24 Jan 2011

Australian pedophile priest convicted of child abuse groomed girls, boys and parents for assaults in their own homes

The Sydney Morning Herald - Australia December 1, 2010

God help me: former priest found guilty of child abuse

Convicted ... Brian Spillane outside court. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Hospitable families in far-flung places would come to regret opening their homes to Father Brian Spillane, writes David Marr.

As Judge Michael Finnane, QC, pondered what lay ahead for Brian Spillane he remarked: "It is almost unheard of for one person to be involved in so many trials." The former priest was convicted yesterday by a District Court jury on nine counts of indecent assault and the bail hearing that followed heard the former chaplain of St Stanislaus College, Bathurst, faces a further 135 charges to be heard in four more trials that could last until late next year.

Spillane, 67, sat impassive, only occasionally shaking his head, as the jury found him guilty on count after count.

Spillane's victims were three young girls assaulted while he was based in Sydney during a break in his long career at St Stanislaus. The charges Spillane will face in trials next year relate to boys at the school where he taught in the 1970s and again in the late 1980s. He left the priesthood and married in 2004.

In the witness box Spillane described himself as a modern priest, joyful and enthusiastic, a man at ease with families and kids, a hugger and kisser, happy to play a game of tennis and celebrate a home Mass. His victims recalled him bringing his clarinet and Edith Piaf LPs when he came to dinner. His favourite Piaf song was, one victim said, "the one about no regrets".

The Crown prosecutor, Brad Hughes, told the jury: "He would not have been within a bull's roar of these girls if he hadn't been a priest." There was evidence that he had an eye for a broken family, a husband and wife in conflict, a sick mother or an absent father.

He would appear uninvited.

Mrs A found him on her doorstep in a bush town four or five times. She was a pillar of the parish; her husband was in rehab; her boys had been at St Stanislaus. "I always welcomed him."

He was convicted of two counts of sexually assaulting Mrs A's 11- or 12-year-old daughter. One morning, Spillane put her on his knee and touched her vagina.

When the child sprang from his clasp, he held her by the throat, thrust against her and pulled down her pants. At that point her younger sister appeared in the kitchen to see Spillane "pushing my sister up against the oven and she was struggling and he let go when I ran in and she grabbed me and we ran out of the house and I was terrified. He was hurting her."

Next year he will face charges involving the girl's two brothers.

Spillane was a gregarious, heavy-set, 36-year-old with pale red hair when the Vincentian Order brought him down from the bush in 1979.

His job was to lead the priests and brothers at the Vincentians' compound in suburban Marsfield. Within months he was also acting parish priest in the order's local church.

He liked to play with the children at the order's primary school before the bell rang for class. "They would come running up and take me by the hand and come up and, you know, give me a hug," he told the court. "It was just a very open and welcoming joyful moment for them and for me." In answer to his counsel, Philip Boulten, SC, he told the court he touched children "on their shoulder, perhaps on their head and on their hand. I'd allow my hands to be available to them."

During confession he would invite children as young as eight to sit on his lap. "It was my pastoral approach,'' he told the court, "to break down the barrier between the fearful God and the loving God." One former penitent gave evidence of him holding her tightly on his lap as he nuzzled into her neck. "What I felt was some little kisses."

The jury failed to agree on two charges relating to this 12-year- old child.

Spillane cultivated the Ls, a family in the parish. The devout mother hoped the priest might persuade her reluctant husband to attend Mass. Their daughters gave evidence that Spillane came to dinner more than 30 times in those years, usually bringing whisky for the father, chocolates for the mother and pink sugared peanuts for them. At the time they were aged eight and 10.

Spillane has been convicted of six counts of abusing the younger daughter while he was in her bedroom, ostensibly to hear her prayers. The assaults began with little pecks on the cheek which became forced tongue kissing and, according to the evidence, progressed over months until Spillane was lying on top of the child.

Her older sister told the court the priest was also assaulting her: "I can still taste the Scotch in my mouth and I can feel the stubble of him on my face."

