Category Archives: Father Thomas O’Keefe

In the Name of the Law

In the Name of the Law

By Quentin McDermott and Peter Cronau

Updated August 12, 2014 13:36:00

From the Link:

MONDAY 11th August 2014

They were sexually abused by the clergy and then found themselves targeted by the Church’s lawyers. Why did it happen and who was responsible for the strategy?

This week on Four Corners, reporter Quentin McDermott reveals the systematic way the Catholic Church sought to conceal the sexual abuse of children, using lawyers to minimise the potential financial impact to the organisation.

Talking to the abused, their families and employees of the Church, and by examining the detail of Royal Commission testimony, McDermott pieces together a strategy that even those inside the Church now concede was misplaced and utterly unethical.

“It’s a major, major crisis. It’s not only a crisis of scandal and crime; it’s also a crisis of faith and credibility.”

The program begins by looking at two cases where the Church clearly accepted that all the available evidence suggested abuse had happened, even offering a small settlement. When this was rejected, the lawyers acting on behalf of the Church argued the abuse had never happened.

“Firstly they disputed that the abuse had occurred and then they denied that our daughters had suffered from that abuse.”

The investigation examines the tactics employed by the Church in negotiating with victims in private, often with no legal representation, during compensation negotiations.

In case after case it becomes clear that the key objective has been to minimise financial costs. In each of the cases examined, the victims firmly believe the legal strategies employed constituted a second round of abuse. As one Catholic priest told Four Corners, it’s an approach that could not be justified in any way:

“It’s been a misguided attempt to preserve the Church’s assets… the real assets of the Church are its people.”

‘IN THE NAME OF THE LAW’, reported by Quentin McDermott and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 11th August at 8.30pm on ABC. It is replayed on Tuesday 12th August at 11.00am and 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview or


In the Name of the Law – Monday 11 August 2014

KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: How the Catholic Church used the law to hide its sins: welcome to the Four Corners.

A great deal of shocking revelation of systematic institutional abuse of children over many decades has by now washed through the various official inquiries into child abuse in Australia.

But if you think by now you’ve heard it all, you haven’t.

Some of the great iconic pillars of virtue have been sucked into the vortex of scandal in the process, none more so than the Catholic Church.

Earlier this year the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse scrutinised the Catholic Church’s nationwide policy on the issue, called “Towards Healing.”

One case in particular, that of abuse victim John Ellis, exposed a history of heavy-handed legal tactics by the Sydney Archdiocese. Next week the scrutiny turns to Melbourne and a strategy set up by its then archbishop, George Pell, in 1996.

It’s inevitable that the Royal Commission will again zero in on the Church’s legalistic pressure tactics in its dealings with victims. And again, as new evidence we present tonight will show, the Church hierarchy and its lawyers are likely to be facing serious questions on their past actions.

Quentin McDermott reports.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT, REPORTER: It’s Saturday evening at St Mary of the Angels Basilica in Geelong and Father Kevin Dillon is getting ready for Mass.

If there’s one topic here in Victoria that’s sacred, it’s football.

KEVIN DILLON, FR, ST MARY OF THE ANGELS PARISH, GEELONG: Freo are being done by St Kilda. It’s only the second quarter, though. Are the Cats playing GWS?

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: As with other Catholic congregations around Australia, attendances are down and many of the pews lie empty.

It’s a sign of the deep distress felt by the faithful at the Church’s litany of sex crimes and, more than that, of the Church’s abject failure to respond appropriately.

KEVIN DILLON: A lot of people are looking for care and support from within the Church. And the horrific thing is: when they have looked for it they have found it wanting and, ah, they are still being left in dire straits.

(Addressing congregation in prayer) In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Father Dillon’s answer has been to set up a victims’ support group called Lifeboat.

KEVIN DILLON: The prime purpose of Lifeboat is to say to the people: you matter. We care about you and we will do what we can to, ah, help you because the lifeboat – when you were assaulted, um, by a Church person, be it a priest or a brother or whoever – um, the- the lifeboat of connection with God went down with the ship.

This is our little effort in our own small way to put that lifeboat up again.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: But Father Dillon’s mission stands in stark contrast to a Catholic hierarchy which for years has employed teams of lawyers to fight victims in the courts and minimise the Church’s exposure to damages.

KEVIN DILLON: It’s been a- a misguided attempt to preserve the Church’s assets, ah, and the Church’s reputation.

(Addressing congregation) Behold the Lamb of God.

But the real assets of the Church are its people. Those assets have been damaged, in many cases irreparably: not just the- the victims and not just their families but so many people who’ve looked upon this horrific saga and have voted with their feet.

The awful thing is it didn’t have to happen this way.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Why it did happen this way, and why the Church treated victims in the way it did, is now being forensically examined at the Royal Commission. And the Church’s legal strategy is front-and-centre in that examination.

