Pell’s claim he was deceived ‘is wrong’
27 APR 2016 – 6:30PM
From the Link: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/04/27/pells-claim-he-was-deceived-wrong
A hearing into abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne winds up with former education officers expressing anger at Cardinal Pell’s allegations of deceit.
Three former Catholic education officers have denied Cardinal George Pell’s claims their office deceived him about the activities of a violent and sexually abusive priest.
Former Catholic Education Office director Monsignor Thomas Doyle and his deputy Peter Annett told the sex abuse royal commission of their shock, disappointment and anger on hearing Dr Pell allege the office withheld information about pedophile priest Peter Searson in the 1980s.
Cardinal Pell, an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne in the ’80s, told the royal commission in March education officials were fearful of telling him the full story about Searson because they knew he would be “decisive” and not accept the status quo.
In giving his evidence from Rome where he is now the Vatican’s finance chief, Dr Pell also said he thought the education office at the time was protecting Archbishop Frank Little.
But Mgr Doyle and other witnesses categorically denied this was the case.
“I don’t agree with that evidence. I don’t agree that the Catholic Education Office intended to deceive Bishop Pell, so I thought his statement was wrong,” the Monsignor told the commission on Wednesday.
He was disappointed with the Cardinal’s claims.
“I don’t think they were true,” he said.
The now retired priest also said the office would have welcomed then Bishop Pell’s assistance in removing Searson.
The commission has heard evidence Searson threatened one little girl by holding a knife to her chest, sexually molested children in confession and threatened people with a gun.
Searson died in 2009 without being charged.
He was suspended from duty in 1997, a year after Dr Pell became Archbishop of Melbourne.
The commission has also heard that Archbishop Little ignored repeated requests to remove Searson.
Mr Annett said on Wednesday at one stage in the late ’80s the number one priority for the office was to get Searson removed from the parish.
“I would have thought our staff would be completely frank with Bishop Pell and be cheering from the rooftops if he was able to take action,” he said.
He said he had to admit to “some shock” at what Dr Pell said in Rome.
“I was disappointed and perhaps angry, but certainly very disappointed,” Mr Annett said.
Mr Annett, Mgr Doyle and former education consultant Allan Dooley said there was never any instruction to keep information from then auxiliary bishop Pell.
A fourth witness, former education official Catherine Briant who in 1989 took over as zone officer with responsibility for Doveton from Mr Dooley, said she was not briefed on problems at the Holy Family school.
She dealt with complaints he was bullying and harassing staff. She had no dealing with Bishop Pell, nor was she ever instructed to keep information from him, she said.
The hearing into widespread clerical abuse in Melbourne, which started last November, concluded on Wednesday.
Sex abuse royal commission: People intimidated by priest who pointed a gun at student
By Parthena Stavropoulos
From the Link: Sex abuse royal commission: People intimidated by priest who pointed a gun at student
A former director of Catholic Education at the Archdiocese of Melbourne has been questioned over why he did not take action against a parish priest who pointed a gun at students.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse heard more evidence about Father Peter Searson, when he was parish priest at a Doveton school in the 1980’s.
On Tuesday, a former principal of Holy Family Primary School told the hearing Father Searson once terrified year 12 students when he pointed a gun at them.
The students, from the local secondary school, were working as cleaners at the Doveton school.
Monsignor Thomas Doyle, the former director of Catholic Education at the Archdiocese of Melbourne, admitted to being alarmed about the accusations, but did little about them.
The hearing was told that a letter of complaint was sent to the then-archbishop, Frank Little, about the incident.
The letter said people would not come forward because they were intimidated by Father Searson and were worried it could happen again.
Monsignor Doyle said he would have gone to the archbishop but there was no response to the letter of complaint.
Justice Peter McClellan questioned him closely over the incident.
“You’ve got reports of extraordinary behaviour, an archbishop who’s not responding and you didn’t go to the regional bishop?” Justice McClellan asked.
“I would have thought it no use to go to the regional bishop,” Monsignor Doyle said.
“If I couldn’t convince the archbishop then I don’t think the regional bishop could’ve either.”
“So you didn’t even try?” Justice McClellan said.
“Not that I remember,” Monsignor Doyle said.
He said he was aware police carried out a search warrant to find the gun after a number of complaints.
Father Searson eventually handed it to police several years later during a gun amnesty.
The former school principal, Graeme Sleeman, told the commission on Tuesday that he had confronted Father Searson about the incident.
Father Searson replied he was licensed to carry a gun and Mr Sleeman was told not to question him.
He said Father Searson told him “you can’t be too careful”.
Child abuse royal commission: Melbourne Archbishop defends George Pell, but admits bishops ‘did not do enough’ to remove abusive priests
Child abuse royal commission: Melbourne Archbishop defends George Pell, but admits bishops ‘did not do enough’ to remove abusive priests
By Danny Morgan
From the Link: Child abuse royal commission: Melbourne Archbishop defends George Pell, but admits bishops ‘did not do enough’ to remove abusive priests
The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne has defended his predecessor, Cardinal George Pell, against allegations he did not properly follow up child sexual abuse complaints against priests.
Denis Hart has told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that during the 1980s and early 1990s senior bishops did not do enough to convince Archbishop Frank Little to remove priests who were molesting children.
Archbishop Hart said it was a complete failure of process on the part of the bishops.
“So that includes Archbishop, now Cardinal, Pell?” he was asked by counsel assisting, Gail Furness SC.
Archbishop Hart replied: “I would exclude him.”
The commission had earlier heard Cardinal Pell, as an auxiliary bishop based in Melbourne in 1989, received complaints about paedophile priest Peter Searson.
Archbishop Hart was questioned on whether Cardinal Pell had done enough to follow them up.
