his car five days after leaving a letter ending "too much pain", this referring to his abuse by a paedophile priest in 1979 when Pirona was 12, the event occurring a year after Maitland-Newcastle bishop Leo Clarke was informed that the priest was a sex offender.[35]

On 31 July 2012, NSW Police in Strike Force Lantle announced they would be providing prosecutors with evidence that Father Brian Lucas, general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide and Michael Malone, retired Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, had committed the offence of concealing a serious crime under s316 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) in concealing child sexual abuse by the priest Denis McAlinden (now deceased) in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese. The evidence includes an admission by then Maitland-Newcastle bishop, Leo Clarke, to McAlinden that "your good name will be protected by the confidential nature of the process" despite "your admission to Father Brian Lucas and other evidence" and a letter from the late Maitland-Newcastle monsignor Patrick Cotter to Bishop Clarke that McAlinden "feels no such inclination towards mature females but towards the little ones. I have never heard of this condition before and knowing Father McAlinden as we do, we do not think it can be real serious."[36] In November 2012 the Premier of New South Wales, Barry O'Farrell, ordered a special commission of inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in this diocese and whether the church had hindered police investigations.[37] Presided over by Margaret Cunneen SC, she reported her findings to the Governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir, on 30 May 2014.[38]

On February 15, 2017, it was reported that The Catholic Church in Australia had secretly paid the equivalent of $276.1m in compensation to thousands of people sexually abused as children by priests and religious brothers.[39] Between 1980 and 2015, the Christian Brothers, which operated a number of residential facilities, made the highest number of payments at 763, totaling $48.5m.[39] Most reported incidents of sex abuse occurred between 1950 and 1989.[39] Some reported incidents occurred as early as the 1920s and the latest after 2010.[39]

Diocese of Wagga Wagga[edit]

In 2002, Vincent Kieran Kiss, 70, pleaded guilty in the Sydney District Court for sex crimes against four teenage boys, aged 13 to 17, between 1966 and 1973 at locations including Albury, Yass and Sydney. Kiss was the Diocesan Director of Youth in Wagga Wagga at the time of the offences and the four victims were members of the Young Christian Students Association.[40]

Diocese of Wollongong[edit]

In 1993, the Illawarra Mercury alleged that Gwynneville parish priest Father Peter Lewis Comensoli and Brother Michael Evans had been involved in the sexual abuse of boys.[41][42] Comensoli was jailed and was later named during the Wood Royal Commission.[43] Evans committed suicide.[42]

In 1996 Father John Gerard Nestor was charged with the 1991 indecent assault of a 15-year-old altar boy. Nestor was initially convicted by a Local Court magistrate and sentenced to a 16 months gaol term which was overturned on an "all points" appeal to the District Court. The case ended suddenly when prosecution witnesses were caught in contradictions, Judge Phelen stating that the supposed victim seemed to have difficulty "distinguishing fact from imagination". Nestor went on to work as a priest for a number of years in senior appointments. After engaging in secular employment he was laicised in 2009.[44] The former Australian prime minister and leader of the Australian Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, provided a character reference for Nestor's trial describing him as "an upright and virtuous man whom he had known since 1984 while studying at Sydney's St Patrick's Seminary to become a priest".[44] The Illawarra Mercury reported lawyer Chris Murphy suggesting that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse investigate the case of Nestor.[45]

In 2010, Kelvin Gerald Sharkey, 83, was sentenced in the Wollongong District Court to at least 15 months jail for sexually abusing an altar boy on three occasions between 1969 and 1975 when Sharkey was parish priest of St John Vianney's Church at Fairy Meadow and at St Bernard's Church at Batemans Bay.[46]

Diocese of Bathurst[edit]

St Stanislaus College Bathurst in the 1970s and 1980s has been referred to by an old boy as a "pedophile paradise" due to the activities of pedophile priests there.[47] William Stanley Irwin, 55, for instance, a former Catholic brother, was convicted on 31 March 2011 by a jury in the Sydney District Court on two counts of gross indecency on a male under the age of 18 at St Stanislaus' College in Bathurst in the mid-1980s. Having been asked by the boy's parents to counsel him in relation to prior sexual abuse, Irwin kissed the youth and initiated mutual masturbation when the pair stayed at the boarding school overnight during a road trip in 1986. Irwin was later a dormitory master at St Stanislaus' for two years and a chaplain and teacher at St Aloysius' College at Milsons Point.[48]

Kevin Francis Phillips, similarly, pleaded guilty in a Sydney District Court on 3 December 2010 to four counts of gross indecency with a child under the age of 18. Phillips was sentenced on 21 April 2011 to a total of 15 months jail. On the first three counts, he was sentenced to a concurrent term of nine months starting on 21 April 2011 and expiring on 20 January 2012. On the final charge of gross indecency by a male with a male under 18 years, Phillips was sentenced to a term of nine months to start on 21 October 2011 and expiring on 20 July 2012 with a non-parole period of three months.[49][50][51]