Spillane took great risks. The court heard some of the children complained to their parents in the vague terms a deeply embarrassed child might use. One or two parents set bounds on Spillane's access. None took decisive action. No evidence was tendered at the trial to suggest the police were ever called or the Vincentians alerted.

From January 1981 Spillane joined a "renewal team" led by the provincial of the order, Father Keith Turnbull, which visited Vincentian parishes around Australia promoting what Spillane called "the teachings and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council". The priest was on the road for the next three years, but his base remained Marsfield and the evidence suggests he never lost touch with the parish.

Hospitable families in far-flung places opened their homes to him. He said Mass in their sitting rooms, played tennis with their children and, according to the evidence, abused their daughters. The court heard that staying with a family in a Queensland town one night, he climbed into the bed of their 15-year-old daughter then lay and ejaculated on her. He did not face charges over this allegation.

Spillane was also conducting retreats for girls at a Sydney Catholic school. On one of these retreats in the Blue Mountains he met two 17-year-olds, T and her best friend.

The day after the friend was killed in a car crash, Spillane turned up uninvited at T's house to celebrate a home Mass for the distraught young woman and her friends. Later he asked T to come with him to his car parked out of sight of the house.

Spillane was convicted of one count of sexually assaulting T there. "He slid his hand up under my skirt," she told the court. "I was, by this time, weeping, crying and saying no, and he slid his hand all the way up under my skirt and grabbed my crotch and groin area, my underwear". She fled from the car.

Spillane's first trial lasted the whole of November. The jury - reduced by illness to 10 members - took nearly four days to reach its verdict. On Monday, they found Spillane guilty of three charges. Yesterday, they added a further six convictions.

The bail hearing that began immediately heard that Spillane was arrested in May 2008 following an investigation that had begun in Bathurst some years before. In time, the number of complainants grew to 31, all but four of them former pupils of St Stanislaus.

A notice of prosecution case presented during the bail hearing details allegations by 44 former pupils of St Stanislaus of fondling, kissing, masturbation, fellatio and anal penetration by Spillane. Many of the 44 speak of loneliness and homesickness at the school. Many allege sexual abuse by Spillane during prayer sessions.

Spillane was refused bail. As he was led away to the cells he called: "Please God, help me." His solicitor, Greg Walsh, has told the Herald that Spillane intends to appeal.

This article was found at:



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  1. Politicians say confession should not protect abuse

    CathNews November 14, 2012

    Politicians of all persuasions, from Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott down, say Catholic priests must not be exempt from having to report child abuse to police should they hear it in the confession of a colleague, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

    MPs said the royal commission into sexual abuse should examine the issue and recommend that, where necessary, state criminal codes be harmonised to mandate that priests go to the police in child sexual abuse matters.

    The federal Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, who is charged with setting up the commission, agreed the seal of Confession should be looked at, but she cautioned against too much focus on the issue.

    Ms Roxon said the commission's remit would be much broader than just the Catholic Church. And while the church ''will be a key part of this'', the issue of confessions not being referred to the police was not a major factor in the church when it came to covering up or failing to report child sexual abuse.

    Ms Roxon said there were ''much more blatant and open failures'' to stop abuse that needed to be examined and not just in the church, but other institutions as well.

    The federal government aims to have details of the commission finalised by December 7.

    The SMH has also reported that lawyers acting for Cardinal George Pell yesterday applied to a Melbourne judge to inspect a court file from a trial of convicted paedophile and Catholic brother Robert Charles Best.

    It is believed the material sought includes a transcript of evidence by one of Best's victims who has recently alleged Cardinal Pell was present when the boy being raped by Best.

    Cardinal Pell has described the victim's claim as "irresponsible, untrue" and said that they were "absolutely denied".

    The ABC reports that following Cardinal Pell's restatement of the Church's position about the inviolability of the confessional, retired bishop Geoffrey Robinson says the Cardinal is out of step with the majority of Australia's bishops and should no longer speak for the Catholic Church in Australia on the issue of sexual abuse by the clergy.

    continued in next comment...

