Chapter 27 of Unholy Silence by Father Kevin Lee

Posted on September 15, 2016

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CHAPTER 27 – METHODS OF ABUSE
The naivety and ridiculous austerity of the parish priest of Merrylands prompted me to
request a transfer and probably led to God putting me in the place where I would make most
discoveries about the flawed foundations of the Parramatta Diocese – Blacktown.
Blacktown 1996-1999
Some of the experiences I relate in this book will make no real sense to those who are
not Catholic. For instance, anyone who is not imbued with Catholicism’s notions of ‘eternal
rewards’ will never comprehend the sacrifices that I was willing to make in order to receive
the heavenly prize I believed would be waiting for me for putting up with the crap that those
in authority in the Church continued to dish up to me.
In my short term of priesthood in St. Patricks Parish (1996-1999) Blacktown, I can
honestly say that the name of the city is synonymous with my experiences there. During the
time I was a resident priest at the parish many things happened that could fill a book of its
own, so I will save some of those stories for a sequel. Let me just say here that Blacktown
was a pivotal time of questioning for me, over the value of priestly celibacy.
At first meeting, I was somewhat in awe of the Bishop, and the fact that I was sharing a
house with him and often got a chance to see him in casual mode gave me a feeling of pride.
I suppose the vicar general Bob McGuckin would have expected me to be emotional about
having him in the household too, but I detested his presence and felt that he was the worst
example of a priest (apart from paedophiles) that I had ever had the resentment of meeting.
He was a little man with a lot of ambition and was the best example of someone
suffering from ‘small man syndrome’ as he was constantly talking about himself and
throwing his weight around.
I did try to show that I was tolerant of him by accompanying him on a trip to the Central
Coast in my car for the purpose of picking up an powered armchair at his uncle’s place and
delivering it to his mother’s unit in Auburn. I also wasted a number of beautiful summer
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afternoons having barbecues with him in the small courtyard between the priests’ units
listening to him talking about how busy his week had been. I knew that he had little concern
for me because he never once asked me how my week had been.
When the enormously obese parish priest welcomed me to the presbytery it was after
having asked for a transfer from Merrylands.
Initially, from my knowledge of the personality of the Parish Priest, I was not at all
looking forward to going to Blacktown, but it was immediately more preferable to the
frightful conditions I endured at Merrylands so the transition was a happy one.
I want to describe at this point a phenomenon that became apparent to me concerning
my parish priest at Blacktown.
A young fellow and his bride-to-be came to visit me one day after Mass to ask me if I
would preside at their wedding. They were a handsome couple and I soon agreed, as I
always felt flattered to be asked to celebrate a wedding, and also to be chosen over their
rightful parish priests. I always ask them to advise the Parish priest however and inform
them that they are not getting married in their own parish. This gives the Parish Priest an
opportunity to find out why he was not chosen. I feel that if priests realised that the young
are not finding them approachable and welcoming, they might make a bigger effort at being
courteous and outreaching to their parishioners. Unfortunately for the reason I gave before,
some priests find it an insult that I accept the couple’s invitation and resent me for
undertaking a wedding that they rightfully should be doing. I can be very judgemental and
presume that for some priests it is the loss of income (as in the stipend that will go to
another church) that is foremost on their minds.
I have even had the unhappy experience of being verbally abused by a neighbouring
parish priest (who held the role of Vicar for Clergy) because I was taking on so many of the
weddings of his Filipino parishioners.
I wanted to tell him that it’s not my fault for being amiable and approachable. I
sometimes correct people who say, “People love your weddings. You are such a good
priest”.
I have to tell them, “No, I am not such a good priest. I just try to be the way a priest
should be. Other priests are so unfriendly and rigid rule enforcers and that makes me look
better”.
Back to our couple … I told the man he had to go back to his proper Parish Priest to get a
letter of approval to allow me to conduct the Nuptials.
He hesitated, scratched the back of his neck and looked worried.
“What’s the matter?” I asked “Don’t you know who your parish priest is?”
He told me he did know him but declared adamantly “I really would rather not have
anything to do with him”.
I did the Jana Vendt, Australian TV presenter, ‘tilt your head to the side and stare
curiously without saying anything’ trick that usually gets people to tell me something
without asking them a question. His fiancé, whose family I knew, nodded encouragingly to
him and broke the long painful silence, “You can tell Father Kevin. He’s good”.
Then the man proceeded to tell me a terribly familiar story that I had heard similar
versions of many times before.
“Some years back I decided I wanted to be a sports teacher. Like teach PE & PDHPElxi.
I filled out an application to apply for the Catholic Uni. It had a section that asked for a
reference from a priest. So I asked my mum who goes to Mass sometimes ‘Who is our
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priest?’ and she told me it was Father A. So she asks why do I need to know and I told her
it’s because I need this reference if I want to go in the Catholic teaching system. My Mum
laughs and says he will never give me a reference because you are supposed to be going to
Mass if you want to teach in Catholic schools. I figure that I will give it a try so I lob up at
the priest’s house and ask for … This huge fat man comes to the door and says, “Yeeeees.
May I help you?”
“Yes Father. I am Robert Bangel and I am going to become a sports teacher in the
Catholic schools and I need to get a reference from a priest before I can send my
application”. I could just imagine Rob saying all that with the optimism and naivety of a
child.
He is such an open and trusting person who has become a great friend since we began
the marriage preparation course and celebrating his marriage to Tina. He is an excellent
teacher and all the kids love him. If Rob had of come to me, asking me the same question
before I knew him, my response would have been to refuse to give an reference for someone
I did not know and suggest that he honestly make application to any person of good
reputation he knows.
Father A.’s response to this impromptu request was out of the ordinary.
“Well …,” he said in the same drawn out and pretentious (sometimes pompous) voice I
had known him to use, “I don’t know how I can do that, as I don’t know you. I would have
to get to know you before I could write a meaningful reference for you Rob.”
Then he looked him up and down. “How about I take you to dinner and we get to know
each other a bit and then we can talk about a reference”.
They then made plans to meet later in the week. Rob came home beaming and his
mother said, “You didn’t get a reference from Father A., did you?”
Rob told his mother what the priest had said and she quickly reacted. “No, don’t go out
to dinner with him Rob. Invite him home here and I can get a look at him at close range”.
After the dinner at Rob’s home, and Father A. left their home, his mother closed the
door and immediately whispered loudly to her son “He’s a poof Rob. Stay away from him”.
Robert was not convinced. “Why do you say that?”
Rob did not want to believe his mother. Robert, whose father was an alcoholic and had
long left his wife, was out of the picture.
People in this situation do long for a father figure or someone who shows the sort of
concern and care that a good father should. They do not readily believe that anyone could
pretend to care with some hidden inducement.
His mother continued, “He didn’t take his eyes off you all meal. He didn’t even ask me
one question about myself and he never even acknowledged me when he left. No he’s
definitely a poof Rob. I know the type.”
Rob told me that he then had to contact Father A. about his reference. Father A. soon
arrived at the house and offered him a small wrapped box.
“I noticed from your application it is nearly your birthday Robert and I bought you a
little gift. Something you can use. I hope you like it”.
Rob went red when he told me, “I was the laughing stock of my family. I could not
believe my eyes when I opened it in front of my Mum and my sister … It was a body wash!