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 26 March 2014)

GEORGE PELL, CARDINAL: In a legal sense, uh, we always acted honestly. And I… believe, in a legal sense, there was nothing done that was improper.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: John Ellis was 14 years old when he first became a victim of clergy sexual abuse. Forty years later, the pain remains etched in his face.

Father Aidan Duggan, his abuser, was a priest in his 50s who at first he admired and trusted.

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 10 March 2014)

JOHN ELLIS, LAWYER AND CHILD ABUSE VICTIM: Uh, my name is John Andrew Ellis and I’m a solicitor.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In March, John Ellis told his story to the Royal Commission.

JOHN ELLIS: I was ashamed of what was happening and I knew that it was meant to be secret.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Years after these events, John Ellis, by now a successful solicitor, suffered a severe traumatic reaction to his childhood abuse.

Looking for help and support, he approached the Catholic Church’s “Towards Healing” program and disclosed what had occurred. But the senior churchman’s response seemed inappropriate.

JOHN ELLIS: He was telling me that it was, you know, all a long time ago and that, um, you know, the police were probably not going to be very interested in that a-and really there wasn’t much could be done about it. And you know, they did have a- a process but, um, you know, it might be best, all things considered, um, to just go away and move on with my life.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: John Ellis pressed the Church to accept his story and in 2003 a Church assessor decided that, more likely than not, the abuse had occurred and had damaged his mental, physical and emotional health.

With his health in decline, John Ellis lost his high-paying legal job and requested $100,000 in compensation for the harm done to him in childhood by the Church.

But he was offered just $30,000 – with a catch.

JOHN ELLIS: I was told that um, “By the way, you need to sign a- a deed of release a-and sign off your legal rights, ah, before we’ll pay you this money.”

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: John Ellis felt he was left with no choice but to lodge a claim in court.

JOHN ELLIS: You know, looking back at it, I-I can say hand-on-heart that I might’ve been prepared to accept their payment of $30,000 if they’d actually treated me with respect.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Instead, the decision was taken to fight John Ellis’ claim and fight it hard, as a win against him would protect the Church’s assets against claims from other victims.

JOHN ELLIS: That was a deliberate strategy to send a message to, to people: don’t come after the Church.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: George Pell, then Archbishop of Sydney, had hand-picked a firm of solicitors, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, to fight the case.

And this internal email shows the Archbishop’s private secretary, Dr Michael Casey, commenting approvingly: “I think they’re approaching it the right way to knock E[llis] out.”

JOHN ELLIS: They had a, a decision to make, you know, whether to deal with the claim ethically and-and justly and-and compassionately, or-or whether to take, take a hard line and knock me out.

Um, Dr. Casey’s, ah, email was, was affirming the instructions that the latter and, and more shameful course was the one that had been chosen by the Church.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Remarkably, Archbishop Pell’s instructions to his team were to set aside the Church’s own assessment that John Ellis was telling the truth.

As a result, John Ellis was subjected to days of cross-examination in court about his private life and whether the abuse had occurred.

JOHN ELLIS: The dagger to the heart really was, was when the question was put about whether these things really happened. And the suggestion was made that, you know, I was somehow making the whole thing up.

Um, I- I think really from that, from that point in time there was, there was no turning back for-for me. Um, I… I couldn’t have any trust in the Church as an institution once that was done.

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 18 March 2014)

PAUL MCCANN, PARTNER, CORRS CHAMBERS WESTGARTH: Well, I think it’s o-, it’s only a portion of the cross-examination…

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At the Royal Commission, the Catholic Church’s lawyers were grilled about the legal and moral stance they had taken in attacking Ellis.

PETER MCCLELLAN, QC, CHIEF COMMISSIONER: It’s a fundamental challenge to Mr Ellis and it shouldn’t have happened, should it?

PAUL MCCANN: Uh… on reflection, probably not.

(Footage ends)

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 20 March 2014)

PETER MCCLELLAN: Mr Dalzell, we’ve got the transcript. You sat there while your counsel put in issue whether or not Mr Ellis was telling the truth about having been abused. That’s the position, isn’t it?


PETER MCCLELLAN: Can you explain how ethically you could sit there and do that?

JOHN DALZELL: Your Honour, I don’t think it was ever put to Mr Ellis that he was lying about the abuse.

(Footage ends)

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 26 March 2014)

GAIL FURNESS, SC, COUNSEL ASSISTING THE COMMISSION: Cardinal, Corrs weren’t your moral advisers, were they?

GEORGE PELL: No. They received im-, instructions from me on this point and they said that, er, the option that th-they recommended to us was mo-, was legally proper.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At the heart of the Church’s defence was the argument that the Church’s trustees only deal with property and can’t be held liable for the criminal actions of priests.