“It’s the case isn’t it that the Auxiliary Bishop was part of a complete failure of process?” Ms Furness asked.
Archbishop Hart said: “He’d have to explain what he did and didn’t know.”
At one point the Archbishop was challenged on why he had not referred to a series of documents relating to Cardinal Pell’s conduct in his statement to the commission.
Ms Furness: Why aren’t they referred to in your statement?
Archbishop Hart: I’d say that’s just an omission, that’s all.
Ms Furness: A deliberate one?
Archbishop Hart: No
Ms Furness: Inadvertent?
Archbishop Hart: Inadvertent yes.
More women within church ‘might have prevented damage’
During his evidence, Archbishop Hart acknowledged having more women in senior positions within the church might have prevented the damaged caused by paedophile priests.
The commission was told just two of the 31 Catholic archdiocese in Australia have women in senior administrative positions.
Archbishop Hart said while the numbers were low, the advice of women was increasing sought by senior church officials.
“The movement may be glacial, but it is movement,” he told the hearing.
The Archbishop also acknowledged criticism the Vatican tried to minimise the risk of scandal to the church by initiating a lengthy and complicated process to remove people from the priesthood.
“I would certainly respect that criticism. I know that the people I have been in contact with don’t have that view, but I think it’s a valid criticism,” Archbishop Hart said.
“I would hope that replies from Rome would come more quickly because you’ve got a situation where you’ve stood a priest aside, there is a whole important question of protection of people, and you don’t like to leave it in suspended animation.”
Cardinal Pell is due to give evidence before the commission in mid-December.
Child abuse royal commission: Archbishop Denis Hart admits he was aware of complaints against abusive priest
Child abuse royal commission: Archbishop Denis Hart admits he was aware of complaints against abusive priest
By Danny Morgan
From the Link: Child abuse royal commission: Archbishop Denis Hart admits he was aware of complaints against abusive priest
The Archbishop of Melbourne has admitted he should have done more to remove a violent priest who was alleged to have sexually abused children.
In 1996 Denis Hart received a complaint that Father Peter Searson, a parish priest, had hit a boy in the head.
Archbishop Hart told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that at the time, he would have checked Searson’s file and been aware of a long list of other complaints, including child sexual abuse.
However, he let Searson remain as parish priest in charge of a local primary school for another four months, only restricting his contact with altar boys.
Archbishop Hart told the hearing that in hindsight, more should have been done at the time.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan: You would have realised from the file it wasn’t just that group that was in danger, it was everyone?
Archbishop Denis Hart: I’d have to say that now, your honour, yes.
Justice McClellan: You didn’t realise that then?
Archbishop Hart: Well, I was relying very much on proper advice because there were a number of matters coming across the desk and I think I did what I thought at the time. On reflection, of course I’d have to say more should have been done.
The commission has previously heard that the Melbourne Archdiocese lied about the reasons behind the resignation of some paedophile priests in order to protect its reputation and avoid scandal.
In 1993, a group of senior bishops including Archbishop Frank Little allowed Father Narazeno Fasciale to resign for health reasons, despite knowing the real reason was an admission he had molested children.
In 1996 the Church put out a statement denying it had ever covered-up paedophilia.
Counsel assisting Gail Furness: That’s just a lie in relation to Fasciale, isn’t it?
Archbishop Hart: Well, I think that the facts of what was done and weren’t done put the lie to that sentence.
Ms Furness: And this is 1996. That’s appalling Archbishop, isn’t it?
Archbishop Hart: I think it’s indicative of the mentality.
The commission confirmed Rome-based Cardinal George Pell will give evidence to the hearing on December 16.
It is expected he will be questioned for up to three days on his response to child sexual abuse in his time as Archbishop of Melbourne and earlier in his career in Ballarat.
Pope’s commissioner for child protection says Cardinal Pell is a ‘dangerous individual’ and ‘almost sociopathic’
Pope’s commissioner for child protection says Cardinal Pell is a ‘dangerous individual’ and ‘almost sociopathic’
- June 1, 2015
Tony Abbott defends Cardinal Pell’s role in church handling of abuse
- November 14, 2013
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended Cardinal George Pell’s role in the Catholic Church’s handling of child sex abuse cases, saying he deserved credit for being the first senior churchman to act.
Interviewed on Fairfax radio on Thursday following the release of a Victorian parliamentary report into institutional sex abuse, Mr Abbott said the church hadn’t handled the issue well, but defended Cardinal Pell.
“The only thing I’d say … is that my understanding is that the first senior cleric who took this issue very seriously was in fact Cardinal Pell,” he said.
Mr Abbott said it was well known that he had a lot of time for Cardinal Pell.
“Does that mean that he is perfect? No. Does that mean that he doesn’t bear some responsibility for the errors of the church? Of course not,” he said.
But he said Cardinal Pell was “a fine human being and a great churchman”.
Mr Abbott had not read the Victorian government’s report on clergy child sex abuse, but said that in the past the issue “wasn’t handled well” by the Catholic Church and had to be taken seriously.
“Of course, all of the institutions which have in the past – and maybe even still – not handled this thing well need to lift their game, and obviously anyone who has committed the hideous breach of trust involved in child abuse needs to be brought to justice,” he said.
He added: “I suspect that it wasn’t just the church that didn’t handle these things well.
“A generation ago, there was this general view in our community that certain things just didn’t happen. We all know now that they did happen. It was hideous, it was gruesome. It cost some people their lives. It cost some people their sanity.”
The 800-page parliamentary report said Cardinal Pell’s evidence revealed “a reluctance to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the Catholic Church’s institutional failure to respond appropriately to allegations of criminal child abuse”.