Brian Joseph Spillane also was convicted on 30 November 2010 on nine counts of indecent assault against three girls aged between eight and seventeen while he was based in Sydney in about 1979, a Vincentian priest at that time. During bail proceedings it was heard that Spillane faced a further 135 charges relating to alleged offences against boys at St Stanislaus' College whilst Spillaine was chaplain. These latter charges were expected to be heard in four more trials that were expected to last until late 2011. Spillaine was refused bail.[52] After a court-ordered media blackout was lifted, in place since 2013, it was reported in 2016 that Spillane was convicted of assaults on five St Stanislaus' College students after a trial in 2013, and in 2015 he pleaded guilty to assaults on four boys at the school in the late 1980s. It was reported that during 2016 Spillane was convicted of attacks on five students between 1974 and 1990. Spillane, who is currently in custody, is expected to be sentenced in early 2017.[53]

Diocese of Parramatta[edit]

In 1992, after allegations arose that a priest had been sexually abusing some of his parishioners, a meeting was held between the accused priest and three senior members of clergy. As a result of the meeting the priest was banned from conducting Mass, but was otherwise permitted to continue serving as a priest. The priest was laicised in 2005. In 2012, allegations arose through the Four Corners television program that the priest admitted to child sexual abuse at the 1992 meeting, and that the senior clergy present chose not to report the allegations to police. Cardinal George Pell subsequently denied that the priest admitted to sexual abuse at the meeting.[54]

Archdiocese of Melbourne[edit]

The Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry established in April 2012 stated that Melbourne archdiocese's Melbourne Response process, under which victims may not be legally represented appeared to "be a de-facto substitute for criminal justice" that was detrimental to prosecuting suspected sexual criminals.[55] He noted that though the Melbourne Response states on its website that in the past 14 years the church has compensated 300 people as victims of sexual abuse and identified 86 offenders of whom 60 were priests, not one complainant was referred to Victoria Police.[55] The report stated that the process of moving offenders to other positions in the church restricted capacity to bring them to account and promoted a culture of secrecy that hindered more victims speaking out. The Melbourne Response's system, the report states, has outdated process that include requiring victims to confront alleged offenders.[55]

Notable cases have included: Michael Charles Glennon - sentenced to 22 years jail with a non-parole period of 15 years for 23 offences against children, including rape, indecent assault, gross indecency, sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 and sexually penetrating a child under the age of 10.;[56] David Daniel - sentenced to six years jail with a non-parole period of four years and six months for molesting four boys, a girl and an adult male;[57] and Wilfred James Baker - sentenced to four years in prison (parole after 2 years) for 16 counts of indecent assault and one of gross indecency, involving eight boys, aged 10 to 13, over a 20-year period between 1960 and 1979.[58] Three priests, Michael Aulsebrook, Frank Klep and David Rapson, were investigated and prosecuted for sexual abuse which took place at Rupertswood College Sunbury in the 1990s.[59][60][61]

Diocese of Ballarat[edit]

A priest, Gerald Ridsdale, was jailed in 1994 for 18 years, with a minimum of 15 years, after pleading guilty to 46 counts of child sexual offences, including buggery, indecent assault and gross indecency, committed over two decades on 21 victims.[62] In 2006, he pleaded guilty to 35 additional charges relating to indecent assault against 10 boys.[63] On these charges, he was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment, with a minimum of seven years.[64] A few of his victims criticised the sentence.[64] Ridsdale would have been eligible for parole in August 2013, at the age of 79.[64] On 20 June 2013, Ridsdale was again charged by Victoria Police with an additional 84 offences against 14 victims committed between 1961 and 1981.[65] He pleaded guilty to 29 counts (27 of indecent assault, one count of buggery and one count of carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 16) committed between 1960 and 1980 and asked for a further 27 counts to be taken into consideration at sentencing, which will take place at a date to be fixed.[66] After pleading guilty to the above charges, including raping and abusing children as young as four, Ridsdale was sentenced to eight years in prison in April 2014 and will be eligible for parole in April 2019.[67] The latest charges bring the tally of Ridsdale's confirmed victims to 54.[68] In May 2015 Ridsdale gave an account of his offending in evidence to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.[69]

