Priests And Justice - Pedophilia at St. Stanislaus College
The Sydney Morning Herald, January 9, 2010 by DAVID MARR
Allegations ... St Stanislaus college, Bathurst.
"One of the biggest sexual assault cases in Australian history"...from left, former student tor Neilsen; solicitor Greg Walsh; and Superintendent Mick Goodwin, then of Bathurst. and bottom, St. Stanislaus. Photo: Kate Geraghty, Janie Barrett, Adam Hollingworth
After two years of investigation, charges of pedophilia at St Stanislaus' College, Bathurst, are moving to trial. David Marr reports.
One winter day a couple of years ago, a troubled man walked the streets of Bathurst, handing out leaflets accusing a priest of sexual abuse. Tor Steven Nielsen's life was a mess. A few weeks before this dash to Bathurst he had posted on his website a grim résumé of his 35 years: “As it stands now I am a convicted criminal who has been certified as delusional.
"I have no education, no house, no job, no job references, no licence, no car, no super, no savings. To this day, they are putting Drugs in my food and I find it very distressing . . . my life has been completely destroyed.”
Twenty years earlier, Nielsen had boarded for a few terms at Bathurst's St Stanislaus' College, where he was sexually abused by a teacher. Nielsen eventually complained to the police. The teacher confessed and went to prison. When suing the school for damages afterwards, Nielsen made and then dropped quite separate allegations against the school's chaplain. This was the man his leaflets attacked in the winter of 2007: Father Brian Joseph Spillane.
The investigation Bathurst police began in the aftermath of Nielsen's visit to the city has led to nine former staff of St Stanislaus' College being charged with sexual abuse. Greg Walsh, the solicitor defending most of them, says: “This would have to be one of the biggest sexual assault cases in Australian history.”
Walsh speaks of a witch hunt against the teachers. “Religious people are so easily tainted these days,” he says. “It is easy to make allegations and so hard to disprove them.”
All 200-plus charges against the men are contested. None has pleaded guilty. Five have been committed for trial. The first trials are scheduled for March. The cases of the other four priests will be back before the courts over the next couple of months. Whether they proceed to trial has yet to be decided. All nine men remain innocent until a dozen or more juries decide otherwise. None of them face charges of abusing Tor Nielsen.
Bathurst is a town of boarding schools: one Anglican, one Presbyterian and St Stanislaus', the oldest Catholic boarding school in Australia. Nielsen was a 12-year-old at Nowra High in 1985 when his parents decided to send him boarding. “During that year I went with my father to Bathurst to look at three boarding schools,” he later posted on his website, The Catholic Cover Up. “I preferred All Saints because it was Co Ed but Saint Stanislaus was the cheapest so I went there.”
The school has been run by the Vincentian Fathers since 1889. The order and the school are close. Old boys join the order and return to St Stanislaus' as priests and brothers, so spending most of their lives in those brown-brick classrooms topped with spires and corrugated iron. There's a list of distinguished old boys. Farmers out west look back on their time at Stannies with fierce affection. But that fondness is not shared by all who went there. Boarding schools have that effect.
Nielsen's year at the school was miserable. His abuse began after a game of strip poker. The teacher was not a member of the Vincentians but a lay teacher. The abuse occurred in the town. Quite separately, Nielsen attended night prayers with a number of other boys in Father Spillane's room. The school's charismatic chaplain, then in his mid-40s, was a man known for his intense devotion to his faith.
Each time Nielsen ran away, his parents took him back to Bathurst. He was often in trouble. A few weeks before the end of the year, he was expelled. By his own account what followed was a life of dead-end jobs, heavy use of marijuana, financial problems, court convictions and several attempts at suicide. He came to believe he was being hypnotised and poisoned. Behind all his woes he saw the hand of the Catholic Church: “They have been interfering with my life ever since I was 13 years old.”
The teacher's imprisonment, and the cash settlement that followed, did not end the matter for Neilsen. He wanted action against Spillane. In June 2007, he posted on his website a long memoir, “Sexual and Mental Abuse @ Saint Stanislaus College in Bathurst”, that made a number of serious allegations of abuse against Spillane who had, by this time, left the school and was about to leave the priesthood to marry.