It was scathing of the Catholic Church’s leadership prior to the 1990s, giving specific examples in which former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns and former Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little moved known sexual offenders between parishes without reporting them to police.
Mr Abbott said the issue could have, and should have, been handled better, but he didn’t know about cover-ups.
“I just don’t know for a personal fact what was done,” he said. “I absolutely know that it wasn’t handled well.”
His comments came as the Catholic Church said it was prepared to fund an unlimited national compensation scheme for child sexual abuse victims.
The church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council – a national mouthpiece established after the royal commission was announced – issued a statement saying that it would ask the attorneys-general of the federal, state and territory governments to begin working on the scheme.
The Victorian parliamentary report recommended an independent redress scheme run by the government but paid for by non-government organisations to replace the Catholic Church’s internal systems for dealing with victims – called Melbourne Response, and its national equivalent Towards Healing – which victims criticised throughout the inquiry as lacking transparency.
The Catholic council chief executive Francis Sullivan said governments should consider extending the state inquiry’s proposed scheme nationally, and that it should have consistent investigative powers and payments.
“A national compensation scheme, funded by the church and other organisations, and with no caps on payments, is an important first step in taking away from institutions such as the Catholic Church the role of investigating complaints and determining compensation for victims,” he said.
This departs from the church’s traditional position to argue that its internal processes were proof that its approach to abuse had improved over time.
The Catholic Church’s Melbourne Response scheme currently places a $75,000 cap on victims’ compensation claims in Victoria, while its national equivalent, Towards Healing, is unlimited.
In Good Faith & Associates director Helen Last has said that the church had settled thousands of claims outside of Melbourne Response, in an attempt to silence them.
Mr Francis said the state inquiry’s recommendation, coupled with the royal commission’s potential to do the same, should be enough for governments to consider a national approach to child sexual abuse and child protection.
He said: “We will also call on all governments to start working towards a national approach to uniform police reporting requirements and statutory complaint-handling processes.”
The price of battling paedophilia
September 17, 2012
Former teacher Graeme Sleeman lost his career, health and financial security when he took a stand against a sexually abusive priest in Doveton.
GRAEME Sleeman knew Peter Searson was trouble even before Searson arrived as parish priest of Doveton in 1984. Searson liked to dress in military fatigues, often carried a revolver, and had a bad reputation when it came to money – and sexually abusing children.
The two locked horns immediately when Sleeman, principal of the Holy Family school, told the priest he knew of his reputation and would be watching him, and Searson replied that as priest he was the boss. Their main battleground was bizarre: the sacred Catholic sacrament of confession, where Searson could get the children alone and unsupervised.
“I was concerned about his addiction to confession,” Sleema n recalls.
“Sometimes he would get children to sit on his lap, or kneel between his legs.” Later he would help a church investigation into two sexual assaults during confession.
Sleeman was a respected educator and a devout Catholic. The latter cost him his career, his health and economic security for his family, as he sought to protect the children under his charge from a predatory priest while also trying to protect the good name of the church.
When Sleeman resigned as principal in 1986 in a vain bid to force the church and Catholic Education Office (CEO) to act against Searson, he was besieged by media wanting to know about the priest’s behaviour. But he stayed silent, even in later job interviews, when his refusal to explain his departure worked against him.
Now, after 25 years, Graeme Sleeman, 63, is breaking his silence. Previously he feared a backlash against his family, and that he would not be believed. Now living in Queensland, he has decided to talk because ”the climate is right”.
He is still angry that despite repeated pleas to the church hierarchy, including to then archbishop Frank Little, and to the CEO to remove Searson – even providing proof he had stolen $40,000 from school funds – nothing was done.
Sleeman says when the CEO asked Searson about the money, the priest said it was ”a mistake” and he would repay it, though he never did.
Sleeman is also angry that he had to carry out this fight alone, with no support or counselling from the CEO.
Carmel Rafferty, a later teacher at Holy Family who stood against Searson, felt similarly abandoned.
”I felt bullied, abused, traumatised, humiliated and isolated by the principal and CEO staff,” she says.
Worse still, Searson was the last in a line of six sexual abusers – some violent – who arrived in Doveton parish after it was created in 1962: the first four were parish priests at the Holy Family church, plus an assistant and a locum – a remarkable misfortune for a parish regarded as one of the most disadvantaged in Melbourne.
Sleeman, a big man who played semi-professional football, started as a Salesian novitiate at the Rupertswood school in Sunbury, where several serial abusers were based.
He left the order but later, feeling he had unfinished business with the church, became a seminarian, lasting only nine months because he didn’t “fit the tea party conception” of priesthood and was uneasy about the homosexual activity of other seminarians there.
He became a bush footballer and principal at St Mary’s in Sale. He arrived at Doveton in 1982, parachuted in by the CEO as a trouble shooter “because the Presentation nuns had walked out that morning after upheavals with the parish priest”.
Sleeman didn’t know that the priest, Victor Rubeo, was a serial abuser of boys and girls, but was aware Rubeo had affairs with women. Sleeman had a key to the priest’s home, and once caught him in flagrante.
One day in 1984, Rubeo approached Sleeman “absolutely beside himself, in tears, in trouble with one of his women”. Sleeman arranged for the priest to take sick leave, and helped him do a midnight flit to Malvern. Another abuser, Father Regis Smith – a female victim of whom was later paid out by the church – became interim priest at Doveton.
”I made a number of visits to [Archbishop] Frank Little and [Vicar-General] Peter Connors, asking them to send a pastorally minded priest,” Sleeman says. ”They appointed Peter Searson. I was on a fishing trip and saw it in The Advocate [a Catholic newspaper] and nearly had a heart attack.”
From the start, Sleeman made sure at least one teacher was in the church when Searson took children for confession. He did not know what Searson later conceded to a reporter, that the priest arrived from Sunbury banned from being alone with children in the confessional.