  2. Bishop Robinson described Cardinal Pell as an embarrassment, saying priests must be prepared to break the confessional seal if it is for the "greater good".

    He spoke to the ABC yesterday after Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the issue of whether priests should be forced to reveal information given to them in the confessional would be considered by the upcoming royal commission into institutionalised sexual abuse.

    Ninemsn reports that Victorian priest Kevin Dillon has disagreed with Cardinal George Pell over the role of the media in reporting child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, saying most Catholics would be grateful for the exposure.

    Cardinal Pell, Australia's most senior Catholic, said on Tuesday the church was not interested in denying misdeeds but objected to it being exaggerated in the media.

    But Fr Kevin Dillon, of the St Mary of the Angels Catholic Parish in Geelong, said he disagreed with Cardinal Pell and believed the media had played an important role in its focus on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

    "I believe most Catholics are probably rather grateful to the media for a focus on something which they find enormously shameful and greatly distressing," Father Dillon told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

    "I think the media has played a very important and very positive role in all of this."


    Protection of confession under heavy fire (SMH)

    Pressure mounts to break secrecy of the Confessional (Australian)

    Cardinal Pell moves to secure sex trial file (SMH)

    Victorian inquiry could be wound up (Australian)

    Vic priest speaks out against Pell on media influence (Ninemsn)

    Retired bishop labels Cardinal Pell an embarrassment (ABC)


  3. Priests not above the law - MPs

    Herald Sun Australia November 14, 2012

    A VICTORIAN Catholic priest has disagreed with Cardinal George Pell over the role of the media in reporting child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, saying most Catholics would be grateful for the exposure.
    Cardinal Pell, Australia's most senior Catholic, said the church was not interested in denying misdeeds but objected to it being exaggerated in the media.

    But Father Kevin Dillon, of the St Mary of the Angels Catholic Parish in Geelong, said he disagreed with Cardinal Pell and believed the media had played an important role in its focus on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

    "I believe most Catholics are probably rather grateful to the media for a focus on something which they find enormously shameful and greatly distressing," Father Dillon told ABC Radio.

    "I think the media has played a very important and very positive role in all of this."

    Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday announced a royal commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse.

    Father Dillon said a review of the church was needed.

    "It's matter of distress to Catholics that it's taken a royal commission and this long for an external examination of the process to be put forward," he said.

    Cardinal George Pell with a copy of the Catholic Church's booklet on dealing with allegations of sexual abuse. Picture: Craig Greenhill

    Cardinal Pell said he hoped the wide-ranging royal commission would actually stop a "smear campaign" against his church.

    Father Dillon's comments come as senior MPs on both sides of politics lashed out at comments by Cardinal Pell that priests should not have to report abuse if the details of the crime are heard in confession.

    Cardinal Pell, said yesterday "the Seal of Confession is inviolable" even if a priest confesses to child sex abuse.

    But senior opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne said priests have a responsibility to report crimes to police even if the details are given to them in a confession.

    Mr Pyne, a Catholic, said the laws of the nation come before canon law.

    "If a priest hears in a confessional a crime, especially a crime against a minor, the priest has the responsibility in my view to report that to the appropriate authorities," Mr Pyne told ABC Radio.

    "In this case the police, because the church nor the priests should be above the law."

    Geelong priest Father Kevin Dillon said today most Catholics are grateful to the media for focussing on something they find shameful and disgraceful. Picture: Geelong Advertiser

    Cardinal Pell said priests should avoid hearing confession from colleagues suspected of committing child sex abuse to avoid being bound by the Seal of Confession.

    continued in next comment...

  4. Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the community found the idea of a priest not reporting child abuse if told in a confession to be "really abhorrent".

    "We really need to look carefully that there aren't a different set of rules that apply," Ms Roxon told ABC television.

    "Child sexual abuse is a crime.

    "It should be reported, and I know the Royal Commission is going to have some very complex issues to deal with, but we can't afford to say that should not be on the table because clearly that is a concern."