Nielsen's memoir provoked some spirited abuse on his website over the next few weeks. “This is absolute bullshit,” posted one anonymous correspondent. “I go to Stannies now and my dad went to Stannies back then and he thinks u r a f---wit.” But as far as Nielsen could tell, his claims were not provoking any official action. So he took his bundle of leaflets to Bathurst. He said: “It was my last resort.”
Bathurst police set up Operation Heador, under the command of Detective Superintendent Michael Goodwin, to investigate Spillane. The initial legwork was done by Detective Justin Hadley. The last months of 2007 saw little progress. “But in 2008,” Goodwin told the Herald, “some of the information was corroborated.” Four other men had accused Spillane of sexually assaulting them while they were at the college.
Spillane was quietly arrested in May 2008 and charged with 33 counts of abuse. Nothing of this appeared in the media. “We were trying to keep a lid on it,” says Goodwin. By this time, police were pursuing other allegations against other priests. But in August that year, Channel Seven broke the story. Dramatic claims of abuse of children as young as 11 were reported around the world.
Police were furious. “But a lot more allegations came forward,” says Goodwin. Operation Heador became Operation Belle. “This involved three full-time detectives in Bathurst with assistance from the State Crime Command plus at various times detectives from Sydney.”
More arrests followed. In September 2008, the school's former headmaster, Father Peter Dwyer, and a former dormitory supervisor, Brother John Gaven, were charged with abuse of students. At the same time, Spillane was charged with another 60 offences, bringing the total he faced to 93.
Greg Walsh, speaking for his clients Spillane and Gaven, declared: “These men are innocent. The allegations are bizarre and have arisen under very suspicious circumstances.” He assured the media scrum around the Bathurst court that all the charges would be defended. “We are seeing here examples of mass hysteria. Moral panic.”
In December, three more men were arrested. One was Father Greg Cooney, a former chaplain at the school and now the Provincial – or head – of the Vincentian Order in Australia. Only weeks earlier, Cooney had been defending the order's handling of abuse allegations. Now he found himself in the cells at Ryde police station.
Walsh met his client there. “Some months before his arrest, the police had sought and been given the records of the order,” he says. “These should have alerted them to the fact that Cooney was in Rome in the years one of the ex-students was alleging abuse at his hands.” Superintendent Goodwin confirms that Cooney was set free after showing police his passport. No charges were laid.
In these weeks, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions decided to cut Nielsen loose. Though his complaints had provoked the investigation of the St Stanislaus' teachers, his evidence would not be part of the prosecution case. As a result, 20 charges against Spillane were to be withdrawn. Goodwin talked the situation through with Nielsen. “He was very upset.”
But as the 20 were withdrawn in December 2008, another 44 were laid against Spillane. Then in August last year, following further work by Operation Belle, another 29 charges against the former chaplain were laid, bringing the total at that time to 146.
Opposing bail in the Downing Centre Local Court that month, prosecutor Beth Walker said: “In my submission, your honour, the brief of evidence paints a picture of rampant pedophilia.” Spillane pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was granted bail.
Police are not saying the work of Operation Belle is over. Last year a former teacher known as Witness A began to assist police. Four more priests long retired from St Stanislaus' were arrested and charged with abusing boys. One of the arrested was a priest in Mackay. Another a travel agent in Tasmania. Four of the new charges date back half a century.
The St Stanislaus' prosecutions are still evolving. Fresh allegations could lead to fresh charges. Charges already laid may be dropped. Magistrates may decide not to send to trial the four men now facing committal.
But at this point, five priests, two ex-priests, one brother and one lay teacher have been charged with more than 200 offences committed between 1961 and 1991 against 46 children. The nine men are contesting all the charges.
James Patrick Jennings, 75.
An old boy of the school, Jennings became a Vincentian priest and returned briefly to St Stanislaus' to teach from 1959 to 1961. After departing the school he spent 14 years in schools and parishes before leaving the priesthood to marry. He faces four charges of indecently assaulting the one male in 1961. His trial is due to begin on March 1.