One day a teacher brought him a nine-year-old girl who had rushed sobbing from the confessional. More than a decade later, she received compensation from the archdiocese for a serious sexual assault. Another pupil, also later compensated, told her mother Searson had interfered with her. Carmel Rafferty says police told her Searson was brilliant at persuading parents not to make formal complaints.
Sleeman says the education office cover-up began with making teachers doubt what they were told – “what have you really seen, what evidence have you got?” “But they also kept telling us to report incidents. So we became the policeman, and they would go to the priest and say ‘we’ve had another complaint’, so the perpetrator was always getting a heads up,” Sleeman says.
At one point, he found that Searson had a 14-year-old Indian girl living with him alone in the Holy Family presbytery because of her family problems. Sleeman warned him but Searson ignored it, so Sleeman told the CEO who ”counselled” Searson. Nothing changed.
“Searson got great strength because he got away with it, and he upped the ante about taking kids to the confessional. So we put in place a whole lot of things to guard against him,” Sleeman says. ”There were always at least two staff inside the church, and we put in place a timetable for confession, but he ignored it. If he saw my car wasn’t there he’d rush over to the school and grab a group [of children].”
Despite this, Holy Family was thriving. It was a finalist in Victorian school awards, and educators came from around the country and overseas to study Sleeman’s ideas.
In the end, becoming increasingly volatile himself – on one occasion he threatened to “rearrange” Searson’s face – Sleeman decided he would have to resign. He thought it would create such waves that the church and CEO would have to act. Parents were up in arms and demanded Searson’s removal. But Searson stayed and, apart from a short stint coaching football in Chadstone, Sleeman never worked in Catholic education again. “I was suicidal. I was treated like I had leprosy.”
He went to interview after interview, in Victoria and Queensland, and things would go well until he was asked why he left Doveton. He would just say “personal reasons”, as advised by the education office. After he noticed a paper on a desk at an interview, he became convinced that the CEO was undermining him, telling schools “he’s a great educator and works harder than anyone, but you’ll never be able to control him”.
The Sleemans bought a general store in Longford, then Graeme got a job driving horse semi-trailers, but his physical and mental health declined. In 1998 he had a breakdown, and was referred to Melbourne’s Independent Commissioner into Sex Abuse, Peter O’Callaghan, QC.
For several years, O’Callaghan paid expenses and “wages” totalling $90,000 for both Sleeman and his wife out of his own pocket and without the approval of the Melbourne archdiocese.
He did this until the church finally paid Sleeman $150,000, a sum Sleeman says was not even close to what he had lost in income, superannuation and lost opportunities. “My family was totally dislocated, and we didn’t know where the next meal was coming from,” he says.
Carmel Rafferty joined Holy Family school the year after Graeme Sleeman left. But she wasn’t forced into the front line until she started teaching grades 5 and 6 in 1992.
“I lost my job over it, and during the process I couldn’t make children safe.”
She says the school’s staff had a good idea of what was going on with Searson. Altar boys didn’t want to serve; asked why, they said “because of the way he touches us”. One boy became upset during a sex education class when a teacher mentioned erections – he began rolling on the floor saying, ”Oh no, Father’s got a big penis”.
In 1991, concerned at the way Searson was loitering around the boys’ toilets, the staff sent a deputation of three teachers to the regional bishop, George Pell, now Archbishop of Sydney. Nothing was done.
Rafferty says that over time many people approached her about Searson: children seeking safety, different concerned parents, a police liaison officer who wanted her to ask Vicar General Gerald Cudmore to remove Searson (she did, in vain), and a worker at Doveton Hallam Health Centre after an incident in which Searson picked up a girl in his car.
Her relationship with Searson deteriorated. The CEO wanted to be told about Searson, but would tell her, ”Don’t say anything, it’s being handled”. Instead, she says, she was pressured out of her teaching career and livelihood. She resigned in 1993.
”This has wrecked my life, basically.” She had to move house because she couldn’t pay the mortgage, and spent six years working in a call centre. ”I felt my soul was dying.”
For 13 years she sought compensation for wrongful dismissal, and was finally given a compensation for ”hardship and distress”.
Searson’s reign finally ended in 1997 when he was charged with the physical (not sexual) assault of two altar boys and stood down.
The Age put several questions to the Catholic Archdiocese and CEO about why they did not act against Searson despite receiving complaint after complaint.
Independent Commissioner Peter O’Callaghan noted in 2004 how surprised he was that Searson was left so long as a parish priest, “producing ill will, frustration and concern to school and parish staff, fellow priests and parishioners”.
A spokesman for the archdiocese replied that Searson was an eccentric and difficult person, but until a formal complaint in 1997 there was no evidence on which the church could act.
“Searson’s conduct was examined from time to time, but nothing firm could be established under the processes that were then in place.”
Searson was warned about behavioural issues, but the church did not know of his sexual misconduct.
The archdiocese says it would have acted had it known about the Indian girl living with Searson, and when it found out about his gun it demanded he surrender it to police.
Similarly, the CEO says it would have acted had it known about the stolen $40,000.
Sleeman says that given he informed authorities about both episodes, he finds this ignorance hard to explain.
Sleeman, like many victims, suspects that the archdiocese did not find evidence because it was disinclined to look too hard. At the least, they knew he was not the pastorally sensitive priest Holy Family needed.
Similarly, the CEO says it gave “regular and considerable support” to Sleeman, but did not identify a single example. Nor could Sleeman.
Both Graeme Sleeman and Carmel Rafferty plan to make submissions to the inquiry into the church’s handling of sex abuse now being conducted by a parliamentary committee. Submissions close on September 21.