    Ms Roxon said there was need for several commissioners and the inquiry would definitely take "years, not weeks and months".

    Cardinal Pell yesterday welcomed the royal commission into sexual abuse and said he would front the commission if called on - but openly advised priests to avoid hearing confessions of sexual abuse from fellow priests to help preserve the sanctity of the confessional.

    Cardinal George Pell has welcomed the royal commission into child sexual abuse. Picture: Craig Greenhill

    "If the priest knows beforehand about such a situation, the priest should refuse to hear the confession," Cardinal Pell said yesterday.

    "I would never hear the confession of a priest who's suspected of such a thing."

    Opposition frontbencher Scott Morrison said that, as a rule, child sexual abuse should have been reported to authorities.

    "Where crimes are committed, the police should know about them," Mr Morrison said.

    But he would not be drawn on whether priests who had heard accounts of abuse from the confession box should be forced to break the confessional seal.

    "These are matters that I suspect will be dealt with in the course of the royal commission and I don't want to pre-empt that," Mr Morrison said.

    "I think there are a whole range of serious issues here, and I think getting into a public commentary on each and every one before the royal commission has even got out of the gate (is not) the right way to handle it."

    NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell agreed that priests should be subject to mandatory reporting laws the same way doctors are.

    "The law of the land when it comes to particularly mandatory reporting around issues to do with children should be applied to everyone equally," Mr O'Farrell told ABC radio.

    "I just can't fathom that a member of the clergy who's engaged in abuse of children and who confesses that abuse even within the confessional will not have it reported to police."

    Mr O'Farrell said he hoped the royal commission would look at the issue of the sanctity of confession in relation to child abuse.

    The premier said unless it was clear there was "no safe house" where paedophiles could confess and get on with their lives "I suspect we will come back in 10 years time and nothing may have changed".


  5. The Seal of the Confessional (Or: Hear No Evil, Report No Evil)

    by Lewis Blayse, Commentary on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Australia)

    March 5, 2013 http://lewisblayse.net/2013/03/05/the-seal-of-the-confessional-or-hear-no-evil-report-no-evil/

    Mandatory reporting of child abuse revealed during the confessional process within the Catholic and Anglican Churches will be high on the agenda at the royal commission for many. There will be a real bun fight over this with supporters of the status quo. At present throughout the Commonwealth of Australia, priests are exempted from mandatory reporting requirements if the matter comes up under the process of the confessional. Both sides are already lining up for the battle.

    The key factor will be the exact definition of a ‘sin’ in the confessional context. Is a ‘sin’ legal, but morally wrong, for example, adultery, or does the definition also include a crime under secular law? Debate will swirl around this particular distinction, particularly from the privacy perspective.

    Firstly, consider the comments immediately following the royal commission announcement from Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell. When referring to past dealings with the issue of paedophile priests being revealed during the confessional process, the cardinal noted that the priests hearing the confession “were entitled to think of paedophilia as simply a sin you could repent of.” Good luck trying that one on a judge. For example, “I repent, your Honour, can I please go now?” Pell does not distinguish between a ‘sin’ and a ‘crime’.

    If the law were to be changed, Pell declares that he would refuse to hear a confession of paedophilia and therefore avoid having to report it. Simply, if you don’t hear of a crime, you are free of responsibility. To Pell, “the sanctity of the confessional is inviolable” but apparently the safety of children is not.

    Lower ranking priests have been rather more blunt in their comments. Priest and law professor, Frank Brennan, thinks a law change would be “a serious interference with the right of religious freedom.” He then uses references to “a police state mentality” of “almost Russian dimensions.” Eventually, which is odd for a law academic, he admits that if the law were changed, he “would disobey it and if need be I would go to jail.”

    The Irish government, following a recommendation of its enquiry, has enacted a law for mandatory reporting. Apparently, it has not yet been tested in the courts, but may well be sometime soon. This is because a spokesperson for the 800-strong Irish Association of Catholic Priests, Sean McDonagh, says members will break the law. The Auxillary Bishop of Dublin, Raymond Field, echoes Pell when he states that, “the seal of the confessional is inviolable as far as I am concerned and that’s the end of the matter.”