It became known as the “Ellis Defence” and it meant that there was no one John Ellis could sue because by now Father Duggan, his abuser, was dead.

(To Francis Sullivan) It makes the senior hierarchy, it makes the bishops and archbishops look like very slippery characters, legally speaking?

FRANCIS SULLIVAN, CEO, TRUTH, JUSTICE AND HEALING COUNCIL: Times have changed now and, uh, what’s abundantly clear is that the Catholic Church needs to demonstrate to the community its genuine bona fides that the interests of victims is paramount and that they need to provide victims who want to bring, um, a case for damages against the Church: they need to provide them with a legal entity to sue.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In 2007 John Ellis lost his bid to take his case to the High Court and was handed a bill for costs of more than $500,000.

The Church, through its lawyers Corrs Chambers Westgarth, continued to pursue him for payment even after being told that his health had deteriorated further.

It took three years for the Archdiocese of Sydney to relent and waive the costs.

(To Francis Sullivan) Why was John Ellis treated in the fashion he was by the Church’s lawyers? I mean, that was unforgivable, wasn’t it?

FRANCIS SULLIVAN: Yes, it was unforgivable.

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 27 March 2014)

PETER GRAY, SC, COUNSEL FOR CATHOLIC CHURCH: I, I know what it is that the Cardinal wishes to say…

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At his final appearance to date at the Royal Commission, Cardinal Pell apologised.

GEORGE PELL: And at the end of this gruelling appearance for both of us at this Royal Commission, I want publicly to say sorry to him for the hurt caused, uh, him by the mistakes made and admitted by me and some of my archdiocesan personnel during the course of the Towards Healing process and litigation.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Do you believe his apology was sincere?

JOHN ELLIS: I… I’m inclined to believe that he regrets taking that course, um, but I’m not really sure how much that has to do with being hauled before the, the Royal Commission and-and exposing, ah, the Church to the sort of scrutiny that it would rather avoid, um, and-and the door having been opened to that by, by how I was treated.

Um, I don’t know the man personally. I don’t know what’s in his heart. Ah, I don’t know if it really has any impact on him that, that, that people have been harmed by that. I certainly know at the time he was quite happy for me to be fodder for whatever the Church’s objectives were.

(Archive footage of then-Archbishop Pell holding service)

GEORGE PELL: Through the Gospel and the Eucharist…

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: John Ellis’ case isn’t a one-off. It followed a pattern of legal strategies adopted by Archbishop Pell in Victoria for dealing with the victims of the Church’s worst child abusers.

Among these men was Father Kevin O’Donnell, whose record of sexual assaults lasted nearly 50 years.

CHRISSIE FOSTER, VICTIMS’ MOTHER: One solicitor who represented many victims of O’Donnell, um, he called him the two, “two-a-day man”. So, many, many crimes there.

ANTHONY FOSTER, VICTIMS’ FATHER: And there seems to be evidence of offending in the mid-40s, going right through to, at least with our children, in the, the late 80s, so – and early 90s. So it went on for an awful long time and we’re confident that the Church knew about that offending happening along, through those years.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Chrissie and Anthony Foster’s daughters, Emma and Katie, were repeatedly raped by Father O’Donnell at Sacred Heart Primary School in Oakleigh, in outer Melbourne.

Evidence that the Church knew about Father O’Donnell from the very beginning comes from a man who, as a young altar boy, was abused by Father O’Donnell in the mid-1940s.

The boy told his mother, who removed him from the school. She also informed the nuns, but Father O’Donnell was left in place.

(To Vivian Waller) What outcome could there have been if they had acted on that complaint?

VIVIAN WALLER, SOLICITOR, WALLER LEGAL: Well, the course of history could have been changed if the Church had responded to very early complaints about O’Donnell. And certainly other children who suffered throughout the course of time, such as the, um, children of Mr and Mrs Foster, would not have been exposed to the risk of his sexual predation.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: This letter, written by a priest in 1994 and shown tonight for the first time, reveals that as early as 1958 the Melbourne Archdiocese received a report “regarding interfering by Kevin O’Donnell” with a boy.

The letter records that: “Someone from the cathedral had come to see Kevin O’Donnell and also had talked to [the boy]… and that everything was squared up since that time.”

In the ensuing decades Father O’Donnell continued to commit crimes against children. In 1983 he baptised Katie Foster at Sacred Heart Church in Oakleigh.

Six years later he was in high spirits at a confirmation service in Oakleigh, when Emma Foster had been added to his long list of victims.

(Amateur video footage)

KEVIN O’DONNELL, PRIEST: I’d just like to thank you very much, m’Lord, for coming with us again. Make it a Sunday afternoon next time. We like Sunday afternoons, don’t we, ’cause we can have a bit of a party afterwards.