How these church victims defeated a cover-up, with help from Broken Rites
Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related sex-abuse, including victims of Father Desmond Gannon.
By a Broken Rites researcher
Since 1993, Broken Rites has been researching the story of prominent Melbourne Catholic priest Father Desmond Gannon. who has been sentenced five times (in 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2009) for sexual crimes against children.
When Broken Rites launched its Australia-wide telephone hotline in 1993, we began hearing from men who were former altar boys of Father Des Gannon. Gradually, one by one, some of these callers then exercised their right to obtain justice.
The Gannon story has two lessons for all church-abuse victims:-
- The Gannon story demonstrates how specialist police officers, from the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (SOCA) unit, can help victims to obtain justice. Gannon had molested boys from the time he was ordained in 1956 but the church culture managed to cover up his crimes. Finally, in 1993-94, some of his victims contacted the SOCA police (instead of the church) and this shattered the cover-up.
- The Gannon story also demonstrates how the media can help victims. The news of Gannon’s first court appearance, in 1995, showed other Gannon victims (and also victims of other clergy) that they could safely end their silence, while still maintaining their privacy. This led to Gannon’s second, third, fourth and fifth court appearances. The media coverage helped to promote public awareness about the importance of child protection.
Gannon was jailed in 1995 (spending 12 months in jail) and again in 2009 (when he was jailed for a minimum of 14 months).
Broken Rites research
Desmond Laurence Gannon was born on 27 August 1929. His father worked in the Melbourne tramways. Des Gannon completed Year 11 at school and then worked in the Commonwealth Bank for three years. He entered the Melbourne seminary at age 21, slightly older than average in those days.
Gannon was ordained on 22 June 1956. By searching through the annual Australian Catholic directories, Broken Rites has ascertained that Fr Des Gannon ministered in the following Melbourne parishes: Glenhuntly 1957-62, Alphington 1962-65, Braybrook 1965-66, Ashburton 1966-67, St Kilda East 1968, Kilmore 1968-71, Braybrook again 1971-79 and Macleod-Rosanna 1980-93.
How the Gannon case began
Broken Rites researchers, who were present throughout Gannon’s court proceedings, have compiled the following summary.
Before 1993, victims of church sexual abuse would often either remain silent or, perhaps, merely tell the church, rather than the police. But by 1993-94, victims increasingly contacted the SOCA police, instead of the church.
In 1993 and early 1994, four men (from different parishes and acting separately) notified the SOCA unit about having been molested by Father Desmond Gannon when they were boys. After the victims had been interviewed by the SOCA unit, an investigation was conducted in the Caulfield criminal investigation unit (by Detective Senior Constable Rick Pennington). The detectives interviewed Gannon, who said he wanted to talk to a lawyer before addressing the allegations.
One of these complainants (“Peter“, who was aged 48 in 1993), was seeing a private counsellor about Gannon-related issues. Peter, who was acquainted with senior clerics of the Melbourne archdiocese, asked the archdiocese in 1993 to pay the counselling fees.
The archdiocese, aware that the Gannon issue could escalate, agreed to begin paying the counsellor. Furthermore, fearing public exposure, the archdiocese arranged for Gannon to go “on leave” from his Macleod-Rosanna parish. The parishioners were not told the reason why Father Des was leaving — they were told (falsely) that he was leaving for “health” reasons.
In early 1994, the police summoned Gannon to court to answer charges of indecent assault.
Gannon’s first court case
Judging from their earlier interview with Gannon, the police expected that the church lawyers would fight the Gannon charges, with a “not guilty” plea, which would necessitate a long court hearing, perhaps over several days. The case was listed for a “mention” on 4 April 1995 (a mention day is usually a day when the prosecution and the defence agree on a subsequent date for a full hearing). But when the case was called for mention at 10.00am on April 4, Gannon’s lawyers asked for an immediately hearing (that morning), saying that Gannon would plead guilty. A guilty plea means that the matter can be disposed of in one morning, without the need to examine witnesses and (the church hoped) without publicity.
Until April 4, the church lawyers had good reason to expect that the case might slip right through the court system on that very day, unnoticed by the media. The case was being heard not in the prominent Melbourne Magistrates Court, where journalists congregated, but in a low-profile suburban court at Prahran, 5 kilometres from the city centre. If no reporters turned up, the public would not learn about the case.
However, to the church’s surprise, someone had alerted the media. And reporters (from daily newspapers, suburban weekly papers and TV Channel Ten) were indeed present in court, taking notes.
Gannon pleaded guilty to nine incidents of indecent assault against four boys aged 11 and 12. Two of the victims were assaulted in the Glenhuntly parish in 1958, one in Ashburton in 1967 and one in Braybrook in 1973.
Two were altar boys. Gannon allegedly asked one boy to help him after school “answering the phone” and he also asked the boy’s parents to let him stay overnight at the presbytery.
Gannon allegedly told one boy that he was “writing a book on sexuality” and told another that he wanted to “do tests” on him.
The offences consisted of: Father Gannon handling the boys’ genitals; or making a boy masturbate the priest; or Father Gannon putting his genitals against a boy’s bottom.
The prosecutor said all four victims were still affected by their experiences and still needed psychological counselling.
The prosecutor said the four victims went to the police separately.
The victims were not required to attend court.
Gannon’s lawyer, addressing the court regarding a sentence, remarked that journalists were present in court. He said that the media coverage would be a big penalty for Gannon and therefore (he said) the court should impose a lenient sentence.
Magistrate Tony Ellis sentenced Gannon to a year in jail on each of the nine charges but allowed Gannon to serve the nine sentences concurrently — that is, one year behind bars. Gannon was not to be eligible for parole.