My sister couldn’t control herself and laughed out loud. After Father A. left, my Mum said,
“Now do you believe me Robert? He’s a poof and he’s after your body!” I didn’t keep it. I
couldn’t even give it away. I threw it away. I felt dirty even thinking about it. Can you
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believe it? He gave me a body wash!” Robert told me with embarrassment as his fiancé
rubbed his arm reassuringly.
“How long after you first met him did he give you this gift Rob?” I asked.
“Not long, it would have been about a couple of weeks. Hardly the sort of present a
priest should be giving.”
Hardly indeed, I thought.
I informed the Bishop of this incident of inappropriate behaviour at the conclusion of a
conversation I had with him about another matter a few weeks later.
He appeared concerned but concluded by saying “These are serious allegations, Kevin.
They would need to be substantiated. Do you think this fellow would come and talk to me
about it?”
I insisted that I would try and get him to come and discuss this issue with the Bishop.
However as expected, this young fellow who was now teaching in the Catholic high
school where Father A. was parish priest, was reticent to tell the Bishop because he still
wanted to believe in this priest’s goodness and concern for him. After all, Father A. hadn’t
done anything abusive or harmful to him.
He also felt that his accusations would come back to hurt him if the Bishop was not
successful in removing Father A. from the parish. Although he was concerned that other
younger and more vulnerable men may be subjected to this man’s abuse of authority, he
declined to speak to the Bishop, and again I was making claims that were unproven.
It has been exceedingly difficult to convince people that Father A. is an inveterate liar
and nothing he claims about his own achievements and activities are able to be
substantiated, yet he is immediately believed without question because he is a priest. Even
the Bishop doubted my statements because it was difficult for him to accept that a man in
his position would be deceitful.
From that time on I was determined to undermine this impostor’s authority and made
efforts to make any vulnerable young man aware of his tendencies as often as I became
aware that he was taking an interest in them.
I am sure that Father A. came to realise this as he accused me constantly of “whiteanting”
him in the parish. He let me know of one occasion where I had shared my dislike of
my pastor with a parish family and I noticed one member of the family whose attention was
piqued by an obscure reference to Father A.’s interest in the “pretty boy” altar servers.
Maybe this young fellow told Father A. of my comments.
I didn’t worry too much that Father A. knew I didn’t trust him, as I felt this would
prevent him being so blatant in his attempts to seduce the unwitting men and post-pubescent
young boys who came his way in his role as school chaplain.
I previously had met with then Bishop Manning on Thursday 9th October 1997 and
informed him of my concerns that he promised to address. The most significant was
concerning Father A.’s interest in young males, particularly the altar servers.
There was one altar server named Brett who had just turned 15. He was the only son of a
single mother. In my opinion he was a bit slow and was less than responsive to what was
going on during the Mass. Father A. however, looked at him in a different light and was
saying how wonderful he was and spoke of his intention of making him a senior server or
acolyte. It was totally unheard of to have a boy so young being made elevated to the
ministry of acolyte, especially one as incompetent as Brett. Brett was simply a child who
had no father and was falling under the spell of a commensurate seducer of young men.
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Father A. exhibited all the textbook grooming behaviours. He showered the
underprivileged boy with attention and gifts which made Brett feel proud and obviously
basked in the affection that he received from Father A.
I held grave fears that Brett was already being used. I could see no reason why Father A.
would see Brett as any more deserving of his attention than any of the female altar servers
of the same age. Father A. even spoke of the hope he had that Brett would one day become a
priest. From my knowledge of him, Brett would be lucky to make it past year 10 and had his
heart set on being a champion ten-pin bowler which was within his capability.
His mother used to organise Youth activities in the parish and the most frequent activity
she organised was bowling which her son excelled at.
Brett’s mother expressed to me a fear she had that Brett was becoming too attached to
Father A., who showed her nothing but contempt.
One day I bumped into her at the shops in Westpoint Blacktown after having not seen
her for some time at Mass. I innocently alluded to having noted her absence at Mass and
asked if there was any problem. She told me that she was not coming anymore.
When I asked why, she said “To keep Father A. away from Brett”.
She then articulated her suspicions which confirmed my worst fears and described the
emotional pressure that Father A. had been applying to endear himself to her son.
I told the bishop all this, and from the look of concern on his face I was firmly
convinced that he would do something about it. He assured me that he would be asking
Father A. to undergo some counselling that would provide him with the information he
needed to determine if Father A. was actually using his position to lure unwitting minors.
I told the Bishop that in my opinion Father A. was showing excessive attention to a
certain other boy who also came from a ‘broken home’ and suggested that Father A.’s
inappropriateness was being recognised by many other parishioners who had confided their
fears to me.
I detested the way Father A. used to look at young boys, and thoroughly suspected him
of being a paedophile masquerading as a priest, because I never saw anything priestly in his
daily way of life.
Some months later, without explaining anything to me, Father A. made an unscheduled
and mysterious trip to Melbourne.
When he walked through the door of our parish office on his arrival back home from
Melbourne he said with the utmost pride,
“Well I am happy to announce to you all, I am officially not a paedophile!”
Everyone in the tea room looked at each other wondering what the hell he was talking
about. Only I was pretending not to understand.
It was months later that I met a psychologist named Dr. Alex Gilandas who was treating
a mutual friend who coincidentally informed me that he had been asked to do an assessment
on Father A. to determine if he were a potential sex-offender.
When I discretely asked him the outcome he professionally declined for confidentiality
reason to reveal the result.
So, was that the end of the process?
Was the responsibility of the Bishop to monitor the behaviours of a suspect priest
rescinded with the findings of one psychologist?
I persisted in looking for other ways of determining his true intentions with young
people and took it as my personal goal to bring him unstuck.
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I was already sure that Father A. was a counterfeit cleric prior to being contacted by Paul
Brazier, a barrister, who made me aware of his background. It is worth noting that Paul
Brazier was sufficiently concerned about the level of child-abuse in the Catholic Church that
he offered his services on a pro-bono basis to help rid the church of paedophiles. Paul
Brazier was a parishioner of Springwood where I grew up and friends with my parents. He
and his wife Georgina had nine children whom they home-schooled “because I wanted them
to have a real Catholic education” he justified.
I was grateful to know that there were others who would give credence to my suspicions
but surprised that the hierarchy did not attend to the warning bells that were ringing so
loudly in my ears.
As police chaplain I have gotten to know many police and some I would consider very
close friends. You can’t help but grow close to people after you counsel them through a
traumatic experience such as a child’s drowning or the death of a loved one.
One particular officer has involved me in all the significant experiences of his life such
as his wedding and the baptisms of all his children. His name was Fabio Furia and he had
the best sense of humour of any police officer I ever met. For instance I remember the time
he got onto the police radio channel and said in a feigned foreign accent,
“Hello? Is this Police Radio?”
The authoritative voice at the other end said, “Yes it is. How can I help you?”
“It’s my wedding anniversary today and I want to request a song for my wife please”
The voice replied angrily, “This is the police emergency channel!”
“What? You mean you have got to be a police to request a song?” he said again in his
accent.
We both had a laugh as the radio operator realised it was a joke too.
Fabio used to visit me at the presbytery regularly and I spent a lot of time cruising with
him in his highway patrol car. We joked about how Father A. used to look forward to his
visits and how we both noticed the way he appeared to ‘undress him with his eyes’
whenever Fabio walked into the room wearing his police uniform.