    Pell and his confreres have support from some surprising sources. In an editorial, The Sydney Morning Herald declared that, “The Royal Commission should certainly refrain from including the concept of compelling testimony from the confessional.” The newspaper further claims that, “politicians should resist this temptation to march the secular state into an area where it doesn’t need to tread.”

    continued in next comment...

  6. Waleed Aly, high-profile Muslim and ABC commentator, also opposes changing the law. In an opinion piece, he refers to the “spectacle” of high-profile Catholics such as the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, “jumping on the anti-confessional bandwagon.” Mr Aly really lets loose with “irreligious people trying to address a religious problem with brute force.” Finally, he uses a common argument that a law change would just make things worse. Presumably, paedophiles would no longer confess, thus removing the chance of convincing the penitents that they are doing wrong and should seek professional assistance to curb their behaviour.

    Look for more arguments along this line as time goes on.

    As soon as the royal commission was announced, the President of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, Terry O’Gorman, supported Mr Aly’s line in full. Changing the law, he said, would be, “fundamentally illogical” because of the loss of the chance for counseling intervention. Somehow, it would “ultimately prevent priests from taking steps to prevent sexual abuse.”

    No serving politician has been stupid enough to support Pell and his sympathisers. Abbott, Pine, O’Farrell, Hansen-Young, Xenophon, Gillard, Roxon, and many others have backed a law change. An online poll of 6,000 readers by The Sydney Morning Herald revealed 73% support for the law change, 21% against, and 6% uncommitted. Curiously, the ‘against’ vote approximates the proportion of Catholics in Sydney, but there was no breakdown on the basis of religious preference and this would be interesting to know.

    Some clerics also support a law change. Retired Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, head of the Catholic Bishops, says Pell is “out of step with the majority of Australian bishops” and should “no longer speak for the Catholic Church in Australia on the issue of sexual abuse by the clergy.” He described Cardinal Pell as an, “embarrassment.”

    While Carindal Pell would refuse to hear a confession so he would not have to report it, Sydney priest and founder of Youth Off The Streets gives an apparent counterpoint argument (which would seem to be the same argument and outcome of non-reporting). He would refuse to hear the confession precisely because he would feel compelled to report it. The media-savvy celebrity priest, Bob Maguire, makes no bones about his support for a law change. “God knows where the seal of the confessional came from – it’s got nothing to do with the Bible.”

    As a help to Father Maguire, Canon 21 of the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 gives the first direct mention of it, with attendant penalties for the non-compliant priest detailed in: Hefele-Leclercq “Historie des Conciles” at the year 1215; Mansi or Harduin, “Coll. conciliorum”.

    Apparently, the forerunner of the confessional booth was introduced by St Charles Borromeo of Milan in 1565 as a screen between two chairs. The purpose was to prevent sexual contact between priests and penitents.

    Read more here:









  7. Cardinal Pell consults lawyers after Vatican adviser calls him ‘almost sociopathic’

    Spokesman for Vatican finance czar rejects 'false and misleading claims' in Australian news programme

    by Staff Reporter, Catholic Herald June 1, 2015

    Cardinal George Pell is seeking legal advice after a member of the Vatican’s child protection commission called him “almost sociopathic” and appealed for his dismissal from the Vatican.

    A spokesman for the prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy said the cardinal was taking the step in response to Peter Saunders’s comments in the Australian television news programme 60 Minutes.

    Mr Saunders, an abuse survivor and member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told the programme the former Archbishop of Sydney’s position was “untenable” following accusations that he bribed an abuse victim to remain silent – an allegation the cardinal strongly denies.

    Mr Saunders said: “He has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic I would go as far as to say, this lack of care.