By 12.00 noon, the case was finished, and Gannon was escorted from the court building in custody, heading for jail. His departure was filmed by a Channel Ten camera crew.
One victim said outside the court: “We are merely the few who went to the police. Gannon admitted our assaults in court but he did not volunteer anything about other victims. I believe that there are many other Gannon victims who have not yet gone to the police.”
Within an hour or so, Gannon’s conviction was being reported that afternoon (4 April 1995) on hourly radio news bulletins. Channel Ten’s evening news bulletin showed footage of Gannon being escorted to a police wagon, on his way to jail. There were reports next day in Melbourne’s two daily papers (the “Age” and “Herald Sun”) and later in suburban weekly papers in all the districts where Gannon had worked.
Melbourne’s Catholic community was stunned when it heard, for the first time, about Gannon’s criminal charges and about his guilty plea and his jailing. Previously, Catholics had been told that Gannon was “on leave”.
The MacLeod-Rosanna parish, in Melbourne’s north-east, erupted in turmoil as parishioners criticised the church authorities for having tried to conceal Gannon’s activities. Parishioners complained that the church authorities had made no attempt to find out how many other Gannon victims there were and whether these victims required professional help. And the church had made no attempt to locate — and help — victims in Gannon’s previous parishes.
An evening meeting of parishioners was held at the Macleod-Rosanna parish, at which the vicar-general (chief administrator) of the Melbourne archdiocese (Monsignor Gerald Cudmore) spoke about the Gannon issue. Broken Rites representatives were in the audience. When a Broken Rites representative asked if Gannon was likely to face allegations from further victims, Gerry Cudmore replied: “Not to my knowledge.”
Although he was behind bars, Gannon was still officially a priest. Twelve months after his conviction, the Melbourne archdiocese still included him in its list of “Supplementary Diocesan Priests” in the 1996 edition of the Directory of Australian Catholic Clergy (published by the National Council of Priests). And the archdiocese put the letters PE after Gannon’s name. PE is short for Pastor Emeritus (meaning a pastor who has retired with honour). All this was while he was in jail.
Gannon’s second court case
Gannon’s 1995 conviction prompted more victims to come forward. Some merely contacted the church and left their complaint “in the hands of the church” but others contacted the police and were interviewed by the police SOCA Unit.
Released from jail on 4 April 1996 (after serving the full 52 weeks behind bars), Desmond Gannon was immediately charged by Caulfield Criminal Investigation Unit with further offences. In the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 25 February 1997, he pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting three more boys in the 1960s: a 13-year-old boy in Alphington; a 12-year-old boy in Kilmore (a student at the Marist Brothers’ Assumption College); and a seven-year-old boy in Ashburton.
Magistrate Brian Barrow sentenced Gannon to 12 months in jail. This sentence, however, was suspended because it would have been served concurrently with his first sentence if all the offences had come to light at the same time.
A report of this hearing (with a photo of Gannon) appeared in the Melbourne “Age” on 26 February 1997.
Gannon’s third court case
After press reports of his second conviction, still more of Gannon’s victims contacted police. This time, the offences were more serious. Gannon appeared in the Melbourne County Court on 30 June 2000 for sentence.
The charges involved indecent assaults on four boys in parishes at Alphington, Ashburton, East St Kilda and Braybrook in the 1960s and ’70s.
Desmond Gannon pleaded guilty to 11 counts of indecent assault and four counts of gross indecency against four boys, aged 11 to 14, between January 1963 and December 1976.
The offences included masturbation of the victims, having the victims masturbate him, acts of oral penetration and simulated intercourse. According to the prosecution brief, these incidents were more serious than the ones for which he had previously been convicted.
Judge John Barnett said the four boys had been adversely affected by Gannon’s behaviour to an extent that many years later they took their complaints to police.
The judge told Gannon: “In each case they have lost their faith in religion and in each case, of course, you have abused the trust that your church and their parents placed in you.”
However, despite the fact that these offences were more serious than in the previous cases, Judge Barnett declined to jail Gannon. He imposed a three-year suspended sentence. The judge said that it would have been preferable if these four victims had come forward at the same time as the previous prosecutions so that a sentence could have been applied to all the offences simultaneously.
This hearing was reported in the Melbourne “Age” on 1 July 2000.
Gannon’s fourth court case
On 21 August 2003, Desmond Gannon appeared in the Melbourne County Court again, charged with indecently assaulting a boy, then 14, at Carnegie in 1958-59. Gannon, aged nearly 75, pleaded guilty.
The court heard that the boy told his Catholic parents of the incident but they accused him of lying. He contacted police in 2000 after Gannon’s third conviction.
The prosecutor said the victim’s relationship with his parents was never the same. They died before knowing his allegations were true.
Fifth court case, May 2009
The Victoria Police (through their Sexual Offences and Child Abuse unit) continued to receive complaints about Gannon. On 21 May 2009, Gannon (aged 79) again appeared in the Melbourne County Court, where he pleaded guilty to five incidents of indecent assault against an eleven-year-old boy (let us call him “Sam“) at the Kilmore parish (north of Melbourne), between 1968 and 1970.
The court was told that the boy was a pupil at Kilmore’s St Patrick’s Primary School in 1968 when he was asked by his class teacher to go with Gannon in a car to “pick up some typewriters”.
During this excursion, Gannon talked to the boy about being without a father. Gannon used this as an excuse to give the boy an “anatomy” lesson. Gannon drove the boy to a secluded bush track, where he removed the boy’s pants. He told the boy “this is your penis” and then started to masturbate the boy. [In criminal law, this action by an adult against a child is called indecent assault.]
Later on the same day, Father Gannon put a blanket on the ground, removed all his own clothes and the victim’s clothes. He made the boy touch Gannon’s penis.