On one occasion Fabio arrived for an unscheduled visit and appeared agitated. I
immediately asked him, “What’s up, Fab?”
“I have Italian friends here at Blacktown,” he began in his staccato style speech, and I
nodded in understanding as I knew of his friends. “Well the Dad just told me that he
suspected for some time that Father A. was grooming his son. He has been putting pressure
on him to become an altar boy but my mate keeps on insisting that his son doesn’t want to
do it. He comes around to their house a lot and now he is getting really angry about it. I told
him that I suspect he is a paedophile and I think now he is ready to believe me.”
I encouraged Fabio to tell his friends to report his suspicions to the police.
“Well he has told me. I just want to know if it is going to affect you if I report him?”
“How would it affect me?” I asked.
“I dunno, are you two getting on better now?”
“No, I can’t stand him and the longer he is able to keep on using his position and
influence to get access to kids the more damage he can do!” I insisted. “This friend of yours
might be the right person to bring him down.”
It was then that I planned to give this information to the barrister Paul Brazier so that he
could add it to his dossier of dirt on Father A.
Brazier had given so much information to the Bishop about the priests of the Diocese
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that he suspected of being frauds. He believed that the celibacy required of priests and the
resultant dearth of clerics gave a perfect opportunity for anyone who wanted to masquerade
as a celibate to gain a position of power and gain access to the most trusted of occupations.
Brazier was annoyed that, even though he had informed Bishop Bede at the time Father
A. was making enquiries into becoming a Catholic priest that he had a chequered past, he
still chose to accept him as a potential priest.
The story as told to me by Paul Brazier, that has been substantiated with further details
by other Anglican ministers from his Newcastle diocese, went like this:
Father A. was the struggling Pastor of two Anglican parishes that shared parochial
boundaries but whose combined parishioner population did not necessitate the appointment
of separate pastors.
In those days, a pastor survived solely on the takings from his weekend’s collection
plate.
The collections were low in Wallsend and, in order to supplement his income, Father A.
took in a boarder who was paying him rent.
Another man from the parish was looking through the “Personal Ads” at the back of a
local Newcastle Advertiser newspaper. He noticed one that advertised for men seeking men
and he recognised the phone number as belonging to his pastor Father A.
The Anglican bishop was informed and when he visited the rectory he became aware of
the inappropriate alliance. The house had pornographic images of naked men on the walls
and even on the fridge. Despite the apparent contradiction with the religious nature of the
household, Father A. told him that the pictures belonged to the boarder in his home, but he
had no idea of his activities and his sexual proclivities were a mystery to him.
Father A. once told me the story and explained this person as just a “surfie guy who
needed a place to stay” and justifies his provision of accommodation as “an act of Christian
charity”.
He refuses to accept that he had any knowledge of this man’s immoral activities
claiming he “kept to himself”.
After this meeting with his Bishop, Father A. was advised that he would no longer be
able continue as parish priest in the Anglican diocese. Consequently Father A. approached
the Catholic bishop of Parramatta and asked to be accepted as a Catholic priest.
The Bishop’s understandable response was that he had to become a Catholic first.
Accordingly, he then underwent a programme to convert to Catholicism and was accepted
into the Catholic Church with Sister Caroline Ryan acting as his sponsor.
While undertaking some studies to become a Catholic priest Father A. was instructed by
Bishop Bede Heather to stay at the home of the infamous Brothers of Gerard Majella in
Greystanes.
Another former Anglican priest who joined the Parramatta Diocese at the exact same
time as Father A. was Father W. Brazier also contends that Father W. left his Diocese and
denomination under a similar dark cloud of intrigue.
As Brazier informed me, the Catholic Bishop refused to take any notice of Father A.’s or
Father W.’s past and ignored the excerpts from newspapers and other documents that were
furnished to him by Brazier’s group called the ‘Catholic Advocacy Centre’. Brazier
contends that his group strongly opposed the idea of accepting both Anglican priests
suggesting that they were unsuitable candidates for the Catholic priesthood.
Despite the informed warnings, Father A. was subsequently ordained to the Catholic
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priesthood in a combined ceremony with Father W.. This ceremony was attended by two
Anglican Bishops including Father W.’s former Bishop the late Anglican Bishop Owen
Dowling (who was himself the subject of allegations in 1992 when he exposed himself to an
undercover male police officer in a public toilet block in Canberra)lxii.
After an exaggeratedly embellished welcome to the visiting Primates, Bishop Heather,
before ordaining the men said, “With respect to the ordinations they have already received
in the Anglican tradition, I ordain these men, our brothers, to the Catholic priesthood”lxiii.
Thus the opportunities for Father A. to create havoc increased commensurate with the
size of the parishes that he had access to.
I always believed Father W. to be guilty by his association with Father A. He was a
constant companion of Father A. and even whilst on leave from his studies of Liturgy in
America, Father W. would stay at Father A.’s parish house, a house I shared residence in.
One evening when I was there, I did see them playing “footsies” under the table while
we were at dinner. They regularly went to the ballet and opera together and even holidayed
together in Alice Springs.
While Father W. was staying in our presbytery at Blacktown, Father A. invited him to
concelebrate our daily Mass and even preferred him to preach.
Father W. had an amazing ability to preach “off the cuff” and even I was impressed at
how cleverly he linked the Old and New Testament readings. I never felt miffed when this
happened because I enjoyed his sermons.
One morning after Mass we were having a coffee I took the chance of asking Father W.
what prompted his conversion to Catholicism. He insisted that he had been troubled by the
pastoral direction being taken by the Anglican Communion for some time, but the
ordination of women in the Anglican Church was the final straw.
“It may not be possible at the moment” he whined in his effeminate and nasal voice,
“but soon I fear they will become bishops! Perish the thought”.
They were so misogynistic in their world-view that a church that offered not only
equality to women but in some cases, increased promotional opportunity was to them an
anathema.
Both Father W. and Father A. cited this justification for jumping ship, but on one
occasion of inebriated honesty the corpulent cleric admitted to me that the more generous
stipends available in the Catholic Church was the more attractive incentivelxiv.
Father W. has ascended quite rapidly in the Catholic Church since his ordination.
I find it strange that for someone who has been a Catholic for a lot shorter period than
some men have been priests he has leap-frogged many more worthy ministers to gain
positions of influence within the Church.
Prior to his present position, he was elevated to Dean of the Parramatta Cathedral after
only a few placements as parish priest. He was subsequently appointed Liturgical Director
for the Diocese and has even been promoted to the Australian Bishop’s Conference as
secretary. His appointment involved the implementation of the new Roman Missal and is
tightly connected with many in the hierarchy.
Perhaps as a legacy of his sycophantic endorsement of Bishops and prelates he has
enjoyed a meteoric progression through the priesthood’s limited career possibilities and as is
currently the Vicar General of the Parramatta Diocese, just one rung below an episcopal
appointmentlxv.
It seems in the Catholic Church, as in most organisations it’s not what you know that
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matters, it’s who you know.
Father A.’s conversion course had incredible brevity and it must have neglected quite a
bit of the fundamentals because I frequently noted theological and scriptural inaccuracies in
his preaching.
One day whilst introducing the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, he blustered his way
through the historical details of the apparitions of our Lady at Fatimalxvi! None of the largely
migrant Maltese congregation at Blacktown would have realised his mistakes as most were
merely mumbling prayers and thumbing through their rosaries and rarely appeared to listen
to his or my homilies.