On 8 August 2011, Robert Charles Best, a Christian Brother, was sentenced in the Victorian County Court to 14 years and nine months jail, with a non-parole period of 11 years and three months, for 27 offences involving sexual abuse of 11 boys. Best taught at Catholic primary and secondary schools in Ballarat, Box Hill and Geelong (all in Victoria, Australia) between the 1960s and 1980s. Best has been convicted by a jury and has pleaded guilty to more than 40 child sex offences against dozens of students, some as young as eight years old.[70] As of 2011 Best had not been expelled by the Christian Brothers and the order had expended more than A$1 million on his legal costs.[71] In May 2013, the Christian Brothers admitted to Victoria's parliamentary inquiry into child abuse they did what they could to defend members accused of sexual assault against children. They admitted to hiring a private investigator to follow one of Best's victims. In addition to paying the aforementioned legal costs, the church also paid hundreds of thousands to defend other members also accused of rape.[72]

Archdiocese of Brisbane[edit]

Diocese of Townsville[edit]

Notable cases include: Neville Joseph Creen - molested young girls while he served as a priest at Mount Isa, north-west Queensland, from 1973 to 1981. In Brisbane District Court on 12 September 2003, Creen (aged 63) was sentenced to three-and-half years' jail with a 14-month minimum after admitting to 34 indecent dealing charges involving 18 girls under the age of 13. One girl was aged just 5 when Creen abused her at a youth camp and later at the home of her grandparents. Creen pleaded guilty to a further six charges on 4 November 2004 and was sentenced to an additional two years jail.[73]

Archdiocese of Perth[edit]

In 1995, Gerard William Dick, a self-confessed sexually abusive priest, was sentenced to three and a half years jail for 10 incidents of indecently dealing with boys aged between 8 and 10 at a Christian Brothers' orphanage in Western Australia.[74]

David Christian was fined A$10,500 on seven charges of indecently assaulting boys at the Marist Brothers school.[75]

In 1994, the Parliament of Western Australia was presented a petition with 30,000 signatures which demanded an inquiry into the sexual and physical assault that took place in various institutions run by the Christian Brothers including Castledare Boys' Home, Bindoon, Clontarf and Tardun.[76][77]

The Christian Brothers accepted that there was strong evidence that many of the allegations were true, and made a public apology.[76] A legal action brought by over 200 former students ran from 1993 in the New South Wales Supreme Court and was finalised in 1996 with an out of court settlement.[77]

Diocese of Bunbury[edit]

Adrian Richard Van Klooster - pleaded guilty to four counts of indecently dealing with children under the age of 13 and was found with child pornography on his computer.[78]

Archdiocese of Hobart[edit]

Marist Fathers of Tasmania[edit]

Notable cases include: in 2007 Gregory Ferguson was sentenced to two years jail (eligible for parole after 12 months) for offences in 1971 against two boys aged 13 at Marist College, Burnie, Tasmania. On 13 December 2007 he was sentenced to an additional three years jail for offences against a third boy.;[79] in 2008 a jury found former priest Roger Michael Bellemore guilty on three counts of maintaining a sexual relationship with a young person under the age of 17 years in the 1960s and 1970s while he was at the same college.[80]

Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn[edit]

In February 2008, a teacher at Marist College Canberra, Brother John William Chute (also known as Brother Kostka) pleaded guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court to 11 charges of indecently assaulting students of the college during the 1980s.[81][82] Damages for sexual abuse have also been sought by former students at Marist College Canberra.[83][84][85] A teacher at Daramalan College in Canberra was also charged with numerous sexual assaults in 2000; however he committed suicide shortly after he was charged.[86]

Pope Benedict's statement[edit]

On 19 July 2008, before a congregation of 3,400 assembled in Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI lamented that child sex abuse had taken place and the pain it caused. He also condemned those responsible for it and demanded punishment for them. However, he did not state or imply that the institutional church, or any of its leaders, accepted any responsibility for what had taken place. His statement reads:[87]

"Here I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country. I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering. ... Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice. These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. I ask all of you to support and assist your bishops, and to work together with them in combating this evil. It is an urgent priority to promote a safer and more wholesome environment, especially for young people."

On 21 July 2008, before flying out of Australia, Pope Benedict met at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, with two male and two female victims of sex abuse by priests. He listened to their stories and celebrated Mass with them.[88] The Premier of New South Wales, Morris Iemma, said that "Hopefully it will be a sign of righting the wrongs of the past and of a better future and better treatment by the church of the victims and their families."[89][90]

Mark Fabbro, a victim of abuse and member of the Catholic Abuse Survivors Collective, said that while he was "happy to receive the apology, we still consider it indirect and insufficient". Chris MacIsaac of the victims' rights advocacy group Broken Rites said the Pope had taken his apology further than his previous comments on the issue as he has "never put it quite so strongly before", but expressed disappointment that the Pope had not made his apology directly to sexual abuse victims. One Australian victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest has stated in the media: Dealing with the church itself was a hell of a lot more traumatic than dealing with the abuse.[91]

See also[edit]



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