Father Gannon put his erect penis between the boy’s legs and simulated intercourse. Father Gannon ejaculated. The boy was crying and felt sick.
Father Gannon told the boy not to tell anyone because that they would not believe him. As a “reward”, Gannon allowed the boy to steer the car on the way back to Kilmore.
The victim remained silent about the priest’s assaults because his parents were devout Catholics, the court was told.
On another occasion, Gannon mauled the boy’s penis while the boy was putting on his altar-boy robes prior to assisting Gannon celebrate Mass in 1968. Immediately after this assault, Gannon conducted the Mass.
And he mauled the boy’s penis in the pump room of the swimming pool at the Marist Brothers’ Assumption College in Kilmore in 1969. After this incident, Gannon gave the boy a cigarette as a reward.
Father Gannon used to frequent the Assumption College pool as a supervisor, the court was told.
In 2008, when police began investigating the victim’s complaint, they arranged for the victim to telephone Gannon from the detectives’ office. During this conversation (secretly recorded by the police), the victim reminded Gannon about the sexual abuse but Gannon refused to apologise to the victim. He told the victim: “I won’t say sexual abuse because at the time I didn’t know what it was.”
When police later interviewed Gannon, they asked him why he took the boy to the secluded bush location and touched his penis. Gannon replied that he was giving the boy some sex education — explaining the “differences in anatomy”.
“I thought it was less formal, rather than inviting him into the presbytery and that’s all,” Gannon told the police.
Police arrested Gannon at his home unit in Albion Road, Box Hill, on 21 May 2008.
Pre-sentence submissions, May 2009
At Gannon’s pre-sentence hearing on 21 May 2009, three witnesses gave character evidence in court on behalf of Gannon. Each knew Gannon at his final parish, Macleod-Rosanna, where (they said) he was well-regarded among the parish’s 1,000 families. In addition, these witnesses told the court that, when Des Gannon left the parish, the parish’s families were not told about the impending criminal charges. Parishioners found out only after Gannon’s 1995 jailing was reported in the media.
- Retired Baptist minister Donald Leslie Johnson, who once worked as an aged-care chaplain in the Macleod-Rosanna district, told the court that he did not know in the early 1990s why Des Gannon left the Macleod-Rosanna parish but discovered later about the jail sentence and the reasons for it. Johnson, who spoke warmly in support of Gannon, said that Gannon had never said he knew that what he did was wrong.
- Stephen Francis Mudd, public accountant, of Bundoora, told the court that from 1980 onwards he was a parishioner at Macleod-Rosanna, where he helped to supervise up to 55 altar boys. When Des Gannon left the parish, the next priest (Father Robinson) explained to the congregation that Father Des was “suffering bad health”. Mudd said that, a year or so later, he discovered about Gannon’s criminal court case. Mudd said that he kept in contact with Gannon, who went to prisons at Pentridge (Melbourne), then Sale (eastern Victoria) and Ararat (western Victoria).
- Janice Mary Gleeson, of Tecoma, a Sister in the Good Samaritan religious order for 55 years, said she started working with Fr Des Gannon at Macleod-Rosanna parish in 1986. She said that, in 1986, she knew that there were rumours about Gannon touching children but (she said) she did nothing about this, leaving it to other people (such as his fellow priests) to deal with this issue. After Gannon was charged [in 1994], Archbishop Frank Little asked Sister Gleeson to provide “pastoral support” to Gannon and his family and she continued doing this while he was in jail and also after he left jail. [There was no mention in court of the church authorities seeking in 1994 to locate victims of Gannon in order to offer pastoral support to them; the only pastoral support mentioned in court was for Gannon, not for victims.] Sister Gleeson said Gannon was now living in a block of nine units, where he was providing “pastoral care” to the other residents.
In his final submission, Gannon’s lawyer asked the court to impose a non-custodial sentence. During this submission, Gannon’s lawyer referred to the victim as “this fellow”.
The lawyer said that (despite all his convictions) the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese was still supporting Gannon, by paying rent for the home unit where Gannon resided in Box Hill, Melbourne.
The defence claimed that Gannon was feeling remorse for his offences.
However, Judge Gucciardo questioned the extent of the remorse because Gannon had failed to apologise in the May 2008 taped phone conversation.
During the final submission by the defence, Judge Gucciardo remarked that Gannon told the victim in the May 2008 taped phone conversation: “I was trying to help you at the time.” The victim told Gannon that the sexual abuse had wrecked his life, but Gannon replied: “You look pretty good to me.” In the phone chat, Gannon also bemoaned the loss of his church job.
Prosecutor Raymond Gibson, in his final submission, said the offences were a gross breach of trust by a man holding the respectable status of a clergyman.
Mr Gibson pointed to the age disparity — a 40-year-old man targeting an eleven-year-old victim.
Furthermore, Mr Gibson said, the boy was from a single-parent family, living with his mother and lacking a father figure. It was in this context that Gannon claimed to be teaching the boy about sex.
The offences were planned and deliberate and had long-term psychological effect on the victim, Mr Gibson said.
In the taped phone conversation, the victim asked Gannon to apologise for the sexual abuse but Gannon denied that it was abuse, Mr Gibson said. This showed Gannon’s lack of remorse, Mr. Gibson said.
Victim attempted suicide
An impact statement by the victim was submitted to the court. The victim (“Sam”, aged 51 at the time of the impact statement) stated that after the abuses he had felt “broken, old, clumsy, dirty, ugly, guilty, confused, rejected, worthless and scared”. The priest’s breach of trust, plus the church’s veil of silence, had a devasting effect on his life, the victim said. He said he did not socialise as a normal child after the offences.
“It destroyed all my hopes and dreams,” the statement said.
Years later, he attempted suicide.