Father A. would tell anyone who wanted to listen that he was a close personal friend of
former US President Bill Clinton. He would show personal letters that he claimed were
written by his good friend while they were studying political science together at Oxford.
I was convinced he was a huge imposter and never saw any evidence of any of the
degrees he claimed to have, apart from the Social Work degree that I believed to be just
within his academic capability. He maintains that he has degrees from a number of
prestigious international universities but I am yet to see one. I have asked him on more than
one occasion why a man so lacking in reluctance to boast about his successes would not
display those achievements on his wall.
His one word reply, “Humility”.
Father A. is far from humble and if he really possessed those degrees you would
definitely see them on his wall.
On one occasion Father A. foolishly admitted to me (after a couple of gin and tonics)
how he came to receive his Order of Australia Medal. He was awarded it for his work with
the homeless drug addicts in Kings Cross.
He told his fabricated fables of his sacrificial efforts amongst the drug addicts and
homeless people of Kings Cross to Sister Caroline Ryan RSMlxvii while she was preparing
him for his eventual and rapid conversion to Catholicism.
The well-meaning Congregational leader of the Mercy Sisters, must have swallowed his
self-aggrandisement without checking out its factuality and she prepared an impassioned
plea for him to receive regal recognition. She was the person who recommended him and in
a strange coincidence, a few years later she herself received an OAM after his
recommendation. This reciprocation of adulation is not hard to understand, but it does
question the validity of the process of Australia Day Honours lists.
But it was his ability to influence the decisions that allowed paedophiles to prosper
which most concerned me.
He gained many blatant grooming opportunities possible when in 1996 Father A. created
a foundation facetiously called ‘Ars Musica Australis’ which as its promotional brochures
advertises is “a not-for-profit community-based arts organisation which is dedicated to the
encouragement and financial support of talented young Australians involved in artistic and
cultural disciplines. AMA is focussed on assisting highly talented, and often
underprivileged, young people to achieve excellence in music performance, composition,
music therapy, dance, visual arts and community cultural development”.lxviii
As the stream of predominantly poor and largely homosexually oriented young males
streamed through our presbytery doors at Blacktown enquiring about scholarships, I soon
came to realise that Father A. had found the perfect smokescreen for his grooming
procedures on a better class of victim.
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Father A. would offer them a position in his orchestra and money was changing hands.
Where the money came from for his scholarships has always been the object of
ambiguity and some creative accounting. Some believe he has a considerable number of
wealthy patrons of the arts who are generous benefactors to his cause.
But it was not unknown in our parish for whole collection bags of cash and coins to go
mysteriously missing from our combination-locked safe.
When Father A. once alluded one evening to yet another missing bag of money, I
insisted that he contact the police and inform them of the theft.
“Oh it’s hardly worth worrying the Constabulary over the loss of a measly $500” he
pronounced with amazing certainty of the value of an uncounted, and as far as Father A. is
concerned, yet unseen contribution’s bag.
I was immediately suspicious of Father A.’s attempts to endear himself to the young
men who came seeking financial assistance through his scholarship fund.
He had employed one particularly attractive young man named Bernaard (not Bernard as
Father A. constantly corrected me) as our parish weekend secretary.
Once when “little Bobbie Bishop” (as Father A. referred to the Vicar General) rang to
see who was going to be home for lunch as he had another barbecue planned, Bernaard took
the call and informed him that I was the only one in the house.
When he did arrive home later for lunch the Vicar General confronted Father A.
“Whose was that extremely ‘camp’ voice that answered the phone today?” he demanded
in his authoritatively deep voice.
“That is Bernaard! My weekend secretary,” Father A. said beaming with pride at having
a weekend secretary.
“Don’t you know the Diocese has a policy of not employing overtly homosexual men?”
the Vicar General declared as if it was common knowledge.
I had never heard of this policy.
Without skipping a beat, Father A. retorted “In that case, you will have to sack half the
clergy, won’t you?” and retreated to his room.
With the awareness of what Father A. knew the Bishop was up to, he was untouchable.
The Bishop, from his own fragile glass-house was unable to lob a pebble in Father A.’s
direction. But this never gave sufficient explanation as to why the Vicar General appeared
so impotent. He regularly expressed frustration at Father A.’s impervious exposures to
correction.
In his deviations from acceptable standards of priestly processes, Father A. was blatantly
doing as he pleased. He felt omnipotent. He would flaunt his opulent gay lifestyle, travelling
regularly in the company of wealthy men of note to the operas, ballets and art galleries.
Father A. had amassed rooms full of expensive, mostly aboriginal art and regularly
purchased or was given more. He had an extensive selection of Pro Hart originals and he
even gave me one for Christmas one year. It was a small painting of a flower on a New
Testament. I was able to sell it for $750 on Ebay.
Not one piece of Father A.’s art was ever hung in the presbytery at Blacktown while I
was there but instead crowded every spare room, eventually over-flowing into the halls.
While he was on holidays one year on one of numerous visits to Alice Springs to acquire
more Aboriginal art, I was bored and became curious about the contents of his bedroom.
When I opened his door with my master key my eyes were immediately drawn to his video
collection which lined the left wall just inside the red bedroom door. I flicked through the
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familiar, mostly Sci-Fi titles.
Father A. had a penchant for collecting Stargate and other more bizarre Sci Fi videos
that I wondered why anyone would want to watch at all on free-to-air TV, let alone buy the
whole series to watch over and over again. After lunch each afternoon he would retire to his
room to strap on his nebuliser for half an hour and watch another Stargate episode.
Father A. had at one time given me permission to select any video I wanted to watch
while he was away, so this day I knew I would not have to be surreptitious in concealing my
search of his videos.
I did feel very deceitful however when I removed one plain looking video which had a
homemade cover which I discovered behind a row of videos at the back of the video
cupboard.
Its cover was what caught my attention. It was a photocopy of a page from K-Mart
clothing catalogue that advertised “Boys 9-16” with a photograph of two lads in summer
pyjamas.
I took it to my room to investigate.
When I played the video it appeared to be a scratchy home movie depicting young men
in some type of “body building competition” but they were fully dressed or in swim suits.
They paraded their wares to the sound of disco music and wolf whistles and there was no
commentary to the amateur video apart from muffled comments presumably made by the
person who was recording the event. It was still pretty weird and the jumpiness of the tape
added to the strangeness of the visuals that I had never seen before.
I trustingly told Father Paul Venticinque who was another resident priest in the house.
We watched a bit of it together before he suddenly told me to turn it off.
“Put it back in his room”, he ordered me.
It surprised me that he was not more shocked by the discovery, only worried that Father
A. would find out we had seen it. Although he agreed it was “pretty sick” Father Paul
suggested that I take no further action.
I returned the video to where it was before, careful to note exactly where it had come
from.
I was certain the presence of this video removed any doubt that Father A. was “into
boys” and on its evidence alone, the Diocesan authorities would act swiftly to have him
removed from ministry.
I was afraid however that if the Diocese did not act to remove him, he would make my
life unbearable should he know of my suspicions. I knew I had to make a pre-emptive strike
so I made a formal complaint to Bishop Manning at the nearest opportunity.
Part of my complaints to the Diocese also concerned the bullying and intimidation
tactics of Father A. and included the following anecdote.
