On Thursday 5 July 2012, Australian TV “Seven-Thirty” Report has just run an excellent story (six minutes long) about “Father F” in Armidale, New South Wales. You can view the video here (and you can also click “TRANSCRIPT” to read the text):
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: A priest who allegedly abused children remains in the community with seemingly the full knowledge of senior figures in the Catholic Church.
The mother of one of the victims has spoken out about her complete loss of faith in the Church and 7.30’s tracked down one of the Catholic superiors implicated in the matter, but he has nothing to say about his failure to take information to the police.
Adam Harvey reports.
ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Armidale in the Northern Tablelands of NSW. The nights are cold this time of year, but it seems a quiet, safe place to live. Yet, in this wide back street lives a man whose presence here frightens some of his neighbours.
CAROL ELDER: Well I have an 11-year-old boy and he’s half a block from a local school and the children walk to and from school along here every day, and my boy, you know, he’s out in the backyard on his own. Is he looking at him? Is he watching him?
ADAM HARVEY: Carol Elder says a police officer called her to warn her about the man who moved into the street three years ago. He’d lived in the area most of his life and bought the house he was renting just last month.
CAROL ELDER: We were advised about him when he moved in because we had a young boy.
ADAM HARVEY: Mrs Elder’s neighbour is a former priest known as “Father F”. He was stripped of the priesthood in 2005, more than 20 years after he began molesting local boys. But Father F was never the type to jump back fences or creep through an open window. In the early ’80s, parents didn’t think twice about letting their children spend time with the priest.
Clare Jurd’s son Damien was about 11 years old when Father F began taking a particular interest.
CLARE JURD: He thought he mighta been about 11 there, about the time that he would have been abused, I think. And then we used to go to mass every Sunday and then he’d cry and wouldn’t wanna go to mass and of course I didn’t know why and we’d sort of virtually have to stand at the window and the door to make sure he didn’t run away.
ADAM HARVEY: It took Damien three years to tell anyone what had happened to him.
CLARE JURD: Damien started to cry and he said he sobbed for about 10 minutes and then he told him what really happened. And then Dr Russell had the police – the doctor examine him and he still had anal scarring three years after when it had happened.
ADAM HARVEY: Damien’s account was never heard by a jury because after Father F was arrested in 1987, a magistrate stopped the case going to trial, saying the 15-year-old’s credibility could not match that of the priest.
CLARE JURD: Devastating for him. And yet they believed the word of a priest against – and we had so much evidence.
ADAM HARVEY: By 1992, after Father F had moved to Sydney’s Parramatta parish, the Church hierarchy heard more reports that the priest was assaulting children. He was called to a meeting at Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral with three of the Church’s most senior figures, fathers Brian Lucas, John Usher and Wayne Peters.
The current Archbishop of Sydney George Pell told Four Corners that Father F made no admissions at that meeting.
But that’s not the version of events outlined by one of the men present, Father Wayne Peters, in a letter written just eight days after the meeting. In the letter, Father Peters said Father F confessed to abusing five boys in the early ’80s, some as young as 10, performing oral sex on two of the boys at least once a month.
CLARE JURD: I just can’t believe that a priest would stand up and say in the committal hearing that nothing happened and yet he’ll turn around in front of priests and admit that he did it. He must have felt safe in saying it to the priests.
ADAM HARVEY: Father Wayne Peters is still a senior Church figure in northern NSW. We found him arriving at his grand parish house in Yooralla, that’s just 20 minutes from Father F’s run-down home in Armidale.
You did write a letter to senior Church management, didn’t you?
WAYNE PETERS, CATHOLIC PRIEST: I have no comment to make to you.
ADAM HARVEY: While Father Peters refused to answer our questions, Clare Jurd says he and the other senior priests should have act two decades ago.
You had admissions and you never went to police. Why not?
Should they have gone to police?
CLARE JURD: Of course they should have, yeah. Under those circumstances, yeah. Yeah, well, when – I mean, when Damien admitted to a psychiatrist that he’d been sexually abused by a priest, it was their obligation to go to the police, so I think in that case it’d be the same.
ADAM HARVEY: It appears Father F’s alleged confession wasn’t passed on to anyone. The priest was quietly told he couldn’t hold mass anymore. But he remained a priest until 2005 and he continues to live amongst some of his alleged victims.
The Church says it will investigate its handling of the Father F scandal, but a statement from Archbishop George Pell seems to pre-empt at least some of the findings of that investigation.
GEORGE PELL, ARCHDIOCESE OF SYDNEY (male voiceover): “Neither Father Lucas nor Monsignor Usher was aware of the existence and contents of Father Peter’s letter until it was raised by the 4 Corners program. The letter does not reflect their recollections of the meeting or notes of the meeting held by the Church’s Professional Standards Office.”
ADAM HARVEY: Damien Jurd killed himself in 2001. His mother doesn’t trust the Church to investigate itself.
CLARE JURD: If the Church do it themselves I haven’t much faith in the outcome of it. It needs someone independent to the Church to look into it.
LEIGH SALES: And the Catholic Church has declined 7.30’s repeated requests for an interview on this matter. We’ll keep trying.