The victim said he has been helped by reporting Gannon to the police. He said: “At last I can finally speak out. Not like the dark old days, people are listening now.”
Jailed, June 2009
At the sentencing on 10 June 2009, Judge Frank Gucciardo spoke at length about all the evidence and submissions in the case.
The judge recounted the details of the Kilmore offences. Referring to the “anatomy” lesson that Gannon gave to the boy, the judge said: “This was a well-worn, thought-out routine, with sex education a poor excuse,”
The judge read to the court the victim’s impact statement, detailing the effect on the victim’s later life.
The judge referred to the taped telephone conversation between the victim and Gannon. He also referred to the police interview with Gannon. The judge said that Gannon’s statements show no sign of a true confession and no sign of contrition. He said Gannon’s explanations displayed self-delusion and a lack of understanding of the impact on his victim. He said that Gannon’s attitude to his crimes was nonchalant and dismissive.
The judge sentenced Gannon to 25 months jail, with 14 months to be served behind bars before Gannon could apply for parole. This means that, added to the 12 months jail sentence in 1995, Gannon would finally have served a total of 26 months behind bars.
The June 2009 sentencing was reported on all television channels in the evening news bulletins and in the next day’s Melbourne newspapers.
As a result, more Gannon victims have come forward, including another victim from Kilmore and one from Gannon’s final parish (at Macleod-Rosanna in the 1980s).
There are still more Gannon victims who have yet to contact the police. MacLeod-Rosanna parishioners say there are more Gannon victims in that parish.
Involved with Scouts
Gannon’s interest in boys was not confined to presbyteries. Gannon was involved in the Scouts.
When Gannon was interviewed by police regarding the Kilmore offences, he stated that he coached a school football team.
And it is known that he used to take boys for holidays at Apollo Bay.
Gannon was among a number of problematic clergy who have been associated with the Marist Brothers’ Assumption College, Kilmore. Gannon was the “chaplain” at Assumption College in the late 1960s for two or three years.
Here are the full names of Gannon’s parishes:
- Glenhuntly (St Anthony’s parish) 1957-62,
- Alphington (St Anthony’s) 1962-65,
- Braybrook (Christ the King) 1965-66,
- Ashburton (St Michael’s) 1966-67,
- St Kilda East (St Mary’s) 1968,
- Kilmore (St Patrick’s) Oct 1968 to Jan 1971,
- Braybrook (Christ the King) again 1971-79 and
- Macleod-Rosanna (St Martin of Tours) 1980-93.
In these parishes, Gannon also acted as a “chaplain” at local Catholic schools. For example, he was a chaplain at the Christian Brothers Parade College junior school in Alphington, according to a Parade College magazine in 1962.
Father Desmond Laurence Gannon is not to be confused with another Melbourne sex criminal, Father Michael Glennon, who was also jailed.
The victims who contacted the police were not Gannon’s only victims. It would be impossible to estimate the total number of his victims.
Another Gannon victim, “Patrick” (who did not take part in the court cases), contacted Broken Rites in 2007 and asked us to publish his story:
“In the 1960s, early in Gannon’s career as a priest, I was a pupil at my local Catholic primary school, and I was also an altar boy. I felt particularly vulnerable, terrified and traumatised, particularly whilst serving early-morning masses by myself during week days and also at other times during the day because our parish school was so close to the parish church.
“On several occasions, Gannon called me over to the presbytery and the school hall to molest me.
“He would ask me to remove my under-clothing, sit me on his knee and grope me, etc, etc.
“I remember talking to one classmate, also a victim at the time, as to why Gannon was doing this. The answer he said was something like “he is testing for salts”. The classmate said he did it to some of the girls.
“I was aged 10, 11 or 12 at the time. I was humiliated and too embarrassed to discuss it with anyone, apart from mentioning this to a classmate
“Gannon was aware of my situation. I was a soft target and he took full advantage of it. My mother, a very devout Catholic, left my father when I was 2 years old and we moved to a new address.
“We were relatively poor at the time and I can remember mother contributing her “hard-earned” regularly to the church funds. In terms of sacrifice, this was big for her. While she was faithfully making contributions, Gannon was betraying all trust for the gratification of his own lust by molesting me. How much more despicable can it get?
“The effect this had on me was shocking, bewildering and devastating. I was taught to unconditionally trust the church and clergy. The actions of Gannon broke this trust. I had nowhere to go. I was too embarrassed to tell my mother and I did not trust the church. This led to inner conflict, confusion, fear, trauma and anxiety. I lost my faith, my respect for the church, my self confidence and esteem.
“The on-going effect on my life, prospects and those of my children is immeasurable. The damage has been done and is now part of my psyche. Maybe it has contributed to my inability to have lasting relationships amongst other problems — problems that are hard to quantify, problems I have tried to forget as a self protective mechanism.
“I understand the church attempts to deny these pedophilic offences until they are exposed by victims such as me. This is tantamount to condoning such behavior. It is not my intention to see Gannon suffer, but it is incumbent on the church and its credibility that offending clergy be identified and removed from their positions of trust.
“The church is directly or indirectly responsible for the actions of Gannon. It can’t give me back my innocence, but it can as an act of reconciliation compensate me as acknowledgement of the injustice done and provide closure.
“It would also demonstrate that the church is sincere about taking all steps to ensure that these offences are not pushed under the carpet.” — End of Patrick’s story
A photograph of Gannon, taken outside the court building, can be seen here.
Getting help from the police
The Gannon case demonstrates how victims can obtain justice by having a chat with specialist police officers.
Each Australian state has a unit where victims of sexual abuse can consult specialist police. In Victoria, this is called the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Unit (SOCA). In other states there is a different procedure. Any victim wanting information about his or her state, should phone or email Broken Rites.