Once when I was ill (perhaps from drinking myself into oblivion the previous night after
a football game) Father A. came into my room and started his pretence of concern.
“How are you feeling darling? Do you want me to get you anything? Some broth would
be good if you have an upset tummy.”
I was surprised that he had come into my bedroom when I had the door locked. I was
awake at the time and knew that I hadn’t heard him knock.
Even after I was well again, he began to make a regular habit of coming into my room
without knocking, using the master key that he, as parish priest had a right to have.
He made excuses like saying he was checking to see if I was up because it was nearly
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Mass time or to tell me that I had a phone call.
These were only excuses as we had an intercom and if he wanted to give me a message
it was quite easy for him to boom it out for the entire household to hear. Instead he chose to
shuffle his way to my room which was at the extreme opposite end of the residential area.
I began to feel very angry at the intrusions and threatened by my lack of privacy so I
discretely asked Jack Culbert, the parish caretaker, to organise to have the locks in my room
changed.
Jack was a saint (literally, since he is now in Heaven) who used to serve the Church
faithfully getting only $100 a week for well over 70 hours of his committed energy. He had
been president of the local St. Vincent De Paul conference for decades and worked as a
voluntary member of the parish for many years before being offered this nominal sum as
some gesture of appreciation by the previous parish priest.
Unknown to everyone, Jack, a widower, had won a large sum of money in the lottery
some years back. After paying off his mortgage and giving some money to his
grandchildren, he donated some money to the church, depositing the remaining amount in
the parish bank.
Parish banks arose at a time when interest rates made it impossible for smaller parishes
to raise enough money to build. They offered only 1% interest and many of those who
deposited their money were actually making donations that they never hoped to withdraw.
The Bishop at one point established a Diocesan Bank and advised Parish Priests to close
their parish banks and pay out their loans. As people moved away however, some never
recovered their money or the interest that they had accrued and I doubt whether many
priests made serious attempts to locate them.
Jack Culbert had the largest amount owing to him, and being an immensely generous
man, was not going to ask for it back. As part of his caretaker duties, Jack slaved to keep the
large lawns mowed, often in oppressively hot temperatures and at that time he was in his
late 80’s.
Although a quiet, peaceful old man who limped as a result of two knee replacement
operations, he would bite your head off if you suggested doing anything for him.
Jack believed in me and often used to invite me around for a beer at his house and
regularly minded Zac (my noisy cockatoo) when I was on holidays.
He was not surprised when I asked him to replace the locks in my unit.
With a nod and a wink Jack soon had the locksmith around with a new tumbler and
things were again fine for me and I slept peacefully for some time afterward.
One fateful morning I was awoken by pounding on my door and the bellowing voice of
Father A. shouting “Open this fucking door!”
Bleary eyed I looked at my alarm clock to see it was only 7:50am. I usually only got up
at 8am because we prayed Morning Prayer in the Blessed Sacrament chapel at 8:30am.
Having a shaven head meant that I only needed a two minute shower. I realised it was
Father A. huffing and puffing outside my bedroom door.
I jumped out of bed pulling on some shorts over my jocks. I opened the door and before
I had a chance to open my mouth (I would not have dared to complain about his bullish
behaviour as it was his parish and I was merely his assistant) he glared at me.
“Did you change the lock on this door?”
“Yes” I said meekly still wiping the sleep from my eyes.
“Why?” he demanded, his face filled with rage as his hand gripped the door knob.
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“To keep you out!” I insisted.
He was taken aback at my statement and then fishing for something to say said, “Go to
the hospital. Someone has died. When you get back, come and see me in my office.”
He spun on his heels with his stomach following a little bit later and shuffled down the
corridor leading to the offices.
I was relieved that there was not to be a continuation of this confrontation until
sometime later as it would give me a chance to develop some form of defence. I quickly
dressed and jumping on my motorbike, sped to the Emergency ward at Blacktown hospital.
As I prayed with the family whose elderly father had passed away from a stroke I was
seriously distracted, wondering what was to happen to me.
Should I make up an excuse and explain away my change of locks? Was Jack going to
get into trouble? I resolved to inform the Bishop of all my suspicions and was determined to
tell Father A. that his actions towards me were inappropriate.
I was so distracted with all these thoughts that I soon realised that I had been blessing
the wrong man. The one I was praying with was not a Catholic and when I apologised for
the mistake the family were not perturbed but appeared comforted and started telling me
how nice it was to see a priest of any religion.
After leaving the hospital I called the bishop’s office and told his secretary Helen I
wanted a meeting with him as soon as possible that day. She could probably tell from my
shaking voice that something was seriously up and she gave me an appointment for that
afternoon.
When I got back to the presbytery, the door to Father A.’s office was closed. The parish
secretary Anne Clark had obviously been made aware of what had transpired in the morning
and she was tight-lipped as she motioned for me to knock on the Parish Priest’s door.
“Come in!” he bellowed from inside.
I opened the door and before I could say anything he said, “I want you to contact the
bishop and tell him you want a move to another parish”.
“I have already,” I said with conviction. “I am meeting with him this afternoon”.
He dropped his raised eyebrows and then waved his hand, motioning me to leave the
room.
“Shut the door,” he said more softly as I turned to walk out.
I was very hesitant about how to introduce the topic when I entered the Bishop’s office
that afternoon. I was not sure how Bishop Manning would receive the news about the priest
who had been such an effective fundraiser for many Diocesan projects. To my relief he did
not appear overly surprised at my revelations nor my suspicions about Father A.’s ulterior
priestly motives.
I did advise Bishop Manning of my pervasive fear of Father A.’s constant incursions of
my privacy and included the discovery of the secreted video among a series of complaints
that I made to Paul Davis (current legal representative for the Diocese) to substantiate my
beliefs that Father A. was a ticking time-bomb. I told him it would only be a matter of time
before his activities are discovered and his story blows up in the face of the Diocesan
authorities. He received my testimony and advised that to allow a fuller investigation of my
complaints it was probably best if I be relocated in another parish. He soon advised me that I
would be assigned to the parish of St. Michaels at Baulkham Hills.
I was initially very angry at the suggestion that I should be the one removed rather than
Father A. After all, I had done nothing wrong so why should I be moved? However I did
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concede that Baulkham Hills was a far better place to minister and live than Blacktown and
I did honestly believe the Bishop that he would be investigating my claims thoroughly and
in due course I expected I would be hearing about the removal of Father A.
However as I settled into a new life in Baulkham Hills and enjoyed the change of
scenery as well as the freshness of the community in stark contrast to my previous
appointment, my mind moved on to a renewed ministry of hope and optimism among a
more affluent parish.
Sometime later I happened to bring up in conversation with the Bishop, the question of
my complaint. To my amazement he had done nothing. He asked me to make contact with
Paul Davis if I wanted to know what was happening. I made an appointment to see Paul
Davis and he advised me that I was not the only person who had complained about him. I
could see from his demeanour that Paul Davis was frustrated by the process. He listened
with apparent concern at my repeated annoyance at how long it had been since my
complaints about Father A. had been registered with the Diocese.
I was advised that if I want anything to happen over my complaint I needed to put it in
writing. Paul Davis emphasised to me “Just think about it for a while. But let me caution
you Kevin, anything you do put in writing will be read by Bishop Manning”. I had certainly
hoped so. However it appeared obvious from what Davis had said that the Bishop may not
be too pleased to know that I had specifically asked that my complaint be notarised.