Hugh Edward Murray OAM, 79.
A former priest awarded an Order of Australia medal in 1994 for service to people living with HIV/AIDS and their families, Murray was teaching at the college in 1978. He faces one charge of assaulting a young male that year. Another charge relates to assaulting a young male at Ryde a decade earlier. Three further charges relate to another young male he is accused of assaulting between 1967 and 1972. His committal hearing is due to resume on February 17.
Father William Stanley Irwin, 54.
A former teacher at the school, Irwin is charged with two counts of gross indecency with a boy he brought on a visit to St Stanislaus' in 1986. Irwin was counselling the boy following earlier sexual abuse by another man in Victoria. When arrested late last year, Irwin was chaplain at St Aloysius College, Milsons Point. His case will be next mentioned in the Downing Centre Local Court on February 11.
Father Kevin Phillips, 59.
Phillips appears to have worked at the college only briefly in 1990 as a priest, sports coach and part-time teacher. He faces eight charges of abuse of two boys and one of supplying drugs to a pupil. At the time of his arrest, Phillips was a priest in charge of several parishes in the Rockhampton diocese in Queensland. His case is due to be mentioned next in the Downing Centre Local Court on February 25.
Father Phil Robson, 62.
The master of discipline and a member of the school's board, Robson is charged with five counts of sexual abuse of a 15-year-old boy in the last months of 1991. When arrested he was living in a Vincentian home for retired and semi-retired priests in Sydney. His committal proceeding resumes at the Downing Centre Local Court on February 22.
Rick McPhillamy, 50.
An assistant dormitory master, he is charged with indecently assaulting one student on two occasions in 1985. His trial is due to begin on March 15.
Father Peter Dwyer, 67.
An old boy, Dwyer returned to the college as a Vincentian brother to teach music in about 1972. By the end of the decade he was the school's headmaster. He faces a dozen charges of abuse, most with a 13-year old boy in 1982. Police allege Dwyer “fondled and masturbated” the boy's penis and had intercourse with him without consent. After leaving the college in 1992, Dwyer worked at the main Catholic seminary in Sydney and became a priest with a parish in Armidale. His trial begins on April 27.
Brother John Gaven, 68.
A keen rugby referee, Gaven joined the staff of the college as a dormitory supervisor in the mid-1970s. A decade later he was vice-principal of the school. He faces about 37 charges of abuse involving five boys in the 1980s. Most allege he kissed, caressed and masturbated several young boys in a group. It is also alleged he “rubbed his erect penis” against the chest of a 13-year old. He also faces three charges of homosexual intercourse with a pupil.
Gaven retired after 30 years in schools and seminaries. Recently he has been assisting the Vincentians' work among men living with HIV/AIDS. He has been committed for trial and will be formally arraigned at the Downing Centre Local Court on January 29.
Father Brian Spillane, 66.
In his first stint at the college from 1968 to 1978, Spillane was the school's dean of discipline. From those years, he faces about 30 charges, mainly of indecent assault of about eight boys.
In the late 1970s, Spillane was transferred by the Vincentians to the Sydney parish of St Anthony's, Marsfield. From his few years there he faces about eight charges of indecent assault of three little girls – one aged seven or eight.
Spillane returned to St Stanislaus' as the school's chaplain from 1984 to 1990. From those years he faces about 90 further charges. These include indecent assault, homosexual intercourse, inciting a person under authority to commit an act of indecency, and sexual intercourse without consent.
Another 22 charges Spillane had been facing were dropped during committal proceedings late last year. He will be arraigned with Gaven on January 29.
His solicitor, Greg Walsh, has foreshadowed that he will make an application at that time for a permanent stay of the proceedings. Walsh argues that the evidence against Spillane has been tainted by Tor Nielsen's website.
“I've been in enough cases to know you can have a mass contaminated case," Walsh says. "This case brings to light the dangers of the internet and modern communication, and this will be at the forefront of the application.”
with Geesche Jacobsenhttp://www.smh.com.au/national/priests-and-justice-20100108-lyxu.html