We’d like the chance for you to meet with the Bishop when he comes.

GEORGE PELL: I look forward to many, many more years of work from Father O’Donnell in the Church here.

(Laughter and applause)

(End footage)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At Emma Foster’s confirmation in 1993, her picture was taken with Bishop Pell.

Three years later, in an adolescent psychiatric unit, she disclosed that Father O’Donnell had sexually assaulted her.

VIVIAN WALLER: The Fosters are just ordinary people. They live ordinary suburban lives. They were raising their children in the community. They didn’t ask for this. Um, this horror was visited upon them, not from out of the blue: this horror was visited upon them because the Archdiocese of Melbourne did not take earlier opportunities to investigate complaints that they had had against O’Donnell, to perhaps report matters to the police, ah, and to take O’Donnell out of contact with children.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Francis Sullivan is CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which speaks for the Church on matters related to the Royal Commission and child sexual abuse.

FRANCIS SULLIVAN: You heard the other day that the, uh, Pope said that about two per cent of priests were paedophiles. Well, we think that figure is pretty low for what we estimate it to be in Australia: around maybe, at least four per cent of clergy – that’s priests and religious – were child sex abusers.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: That’s a shocking percentage, isn’t it?

Francis Sullivan: Absolutely shocking. It’s very confronting, actually.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Equally confronting for many victims has been the experience of going through the Church’s internal complaints process in Victoria, known as the Melbourne Response, which was set up by George Pell when he became the city’s Archbishop in 1996.

The process has been highly controversial.


They’re promised things such as: “We will get to the truth.” Ah, “We will address your needs. We will treat you with compassion and respect.” And, of course, once they arrive and by the time they’ve come through the process, ah, it is anything but compassion, love and Christianity.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Chrissie and Anthony Foster experienced this for themselves when Archbishop Pell visited Oakleigh and met them, shortly after setting up the Melbourne Response.

ANTHONY FOSTER: His whole thrust was that the Church wasn’t liable for the actions of their priests.

I was trying to get justice for our children at the time and he was trying to prevent scandal to the Church and trying to ch- save the Church’s money.

And we were in those two opposite corners. He was sitting in the big red chair. We were sitting on a hard wooden seat, being looked down upo- upon by this powerful man of the Church.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: When the Fosters told Archbishop Pell what had happened to their daughter Emma, they were astounded by his response.

ANTHONY FOSTER: Well, he said to us, “I hope you can substantiate that in court.” Now, it was a very strange comment because we had had some acceptance that this had happened from the Church already and yet here he is taking the, the legal tack.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: One thing the Fosters could immediately substantiate was the psychological damage that Father O’Donnell had inflicted on Emma.

It came in the form of a photo.

CHRISSIE FOSTER: He looked at a photo of Emma that we showed him where she’d cut her wrists. And he just looked at it and then said, “Oh, she’s changed, hasn’t she?”

We thought he’d have some sympathy, some empathy. This shocking photo of a, of anyone, of a child, anyone, with cut wrists, sitting there. She was crying. And… it didn’t have any effect whatsoever on him. It was quite astounding. It just stunned us.

(Footage of Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations, 27 May 2013)


GEORGE PELL: Now, I-I understand people feel deeply about this…

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Cardinal Pell gave his own explanation of what had occurred when he appeared at last year’s Victorian Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious organisations.

FRANK McGUIRE, COMMITTEE MEMBER: When Chrissie and Anthony Foster showed you a photograph after their daughter Emma had slashed her wrist, did you respond, and again I quote: “Mmm, she’s changed, hasn’t she”?

GEORGE PELL: Er, probably, but, er, let’s-let’s put this in context. Now we know that was a, uh, an attempted suicide. When you just look at a photo, suddenly, in front of you, ah, how do you recognise just from the photo that this was an attempted suicide? Now, whe-when you say, “Well, there is blood, ah, blood on the arms”: sure. But you’ve, er, you’ve got to understand that this was a, er… production of this photo was something sudden and I didn’t have a chance for a considered, er, response. Ah, I fully understood the enormity of the, the suffering.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: The Fosters were one of the first families to go through Archbishop Pell’s Melbourne Response. It concluded with an offer of $50,000 to their daughter Emma and a letter of apology from Archbishop Pell.

But, as usual, it came with a catch. Enclosed was another letter from the Church’s lawyers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

ANTHONY FOSTER: Oh, that letter said that we should see the offer of $50,000 as an alternative to litigation that would be strenuously defended. So that was in the same envelope.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Which one more accurately depicted the Church’s real intent?

ANTHONY FOSTER: The letter from the-the lawyers, without doubt. Um, the Archbishop’s letter, ah, showed their position by offering a very small amount and the letter from the lawyers, I think, recognised that we had a much greater claim, but they were going to fight it tooth and nail – and fight it they did.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Chrissie and Anthony Foster decided to meet the Church head-on and take civil action.