When I returned to my parish at Baulkham Hill I immediately accessed the notes in my
diary and cut and paste from the section that pertained to Father A.’s regular incursions into
my personal space as well as his lack of discretion when it came to suggestive comments
and what I perceived were provocative advances.
In addition, I advised Paul Davis that I wanted to have my letter registered as a formal
complaint over the way that Father A. entered my bedroom without my permission and
acted in a way that I considered sexual harassment. I expected to hear back imminently that
Father A. had been stood down or relieved of his duties. Nothing happened.
Amazingly, no one seems concerned. Paul Davis has, through comments made to
Barrister Paul Brazier only 5 days after the new Bishop Anthony Fisher picked up the
reigns, stated in a written letter “there is no evidence to suggest that Father A. has done
anything inappropriate and the Bishop has closed all current enquires into Father A.”.
But further evidence of Father A.’s controlling influence can be seen in his stranglehold
over the administration of the Catholic boy’s high school of Patrician Brothers Blacktown
who have been the subject of recent allegations of paedophilia.
The previous Principal Brother Patrick Lovegrove deferred to Father A. when it came to
the appointments of staff. When Brother Patrick retired and his position became vacant,
Father A. ensured that his dominance of the school would continue. The school Principal is
quite a sought after appointment, so there were a good number of quality applicants for the
role.
As is normal procedure for the selection process, a panel of people is chosen to judge the
applicants. The panel normally consists of the parish priest, a representative of the Diocesan
Catholic schools’ board, the Director of Catholic schools, and other eminently qualified
academic professionals in education, and of course the parish priest.
When it came to deciding who would be short-listed for the interviews it was suggested
that some applicant’s résumés were more relevant than others and met certain criteria that
were important to the overall process of determining the successful candidate for the job.
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Father A. objected to the process and refused to participate in the interviews.
As he stood to leave the meeting, Father A. said decisively, “You can interview
whomsoever you please, but you must give the job to Santo Passarello”.
Santo Passarello was formerly the Principal of the Catholic High school at Marayong
where Father A. was assistant priest for a long time. They had formed a friendship and
Father A. was now using his position to enforce the appointment of his friend. No one had
the courage to oppose him and Santo was duly appointed principal without criticism. It is
unsure why Father A. has for so long held such stringent controls over appointments at the
school and why no one dares to challenge his flagrant abuse of his authority to influence
outcomes for himself and those who are dear to him. But by orchestrating the employment
of his friend Santo as principal, Father A. ensured himself continued unhindered access to
the school and the boy students.
Exposing Father A.
On my arrival for my first day in the Blacktown parish I went straight to the office of the
parish priest. Father A. respectfully struggled to rise to his feet and welcomed me warmly
as a brother priest. He was quick to mention that “despite the disdain that others might hold
you in, we hold similar theological perspectives”.
I don’t know what he based this assumption on. I had met him briefly at some Opus Dei
led priests’ recollections a few years back but I had not seen him for some time and I can’t
ever recall talking theology with him.
I believe he took an instant liking to me as he showed me around his “kingdom”. He
derided the hideous church building with its rainbow coloured glass and green carpets
highlighting the red window frames and said it reminded him of “South Sydney Juniors
Rugby Leagues Club”.
He confided that he had intentions to restore our Lord to the tabernacle in the sanctuary
of the Church “… but we must move slowly and stealthily, darling”.
I cringed every time he called me “darling”. I wondered whether it was used exclusively
for me or whether it was a “gay thing”. I soon realised he called everyone “darling” and
assumed it must be “a gay thing”.
He then took me on a tour of the facilities of the parish. When we got to the
accommodation area of the presbytery, which felt like walking through an underground
bomb shelter, we came to the first of five red doors set into a hollow-block wall.
“This is the Bishop’s unit. He has a lady friend … (pausing for affect) she is the
R.E.C.lxix in the primary school.” He raised his eyebrows in feigned disgust as he said the
words and he studied my facial expression to gauge my reaction. I remained poker faced.
“Now when the Bishop is having dinner with his lady friend, we make ourselves scarce
if you know what I mean.”
I soon found this to be true. This ‘lady friendlxx’ even had her own key to the priests’
accommodation area and used to let herself in. My room was the closest to the external door
through which she let herself in and out, so I became accustomed to hearing the door
opening and closing at odd hours and sometimes checked to see if it was her car that pulled
up noiselessly outside my wall.
After a time I was totally dissatisfied with the apparent flaunting of the rules of
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discretion and prudence that were happening inside our presbytery and decided to blow it all
open by contacting the media. My thoughts were that if I could get enough information
about the shameless nocturnal activates of this supposed monastic household I could get the
Bishop and (‘A Current Affairs’) to fall on their swords and the diocese would be rid of
these two scourges in one foul swoop. My objective was to reform the Church from the
outside as it seemed improbable that it was ever going to happen from within. I did not
believe that I had the exclusive insight into what was wrong with the Catholic Church in
Australia but it did not look in imminent need of reform.
I could imagine Catholic schools returning to a newfound practice of teaching the true
faith. I could envisage the Pope appointing a new bishop who would insist on Catholic
teachers practicing their religion and truly professing their love for Jesus in a tangible way. I
could see a time where men would want to become priests and the diocese of Parramatta
would accept suitable candidates who displayed open devotion to the Holy Eucharist.
And I would be responsible.
I rang the ‘A Current Affairs’ (ACA) programme and after some clarification of who
was going to cover the “story” to ensure my anonymity had a brief conversation with a
producer who promptly despatched a researcher to visit me in the presbytery where I could
show him the surroundings.
Soon it became apparent that the scope of the information gathering exercise was
beyond the resources of ACA. This was to be a job for ‘60 Minutes’. Someone else
contacted me stating that they were to take over the researching. I realised too that I needed
support and the people at 60 Minutes wanted others to substantiate my claims.
It was then that I put them in touch with the barrister, Mr Paul Brazier, who gave some
supplementary documentation concerning the background of Father A.
I met with a producer called Peter Wilkinson who displayed no particular affiliation to
any denomination but understood most of the Catholic terminology I used. We met a
number of times, and on one occasion it was at the Channel 9 studios.
I discussed the whole Brothers of Gerard Majella saga and my information that I had
given to the Wood Royal Commission detectives. I retold my story a number of times and
Wilkinson double-checked a few of the timing details. I explained that my theory was that
the Bishop must somehow have an involvement with the Brothers for him to remain inactive
on the claims of abuse given him by lay people with associations at Greystanes.
He advised that he would employ a private detective to record the movements of the
Bishop and his lady friend. I was asked to provide both car registration numbers and suggest
the likely location of the Bishop’s caravan at Erina (where he met his girlfriend).
I explained that the Parish Priest was aware of all this impropriety but he himself had
skeletons in the closet. Wilkinson suggested that maybe the Bishop was aware of this and
allowed Father A. to come to Parramatta Diocese knowing he would not be in a position to
disclose his own misdeeds. I told Wilkinson about the regular visits that Father A. received,
often late at night from some pretty strange characters.
I mentioned one time a hugely built, dark Polynesian looking man appeared at the
presbytery asking for Father A.
I pointed him in the direction of Father A.’s office.
After the man left some hours later, Father A. asked me excitedly, “Did you know who
that was that just left my room?”
I admitted that I didn’t recognise him.