    “Given the position of George Pell as a cardinal of the Church and a position of huge authority within the Vatican, I think he is a massive, massive thorn in the side of Pope Francis’s papacy if he’s allowed to remain.

    “And I think it’s critical that he is moved aside, that he is sent back to Australia, and that the Pope takes the strongest action against him.”

    In a statement Cardinal Pell’s spokesman said: “The false and misleading claims made against His Eminence are outrageous.

    “From his earliest actions as an archbishop, Cardinal Pell has taken a strong stand against child sexual abuse and put in place processes to enable complaints to be brought forward and independently investigated.

    “Cardinal Pell has never met Mr Saunders, who seems to have formed his strong opinions without ever having spoken to His Eminence.

    “In light of all of the available material, including evidence from the cardinal under oath, there is no excuse for broadcasting incorrect and prejudicial material.

    “In the circumstances, the cardinal is left no alternative but to consult with his legal advisers.”

    The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse said on Monday that it would ask Cardinal Pell to give evidence at a hearing on abuse in Ballarat in the state of Victoria.

    Cardinal Pell has said he is prepared to return to Australia to appear before the commission. He has appeared before the body twice previously.


  8. Vatican official and sex abuse survivor 'will not be silenced' by George Pell legal threat

    Peter Saunders stands by his call for Cardinal George Pell to be removed as head of the Vatican’s finances over allegations he protected paedophile priests

    by Melissa Davey, The Guardian June 2, 2015

    Child sexual abuse survivor Peter Saunders says he will not be silenced by the church despite the threat of legal action by Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most powerful Catholic.

    During a TV interview on Sunday night, Saunders – who was appointed by Pope Francis to lead the Vatican’s commission for the protection of children – accused Pell of lacking compassion for those abused within the church.

    During the interview, Saunders called on the pope to remove Pell from his position as head of the Vatican’s finances, saying his alleged involvement in covering up abuse and protecting paedophile priests made his position “untenable”.

    The comments prompted a swift reaction from Pell, whose spokesperson issued a statement on Sunday night saying; “In the circumstances, the cardinal is left no alternative but to consult with his legal advisers.”

    The pope’s spokesman Federico Lombardi said Saunders was expressing his “personal views” and not those of the commission. Pell’s response to allegations against him “must be considered reliable and worthy of attention and respect”.

    But on Tuesday Saunders told Guardian Australia: “Our church has a history of spending millions on defending paedophiles.

    “George Pell, obviously a wealthy man, will think nothing of using his wealth to silence me but I have said nothing that others haven’t said and it is only my opinion.

    “It is not slanderous.”

    Saunders established the National Association for People Abused in Childhood in Britain 16 years ago and was hand-picked by the pontiff to work with the Vatican. As a child Saunders was abused by two Jesuit priests and the head of a Catholic primary school.

    The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, defended Pell on Tuesday morning, telling ABC radio in Australia that Saunders’s descriptions of Pell “doesn’t fit the man”.

    “I would describe George Pell as a man who courageously, when he became archbishop, introduced the first system for dealing with child sex abuse, trying to bring relief to victims, trying to bring care and also some financial compensation,” Hart said.

    “And he was a world leader in this regard.

    “He’s made some mistakes and he has admitted them and apologised for them. But very clearly he comes across as someone who is totally dedicated to putting right this awful, awful scourge.”

    On Monday, the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, which since 2013 has been investigating how Australian institutions handled allegations of abuse, said Pell had been invited to personally appear before the commission when it returns to Ballarat in Victoria later this year.

    During the first round of hearings in Ballarat in May, the commission heard damning evidence from a victim who alleged Pell bribed him to keep quiet about being abused by a senior Catholic priest.

    “In the ordinary course, witnesses are summonsed to appear at a hearing,” the commission spokeswoman said.

    “However a person resident overseas cannot be summonsed. The chair has received a letter from Cardinal Pell indicating that he is prepared to come to Australia to give evidence. The royal commission will ask him to give evidence in the second of the Ballarat hearings.”

    Pell has previously appeared twice before the commission, however, via video-link from Rome.