ANTHONY FOSTER: It was the only way to get any sense of justice for our children and ourselves. It was as simple as that.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: As would happen later in the John Ellis case, the Church, through its lawyers, no longer admitted that Emma and Katie Foster had been abused by Father O’Donnell – even after the Archbishop’s apology for what he had done.

ANTHONY FOSTER: Firstly, they disputed that the abuse had occurred. And then they denied that, that our daughters had suffered from that abuse.

There’s a pattern there of playing hardball, of playing legal games, of in fact in both the Ellis case and our children’s cases of saying it didn’t even happen, and if it did you weren’t harmed by it. Ah, there is that pattern there and that pattern is an extension of what George Pell said to us in our meeting: “If you don’t like it, take it to court.”

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Nearly 10 years after starting their legal battle, the Fosters won a settlement of $750,000 plus costs – 10 times the maximum now payable under the Melbourne Response.

But under the terms of the agreement the Church required that this be kept confidential.

ANTHONY FOSTER: It was not an amount which I believe was just. But it gives a sense of what the Church is willing to pay in order to keep people silent and to ensure that the, the case doesn’t become public and that they don’t… and that they’re… what they’re willing to pay is not made public.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: The Fosters achieved a substantial settlement by taking civil action against the Church.

But those victims who put their faith in the Church’s internal resolution process have ended up with a fraction of that amount in compensation.

Robin Henderson disclosed her childhood abuse to the Melbourne Response. Father Dominic Phillips was the priest who abused her when she attended St Joseph’s Primary School in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern.

ROBIN HENDERSON, CHILD ABUSE VICTIM: He’d sit me on his knee and was looking into my eyes with a magnifying glass and telling me that I had one eye bigger than the other and did I know?

And while he was distracting me like that he, his hands would wander and, ah, I was abused by him, um, manually, um… anally and, and vaginally.

And because he was a priest I thought that was… all right but I felt uncomfortable. And I told the nun about it and she said, “Oh, he’s just being fatherly because he knows you haven’t got a dad.”

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Father Phillips died in 1970 without ever being tried for the sex offences he is alleged to have committed.

In 2009 the Church accepted Robin Henderson’s story and referred her to the Melbourne Response’s Compensation Panel, which decides how much the Church’s victims will be paid.

When she visited the offices of the Church’s lawyers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, to talk to the panel by video link, she secretly recorded the remarks made to her by the panel’s chair, David Curtain QC, about whether she needed a lawyer, paid for by the Church, before signing a deed of release.

Her recording is being played tonight for the first time.

(Excerpt of amateur audio recording)


ROBIN HENDERSON: I’d prefer a title.

DAVID CURTAIN: Thank you, Ms Henderson, that’s fine.

You have discussed with me in emails the provision of a, uh, a lawyer to be provided by the Church. I-I see that myself as something that’s unnecessary because you’ll be asked to sign a release and the release is intended to release the Church from any claim.

So, if- if you work on the assumption that that was effective, then I-I myself struggle to see the point in having advice about that, unless that advice was to the effect that maybe the release isn’t effective.

Now, I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be requested but I, I hope that on analysis you can see the reason why we are of the view that it’s an unnecessary item.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: David Curtain has told Four Corners that he has never advised a victim not to seek legal advice before signing a release.

When Robin Henderson insisted that she wanted a lawyer, David Curtain agreed to ask the Church and her legal bill of $1,100 was later paid for her.

Robin Henderson was offered $30,000 in compensation which, reluctantly, she accepted.

ROBIN HENDERSON: I didn’t want to know any more after that. I was just depleted. I knew I had a good case. I knew I could’ve fought it if I wanted to but I just didn’t have the mental or the physical stamina to do it.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: It’s not just the victims of clergy sexual abuse who have suffered; it’s also those who have tried to protect the victims.

Graeme Sleeman is a former Catholic school principal who lost his career after fighting to get the Church to deal with a paedophile priest.

Tonight he is speaking out for the first time on national television.

GRAEME SLEEMAN, FMR PRINCIPAL, HOLY FAMILY SCHOOL, DOVETON: What did other priests know? What did the Archbishop know? They knew lots but sat on their hands.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In 1982 Graeme Sleeman was appointed principal of Holy Family School in Doveton, part of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

It was a disadvantaged community and history now shows it was also a town that was cursed with a succession of four paedophile priests between 1972 and 1997.

The offending priests were Father Thomas O’Keeffe, Father Wilfred Baker, Father Victor Rubeo and Father Peter Searson.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: This was a community who, that was perceived as low socio-economics, poorly educated, wouldn’t have the power or the tenacity or the willpower to complain to the, to the authorities. So if we’ve got a problem, where do we send it? Would we send it to Toorak? I don’t think so.