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“That was Vulcan!” he cried gleefully in his high sounding voice.
When I still displayed no expression of recognition or admiration he added with obvious
disdain, “From the Gladiators TV show!”
Like I am supposed to be watching that show? The program aired from 1995-1996 and
ended abruptly amongst rumours of steroid abuse. I can imagine that Father A. must have
been disappointed when it went off air.
I never had time to watch the inane programme so I had no idea what he was talking
about.
“Why ever did he want to see you?” I asked incredulous that he would have anything in
common with someone who had any interest in physical fitness.
“Why ever not?” Father A. retorted, “Gladiators have souls too, you know!”
I think you need a description of the man Father A., for you to fully appreciate the
enigma he is. He would be about 6 foot in height, and would have to be at least 200
kilograms in weight.
I would only be guessing here as I would have no way of estimating what a person his
size would weigh. His girth is huge in proportion to his height and he has destroyed any
number of chairs in my presence. Once when I was invited to dinner with him, he asked for
the piano stool as no chair in the house could accommodate him.
Of course the enormous girth of this man makes people do a double-take. How can a
priest, living a life of mortification and sacrificial service get so big?
Many will politely excuse his size saying he has some genetic problem that causes him
to gain weight but I lived with him and saw firsthand how quickly he could demolish a plate
of food and then raise his hand for another helping.
I once witnessed him at lunch consume eight lamb chops in under ten minutes and then
nonchalantly add another seven to his plate.
He had a mess of greying black hair atop a bovine and misshapen face. He had skin-tags,
the lumpy nodules growing on his face and neck that you often see fat people have. His eyes
were magnified by the thick lenses in his steel rimmed bubble-like glasses that accentuated
his eyes that search up and down a person that he meets for the first time and used to
embarrass me constantly as he made no attempt to hide his perving glances from men he
thought to be attractive.
So repulsive was his appearance, it baffled me why anyone would chose to go anywhere
with him. How I endured his company for so long is testimony to how badly I wanted to be
a parish priest. His health was so bad that he panted when he walked even from his office to
the dinner table. I expected one day to find him dead in his room and consequently be freed
from the daily disgust of having to live with him.
But it was never to transpire.
After a visit to the Channel 9 studios the 60 Minutes people who spoke to me said that
they would need some proof of Father A.’s actions that I interpreted as abusive.
I suggested bugging Father A.’s room. They advised me that it would not be legal and
would destroy the credibility of their story. I told them that it would be almost impossible to
get someone to denounce Father A. because he was a carefully conniving predator who
vigilantly selected his victims from among those whose credibility would be questioned.
The young, the vulnerable, and those unlikely to be believed: drug addicts, dropouts and
boys from single parent homes with no financial means became his victims.
I suggested that they get someone to pose as an interested performer and bug him, but
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they also declined saying it would be seen as ‘entrapment’.
They were insistent that I must know someone who would betray him and pleaded with
me to find some victim who would turn on him. But as it happens with those who are
abused, they seldom realise until years later that they have been abused and the monetary
incentives they receive for participating in the abuse are hard to refuse.
One day I received a call from the police on the tail of an Operation Paradox promotion.
It was from a female detective who wanted to know the whereabouts of a priest with the
same first name as Father A. but a different surname (let’s call him Father C.).
I thought she must have got the name wrong and suggested she meant Father A.
She insisted that allegations had been made during the information amnesty about a
priest who resided in the parish but had the other surname.
This was interesting to me because I had previously performed a wedding for a “Jason”
who told me that his brother, a drug addict had resided in the presbytery at Blacktown and
now lived in Rozelle.
He told me that in one phone call from his brother, Father C would travel all the way
from Blacktown to his brother’s house and bring him money. He felt this was unusual and I
agreed with him.
When I checked this out with Father McGuckin who shared the house at that time, he
told me that Father C. often had young teenage males staying in the presbytery and he was
constantly warning him of the potential for accusations, but he never stopped welcoming
them.
Two years into his second term as parish priest of Blacktown, Father C. did take leave
for a time and was the subject of an internal inquiry, but he was found to have nothing to
answer for and was awarded the position of parish priest of Riverstone.
At one stage I felt it appropriate to advise the diocesan authorities of the information
given me by Jason, believing that they might take some serious interest in discovering the
truth. Some months later I received a phone call from a nun who declared that she was
working for the Catholic social services agency Centacare.
She enquired as to the availability of Jason Denham for questioning. After contacting
him, he said he was reluctant to speak out against his brother who was now using drugs.
After that one phone call I never heard any more about Father C. until I met him
unexpectedly at our parish church in Blacktown. He had turned up for a wedding rehearsal
he was to perform the following weekend.
As he walked through the church he confronted me saying, “The truth will come out and
I will be vindicated. I can’t believe that you would try and incriminate a brother priest
without checking the story out with him”.
I defensively told him that if he ever heard a rumour or was given what he believed to be
reliable testimony about another fellow priest engaging in abusive behaviour, I would hope
that he would believe the victim and inform the authorities, even if it was me.
I then walked a difficult path as I lead a double life pretending to be interested in the
occupants of my household while at the same time looking for information with which to
hang them.
As I gave more information to Brazier, it became apparent to me that he was becoming
less inclined to be cooperative with 60 Minutes.
They told me he was not returning their calls.
This worried me as I felt that his information was pivotal to presenting a balanced
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account.
Paul Brazier seemed to have a more chronologically based mind and he was able to
pinpoint all the events in the Greystanes story with incredible recollective accuracy. Due to
the increasing number of reports and information that I was receiving, at his suggestion I
started writing things down.
This book began as my journaling of people’s conversations that I felt were relevant to
cases against the diocesan authorities of Parramatta, and had snowballed to 32 pages at this
point.lxxi At some point Wilkinson started telling me that it appeared to him that Brazier was
turning his allegiance back to the diocese, as he was elusive and dismissive of some of the
claims that he had previously asserted.
I informed Wilkinson that Brazier was an intelligent and intuitive barrister, but
apparently a disorganised one, judging from his inability to have someone answer the phone
or return phone calls promptly.
I told Wilkinson that I often had to wait days for a reply, but he always came up with the
goods. I explained that he had a lot of irons in the fire and had a family of nine children,
which would explain his tardy response to their enquiries.
60 Minutes were anxious to get a story together as this investigation had dragged on for
nearly two months.
On one particular morning I received a phone call from a frustrated Peter Wilkinson.
“We will have to do it without Brazier” Wilkinson finally informed me one day. “He
told me rudely today that he has decided not to be involved with the media any longer”.
I felt frustrated and abandoned.
Wilkinson assured me we would still have enough evidence to raise some questions
about the Bishop’s suitability to lead a diocese and he said that one of the private
investigators had produced a tape that he claimed showed the Bishop and the “lady friend”
wearing matching dressing gowns emerging from a caravan.
It did not prove any impropriety but he was sure the Catholic people would find it
compromising vision.
Some hours later Paul Brazier rang me and almost ordered me “Do not have any further
communications with 60 Minutes,” because he said, “the Bishop will soon be leaving”.
I was elated at his surprising revelation and asked how he could be so sure.
“Have you contacted any other media?” he asked gruffly.
“No,” I admitted honestly. “You have been very evasive with 60 Minutes and they fear
that you have changed allegiances.”
I pressed him to stay on-board telling him that 60 Minutes had a convincing story that
would certainly cause the Bishop to resign from office.
