Ex-priest James Patrick Jennings is ordered to stand
trial in Melbourne
In the mid and late 1960s, Father James Patrick Jennings was listed as a priest at St Vincent’s College — a Catholic boarding school for boys in Bendigo, 150 kilometres north of Melbourne. Father Jennings was then a member of the Vincentian religious order (this order is also called the Congregation of the Mission).
More than 40 years later, in May 2012, Jennings was charged in the Bendigo Magistrates Court with a series of child-sex offences, allegedly committed against boys at the school in the 1960s.
James Jennings, aged 79 when charged in court, faces multiple charges of gross indecency and indecent assault on a male child aged under 16. The charges relate to three complainants, all students at this Bendigo school in the 1960s.
Magistrate Jennifer Tregent heard evidence concerning the three complainants.
The court also heard from Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Morris, head of the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) at Bendigo Police. Senior Sergeant Morris received some information from a New South Wales police unit (Strike Force Belle), which was established to investigate allegations of sexual assaults on students at St Stanislaus College in Bathurst in central-west NSW. The Bathurst school was run by the same order of priests as St Vincent’s in Bendigo.
The court was told that James Jennings left the priesthood many years ago and he now lives in Tasmania.
On 8 May 2012, after a two-day preliminary hearing, the Bendigo magistrate ordered James Patrick Jennings to stand trial in a higher court on these charges. The magistrate listed the case for a later date in the Melbourne County Court, where initially a judge would have a brief “directions hearing” (to determine when and how the subsequent hearings would be held).
Jennings’ bail was extended pending the Melbourne County Court proceedings.
Meanwhile, the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team at Bendigo (telephone 03 5448 1420) is continuing its inquiries.
St Vincent’s College was set up in Bendigo in 1955 and was run by the Vincentian Fathers. In 1977, it was taken over by the Marist Brothers. In 1983 this school then became part of Catholic College Bendigo.
Priest ‘a violent bully and coward’
April 20, 2012
THE former priest Brian Spillane has been sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for a series of sexual assaults on young girls – attacks described as “serious, planned and callous” by Judge Michael Finnane of the NSW District Court.
“The offender used his position as a priest to gain access to the homes in which each of his victims lived,” said the judge. “He was very trusted and the parents of each of the victims readily gave him access to their daughters because of that trust and the esteem in which he was held.”
The assaults began in the late 1970s when Spillane was on the staff of St Stanislaus College, a boys’ boarding school in Bathurst. They continued when he became a parish priest in Sydney. He later returned to St Stanislaus as school chaplain.
Spillane, 69, continues to deny all the charges that have been brought against him, not only those involving these young girls but some 100 charges he has yet to face relating to assaults on boys at the school.
A heavy-set redhead, Spillane trained for the priesthood in the Vincentian Order and was sent to teach at St Stanislaus in the late 1960s. At his trial he described himself as a modern priest – joyful and enthusiastic, a hugger and kisser, a man at ease with families and their children.
In the late 1970s, he ingratiated himself into a family with boys at the school and abused their sister, then aged 11.
“This was the conduct of a violent bully and coward, done without regard to the effect it would have on the young girl,” Judge Finnane said at sentencing. “It was sexual abuse carried out by a trusted priest, and was a major breach of trust.”
The Vincentians posted Spillane to Sydney in the late 1970s and for a time he was acting parish priest at St Anthony’s Marsfield. There he befriended another devout Catholic family and, under the guise of hearing their daughters’ bedtime prayers, abused both for more than a year. The judge called this: “Predatory and a major abuse of trust.”
One of those victims, known as Miss M, told the court of the devastating impact on her life of Spillane’s abuse: of guilt, panic, mistrust, anger, depression, estrangement, drinking, drugs, loss of interest in study and, now, fearfulness for her daughter. She said: “It changed my fate and all that I wanted to be.”
In those years in Sydney, Spillane also assaulted and wrote love letters to a 16-year-old student at a western suburbs Catholic school. Judge Finnane called the assault “predatory and heartless” and the letters “maudlin, full of false piety and completely inappropriate”.
Spillane left the priesthood in 2004 and a son was born after his marriage that year. The first complaints about him were made to Bathurst police three years later. He was charged in 2008 and convicted by a District Court jury in 2010.
Sentencing was delayed until yesterday by the defence solicitor Greg Walsh attempting to have his old friend Judge Finnane disqualify himself from this and any future proceedings involving Spillane.
Mr Walsh claimed that after the swearing-in of a new District Court judge in March last year, Judge Finnane remarked over a cup of tea that paedophiles were “all guilty” and “should be put on an island and starved to death”.
Judge Finnane denied saying those words and declined to disqualify himself. The dispute reached the NSW Court of Appeal in November and the decision upholding the judge’s right to sit was delivered a fortnight ago.
The court found the words, if uttered, might have been incautious but couldn’t be taken seriously and would not be regarded by a fair-minded bystander as prejudging the former priest’s position.
Lawyers estimate about $700,000 has been spent on the former priest’s defence so far. But who is footing that bill is a mystery. A spokeswoman for the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell, says it is not the church. The Vincentian Order has refused to take the Herald‘s calls.
At Spillane’s sentencing, Judge Finnane spoke of receiving glowing testimonials to his good character. But, he added, “it has also to be said that he used his eminence in the community and his role as a priest to gain access to his victims and to carry out sexual offences on them.”
Miss M sobbed with relief when the judge sent her abuser to prison for nine years with a non-parole period of five.