FRANCIS SULLIVAN: Doveton appears to be just a tragic example of the maladministration of the Catholic Church during that period and, um, people rightly should be enraged.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Graeme Sleeman contends that, in the case of Father Searson, the actions of the Church go well beyond maladministration.

For 13 years after Father Searson arrived as parish priest in Doveton parents, teachers and children reported that he was a child abuser.

Pedophile Priest Father Victor Rubeo (C) abused both Paul Hersbach (L) and his father Tony.

Pedophile Priest Father Victor Rubeo (C) abused both Paul Hersbach (L) and his father Tony.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: You could almost call it a fetish that he had about g- having children go to confession to him. And they’d have to sit by him and kneel at him, and they were the complaints that children c- brought to me about him and his behaviour.

This particular day he had confession and this young girl came screaming out of the church. And she was brought to me by her teacher and she was inconsolable. And she had been interfered with by Searson in the confessional.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In 1986, four years after his appointment as principal, Graeme Sleeman resigned to draw attention to what was happening.

But his letter of resignation, he says, was censored by a church official in the Catholic Education Office.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: I alleged that he had interfered with young girls at the school and he had, ah, stolen money and that he, ah, terrorised young boys.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: And were you asked to take that out of your resignation letter?

GRAEME SLEEMAN: I was ask- he said I could not say that. I didn’t have the proof.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In Doveton, Graeme Sleeman’s departure caused uproar, with parents at the school demanding that Father Searson be dismissed. But no action was taken against him by the Church and Searson himself remained unmoved.

“I have not been approached by either parents or teachers concerning any allegations. There is absolutely no truth or substance to them,” he insisted. “I’d take an oath on that to anyone.”

From then on, it was all downhill for Graeme Sleeman and his wife Jenny, who also resigned from her job as a teacher at the school.

To this day, neither of them have ever been given another job in Catholic education.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: Oh, we took a massive, uh, financial, uh, beating over all this. We lost everything and the only thing I’ve got left is, is my wife and my children.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: And your integrity?

GRAEME SLEEMAN: I hope I’ve got my integrity. I hope I have that and that’s the thing that’s, that’s, I’ve been able – hopefully able to maintain.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: So, Carmel, um, we’re coming up to the school here on the right. How does it feel to be coming back after all those years?

CARMEL RAFFERTY, FMR TEACHER, HOLY FAMILY SCHOOL, DOVETON: Bit emotional, but you people are telling the story.

Pedophile Priest Father Wilfred Baker

Pedophile Priest Father Wilfred Baker

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: It really was a-a-a very traumatic experience for you, wasn’t it?

CARMEL RAFFERTY: Yeah, most definitely. It coloured my life ever since.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: One year after Graeme Sleeman left Holy Family School, Carmel Rafferty arrived to take up a teaching post.

From the start, she too was concerned about Father Searson. Teachers told her that the children needed protection from him. And then she heard it from the children themselves.

CARMEL RAFFERTY: They were very loud and voluble, very upset. And they wanted protection from the priest. And I said, “What is your concern?”

“We don’t want to serve on the altar.” So I asked them why they didn’t- what was the worst that could happen if they did s- serve on the altar? And they said, “It’s because of the way he touches us.”

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In 1990 Bishop Pell, who had met a deputation of concerned teachers the year before, went to Doveton to consecrate Father Searson’s new church.

“Our aim is to bring people back to God,” Father Searson announced.

Later, the teachers became so desperate that they sent a second deputation to Bishop Pell.

CARMEL RAFFERTY: And it came to a head when the priest was going into the boys’ toilets several times a day. And we more or less said, “That’s it.” And the principal authorised the three Year 5/6 teachers to go in a deputation to Pell at the time.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: The teachers asked Bishop Pell to remove Father Searson – but it didn’t happen.

Cardinal Pell defended his actions when he was challenged about this at last year’s Victorian inquiry.

(Footage of Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations, 27 May 2013)

GEORGE PELL: I met with at least two, on two occasions with groups of teachers from, er, Searson’s school. So I certainly didn’t do nothing; I certainly did.

I was sent back to Searson to tell him to… follow the protocols correctly, because people were saying he was, er, misbehaving. Now, he was furious at that. He denied e-everything and, er, anything.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Bishop Pell’s instruction to Father Searson to follow the protocols correctly cut no ice with the priest. Not long afterwards, Carmel Rafferty heard a pupil’s disclosure in a sex education class.

CARMEL RAFFERTY: He rolled himself in a ball, sort of hide himself, and he’s saying, “Oh no. Oh, no. Father’s Searson’s got a big penis.” So we were very concerned.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: After fruitlessly trying to get the Church to act, Carmel Rafferty resigned in 1993. It would take the Church another four years to act.