“We don’t need the media any longer,” Brazier retorted. “They have done their job very
well, rattling enough cages with their inquiries as to make it impossible for the Bishop to
remain”.
Without identifying the source of his certainty, he said he had it on good authority ‘from
Rome’ that Heather will resign “within the month” and a suitable replacement would arrive
and the diocese would be “cleaned up”.
“How can I be sure that things will change?” I asked incredulously. “I can’t stay in the
Church while ever these hypocrites continue to run the show!”
“I have it from the highest authority” Brazier reiterated in his authoritarian, booming
barrister voice “that Heather is on his last legs. Stay away from the media”.
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Brazier’s prophecy was fulfilled only a short time later when the papers revealed the
heading:
“Pope accepts Bishop’s resignation”lxxii.
There was no admission of any wrong doing and Heather was lauded as one of the more
progressive and even prophetic leaders of the Church.
The statements that followed in the media in the following weeks gave no indication that
Pope Benedict XVI had actually requested the Bishop’s resignation. But from a
contemporaneous newspaper article that bears striking similarity to those telling of
Heather’s departure, you can see the implications:
Shamed Bishop resigns lxxiii
“The Pope accepted the resignation of Ireland’s Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey.
The Bishop had been criticised over his handling of child sex abuse allegations against
Father Sean Fortune who committed suicide in 1999 before his trial on sex assault charges.
He announced his decision to resign early last week after a TV programme about the case.
The Bishop met Vatican officials in Rome ahead of the announcement”.
This outcome was a mixed blessing, both a great disappointment and a relief to me.
Surely I would have hoped for this outcome. But I am disappointed that to this day he
has not been held accountable for the lives who were destroyed while he was in charge.
Does Bishop Bede Heather get to walk away with flawless reputation intact, without
being held accountable for his misdeeds?lxxiv
I pressed Brazier with another phone call asking what we should say to 60 Minutes if
they rang. He told me that I was to say I had a change of heart or make up some other
excuse.
“Either way”, he told me prophetically “they will soon lose interest”.
And they did.
Grooming and Recruiting New Priests
One cold mid-winter’s day, it must have been August judging by the howling winds
rushing through the open church doors, I noticed a solitary figure sitting hunched over in the
ghastly green chairs of St. Patricks Church Blacktown.
As I walked through the sacred space, I noticed the very forlorn and dejected looking
man was not praying but appeared to be crying. I was going out somewhere, so I wasn’t
available to spend the time it would have taken to ascertain the cause of his sadness.
So I told Father A.
“There is a guy in the church who looks like he is in need of a priest” I told him.
“Well you’re a priest aren’t you Darling?” he said in his usually sardonic way whenever
I informed him of anything that would require him to do something resembling priestly
ministry.
“I have something I have to do and somewhere I need to be. Anyway, he looks like
someone you might be able to be of more assistance to,” I said with obvious innuendo.
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“Oh well, if I must …” he said in feigned resignation as he eagerly shuffled his huge
frame onto his feet, obviously excited at the possibility of ministering to a needy male.
A few days later I noticed Father A.’s Paco Rabanne scent wafting through the lounge
room.
This was the odour he liked to wear when he was going somewhere special with
someone special.
“And where are we off to tonight?” I asked playfully.
“I am going to the Opera with my new friend Robert,” he announced almost boastfully.
“Who’s Robert?” I asked sincerely curious to discover the identity of this new
companion.
“Robert is a man I have been ministering to. You know, the one you found in the
church? The one whom you were too busy to help.”
“Oh that fella” I remembered.
I thought little of it at the time, until Robert started to become a new fixture in our home.
Father A. invited him to dinner many more times and he frequently took him to meet others
of his priest friends.
I began to be concerned of the type of relationship that was developing between Father
A. and Robert. When he was at our presbytery Robert would never talk to me. He was kind
of growing into a silent companion that followed Father A. around wherever he went. I was
not too perturbed by my lack of conversation with him because it took the pressure off me to
have to engage in forced dinner time banter.
It seemed like not long afterwards that Father A. announced that Robert had decided he
wanted to become a Catholic.
That was strange. All that time I had naturally assumed Robert was a Catholic and I
suppose it did surprise me that he was not attending Mass. Soon he had completed his
shorter version of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) course and was part of
the furniture.
In what seemed like a record conversion, Robert was installed as an Acolyte and was
helping out on the altar at Mass and other religious festivals. I started to feel sorry for
Robert as I heard Father A. ordering him around and turning him into a bit of a gopher,
doing all the menial things that used to be expected of me.
But what finally revealed to me the farce of the whole process was the day that Father A.
declared that Robert had been accepted into the seminary and would be beginning his
studies to become a priest. In all the preceding period I had not had one conversation with
Robert about religion or ministry and I would have assumed that if he were sincerely
interested in discerning a vocation to the priesthood, he would have asked the youngest
cleric in the priestly household what I thought about his ponderings.
Monsignor McGuckin who was also part of our household, and had been a silent
observer of all that had transpired between Father A. and the newest student priest, did raise
his eyebrows in surprise at the rapid movement from convert to cleric and must have
doubted the sincerity of the movement. However the drastic shortage of priests means we
don’t discourage a vocation even if we doubt its authenticity.
I have divulged a large amount of my concerns about Father A. and people like him to
then Vicar General Bob McGuckin, assuming that as a Canon Lawyer he would be
concerned about the potential for some of those who are abused or exploited at the hands of
people like Father A. to sue the Diocese.
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I also presumed that he would be concerned to protect potential victims from the
cunning modus operandi of priests who, from a position of power and trust can easily gain
the confidence of unknowing and vulnerable victims.
But it appears from his wilful indifference he didn’t share my concern.
On one spring afternoon as we sat for coffee after lunch in the crowded staff meal room
in the Blacktown presbytery Father A. suddenly rose to his feet and announced to his
assembled employees, “I must be off. I have to bless the boys for battle”.
He was alluding to his ritual dressing shed blessing that Father A. regularly administered
for the Patrician Brothers school rugby league team before their midweek games.
Father Russell Frost, his friend from the Diocese of East Anglia in England, was visiting
at the time and he smirked to himself as Father A. shuffled down the hallway.
When he heard the door to the office close he looked knowingly at me and said, “Oh
(Father A.) … he has had cannon balls shooting across his bows so long he assumes he is
never going to get hit!”
I read his comment as a ringing endorsement of what I had suspected.
Father A. wouldn’t know a rugby league ball from an AFL football and yet he saw it as
his duty to enter the change-rooms of the schoolboys’ football team and give them a handson
“blessing” before their games.
If you ask Father A. which football team he supports he would say, “Whoever is
winning.”
This speaks volumes for Father A. He likes to be seen with winners.
His friends are all successful business people, politicians, celebrities or wealthy. Which
is why it was such a paradox to see him representing the people of such an economically
depressed area as Blacktown.
But he was a bit of a chameleon.
His principles and opinions varied depending on whom he was speaking with. If he was
with a conservative priest he would laud the Pope and quote his latest encyclical and if he
were with a liberal or a rebel he would malign him.
I knew that I could never trust Father A. and he probably felt the same about me.
Father A. probably got the idea that I was trying to undermine him and assumed I
wanted his position as parish priest. I don’t think he ever saw me as a serious threat to
revealing his double-life.
But for some time I almost thought I could.

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