In 1997, after the victim who had run screaming from the confessional came forward with her story, Father Searson was finally suspended as a parish priest by the new Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell.

When Archbishop Pell set up the Melbourne Response, he appointed Peter O’Callaghan QC as independent commissioner to investigate victims’ claims and decide if they were justified.

In 1997 he asked Mr O’Callaghan to investigate the Doveton scandal. Graeme Sleeman became a key witness.

Over several years, Mr O’Callaghan made regular, unconditional payments to Graeme Sleeman, amounting in all to $90,000. Mr O’Callaghan says the payments came out of his own pocket and he did this out of compassion for Mr Sleeman.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: And I contacted Mr O’Callaghan and said, “How do we survive?” And he said, “Well, I’ll support you.” And he then sent once a month equivalent to my weekly pay, which about a- a- a monthly’s payment was about $2,000.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In October 2005 Graeme Sleeman received a settlement payment from the Church of $150,000, forwarded to him by the Church’s lawyers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, but a condition of this payment was that he remain silent.

(To Graeme Sleeman) Was that money hush money?

GRAEME SLEEMAN: Well, I believe that it had to have been. Why else would they have done it? They did nothing to help me in the past and then all of a sudden, out of the blue, they come to it.

I believe now in strong reflection that it was, I was paid that sort of money to remain silent. My interpretation of the deed of release was: if I accepted the $150,000 I could neither say what I received and what took place for me to receive that. So all the information I had about Doveton and so forth and so on was to remain confidential.

(Footage of Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations, 27 May 2013)

FRANK McGUIRE: Just from your evidence, your… can you understand how victims regard what happened during this period as: there was really “hear no evil, see no evil, say nothing about evil from the Church?”

GEORGE PELL: I think, sir, that’s, er, an objectionable suggestion with no foundation in the truth. And I’ve, er… as I… No conviction was recorded for Searson on sexual misbehaviour. There might be victims.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: But tonight Four Corners can reveal that, in an internal Church hearing, the priest was found guilty of child sexual abuse.

This confidential draft report by Peter O’Callaghan, shown tonight for the first time, reveals that even before he went to Doveton Father Searson “achieved a regrettable record of suspected sexual abuse of children and considerable financial misappropriations.”

Mr O’Callaghan records that, in an internal hearing in 1997, he made a finding that “the parish priest had been guilty of sexual abuse.”

But astonishingly, Father Searson “successfully appealed to the Congregation in Rome”, which held that Mr O’Callaghan “did not have appropriate jurisdiction or procedure” to make the findings he did against Father Searson.

CARMEL RAFFERTY: The priest had rung Rome and spoken to a canon lawyer and claimed that he didn’t have to leave.

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: There is now a third whistleblower who has come forward to reveal what went on inside the Archdiocese when the Doveton scandal was unfolding.

Helen Last was director of the Church’s Pastoral Response Office, answering to vicar general Denis Hart, now Archbishop of Melbourne, when she was contacted in 1997 by worried parishioners from Doveton.

HELEN LAST, FMR DIRECTOR, PASTORAL RESPONSE OFFICE: One of the major things that they were grappling with was: how could our Church have known that this priest was a paedophile – Father Searson and others before him – and not done anything to help us?

I decided in all conscience that I would go and spend the day with them. But I had been told in a phone message prior to going, by vicar general Hart, that I needn’t pay any attention to Doveton; I needn’t respond. I also received a letter from him that I recall instructing me not to go.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: She also received a letter from Archbishop Pell telling her that “the situation at Doveton was under control” and that “there remains no need for any pro-active measures by your office.”

Helen Last disobeyed Archbishop Pell’s instructions and went to Doveton. One month later, she was out of a job.

The day she spent there was an emotional one.

HELEN LAST: I spent the day with these people who cried, who raged, who shook their fists, who held each other and who were utterly lost in the situation and wanted me to point them towards a way of doing something about what had been visited upon them.

FRANCIS SULLIVAN: Well, Doveton, like every other community, every other Catholic parish or school community, deserves to see the Church today make atonement for the past.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: The sins of the fathers have lasting consequences for victims and their families, but the Church itself has often failed to recognise this.

Dangerous Pedophile Priest Father Peter Searson

Dangerous Pedophile Priest Father Peter Searson

In 1999 Katie Foster, who had been drinking, was hit by a car and remains profoundly disabled. In 2008 Emma Foster took her own life.

But when Father Searson died, 15 priests and a bishop from the Melbourne Archdiocese gathered to pay their respects.

These photos were taken by Chrissie and Anthony Foster. They want the Church to let us see the whole picture.

ANTHONY FOSTER: The Royal Commission here, to do its job properly, needs all the documents associated with all the sexual assault complaints and all the priests that have carried those out in Australia that it knows of.

We need all the documents to ensure that we see the whole picture. And of course, the Catholic Church does not want us to see the whole picture. That’s the problem.

KERRY O’BRIEN: I guess we can have some sense of what a victim loses after the kind of abuse we’ve now heard such a great deal about.

I wonder how the Church measures what it’s lost or, indeed, thrown away?

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Dennis Hart, David Curtin QC and Peter O’Callaghan QC all declined to be interviewed by Four Corners because, they said, they will soon be appearing at the Royal Commission hearings in Melbourne. Cardinal Pell has also declined to be interviewed.

Next week on Four Corners, the battle over the Great Barrier Reef: testing claims by scientists, tourism operators and environmentalists that the reef is at risk, as UNESCO considers whether to place it on the World Heritage Endanger List.

Until then, good night.


Secret Catholic Church report found parish priest Peter Searson was guilty of child sex abuse, despite no charges ever being laid against him

Secret Catholic Church report found parish priest Peter Searson was guilty of child sex abuse, despite no charges ever being laid against him

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell


A secret Catholic Church report concluded a parish priest was guilty of child sexual abuse, despite no charges ever being laid against him.

The internal report of a confidential 1997 investigation into Father Peter Searson, of the outer-Melbourne parish of Doveton, made a finding that “the parish priest had been guilty of sexual abuse”, Four Corners has revealed.

In his evidence to last year’s Victorian inquiry into child sexual abuse, Cardinal George Pell rejected suggestions of a cover-up of Father Searson’s crimes, stating: “No conviction was recorded for Searson on sexual misbehaviour. There might be victims. He was convicted for cruelty. But speaking more generally, I totally reject the suggestion.”

Cardinal Pell made no reference to the inquiry about the internal hearing into Father Searson which had taken place in 1997, or the finding that the parish priest had sexually abused two girls.

Cardinal Pell was regional bishop in the early 1990s when allegations were being made about Father Searson in Doveton.

He told the Victorian inquiry that, at the time, “I certainly did not do nothing; I certainly did. I was sent back to Searson to tell him to follow the protocols correctly, because people were saying he was misbehaving. He was furious at that … He denied everything and anything.”

Father Searson was eventually removed from the Doveton Parish and charged by police for the physical assault of a young boy attending the Holy Family School. He received a suspended sentence.

Father Searson died in 2009.

He was the last of four paedophile priests who had headed the Doveton Parish for an unbroken span of 25 years from 1972 to 1997.

The others were Father Thomas O’Keefe, Father Wilfred Baker, and Father Victor Rubeo.

Their criminal acts over a quarter of a century damaged the lives of countless young children in the Doveton area, and other parishes in which they worked.

Father O’Keefe died in the 1980s, but the church has since apologised to some of his child victims.

Father Rubeo died in December 2011, the day he was due to front a Melbourne court on 30 child sex abuse charges, while Father Baker died in February this year, days before his trial over the sexual abuse of eight boys.

Dangerous Pedophile Priest Father Peter Searson

Dangerous Pedophile Priest Father Peter Searson

The revelation the Church knew about Father Searson’s crimes is contained in the secret report written by the church’s Independent Commissioner into Sexual Abuse, Peter O’Callaghan QC.

Mr O’Callaghan was appointed in 1997 by George Pell, the then-Archbishop of Melbourne, to investigate the allegations from teachers, parents and others, surfacing about the priest.

Archbishop Pell “urged people not to rush to judgement” and said it was “essential to keep an open mind”.

However, the Melbourne Archdiocese has never released the results of Mr O’Callaghan’s inquiries.

Mr O’Callaghan’s confidential report says that, even before he was appointed parish priest in Doveton in 1984, Father Searson had “achieved a regrettable record of suspected sexual abuse of children, and considerable financial misappropriations”.

This record stretches back to other parishes over several decades.

The report records the many complaints that were made by teachers at Holy Family School, in Doveton, to the Catholic Education Office, about the priest’s activities.

Two of those teachers, the former school principal Graeme Sleeman and another former teacher, Carmel Rafferty, were interviewed on Monday night’s Four Corners program.

Mr O’Callaghan writes in his report that in May 1993, the Director of Education wrote to the Vicar General at the Melbourne Archdiocese, expressing concerns about the safety of the pupils in the school, and the “apparent vulnerability of the Archbishop and the Archdiocese in such matters and advised that legal advice had been sought”.

Father Searson was placed on administrative leave and not sacked by the church when the assault charges were laid.

Mr O’Callaghan’s secret report reveals that Father Searson had “successfully appealed to the Congregation in Rome, which held that the Commission did not have appropriate jurisdiction or procedure to make the findings”.

“Notwithstanding, the Parish Priest remains a retired Priest with no permission to exercise any priestly faculties,” the report said.