A SHOCKING exposé aired by the ABC’s Four Corners on Monday night dropped a prominent Armidale resident into the spotlight of allegations about a child sexual abuse cover-up within the Catholic Church.
The man, a former priest who was defrocked in 2005, was called “Father F” throughout the program due to a court order from 1987 that prevents the media from revealing his name, and was shown on the streets of Armidale with his face pixelated.
Although allegations have been repeatedly raised that Father F molested altar boys in Moree and Parramatta during the 1980s, he has never been formally convicted.
In 1987, he was arrested in Tamworth and charged with sexually abusing Damian Jurd, who was 11 when Father F allegedly first raped him during a trip to Narrabri.
However, the Church briefed a well-known Queen’s Counsel to defend Father F, and a commital hearing dismissed the case, with the magistrate declaring that he preferred to believe a Catholic priest with no previous convictions rather than a delinquent youth.
Interviewed by Four Corners reporter Geoff Thompson, Damian’s family reported that Damian had spiralled into bad behaviour after becoming an altar boy, but he did not confide what had been happening to him until several years had passed. They said his life was irretrievably damaged not only by the abuse, but by the subsequent cover-up.
Damian Jurd eventually extracted a civil settlement from the Armidale Diocese in 1998, receiving compensation of $198,000, but he suffered badly from depression and several years later took his own life, leaving behind two young children.
Peter Jurd, Damian’s brother, now lives in Armidale and is in his fourth year of studying law at the University of New England.
He hopes his degree will help bring Father F to justice, and says the priest should have been held responsible for his brother’s death.
“It would have been no different if he’d just taken a gun and shot him,” he told Four Corners. “It just took longer.”
After the 1987 court acquittal, Father F was relieved of his parish duties and moved into the residence of Armidale Bishop Henry Kennedy. He was transferred to the Parramatta diocese in 1989, where he was again accused of interfering with the altar boys.
Three senior priests, including the current vicar-general of the Armidale diocese, Monsignor Wayne Peters, interviewed Father F about the complaints.
Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell told Four Corners that the file note on the meeting contained no admission of guilt by Father F; however, the senior priests subsequently decided to ban him from conducting mass, hearing confession or counselling.
After speaking to Archbishop Pell, Four Corners obtained a report about the meeting, written by Father Wayne Peters, that clearly stated the accused priest did actually admit to fondling and performing oral sex on young boys in his parishes.
The program pointed out that this constituted a criminal offence and should have been reported to police.
In the late 1990s, another of Father F’s former altar boys, Daniel Powell, was arrested after trying to extort money from him.
During the court case, Father F confirmed that at the 1992 meeting with the three senior Catholic priests, he had admitted to oral sex with young boys.
The charges against Daniel were dismissed, and because Father F was the purported victim in this case, his name was again suppressed.
Like Damian, Daniel received compensation from the Catholic Church after a civil case in 2006, but the $135,000 was spent on drugs and alcohol and he hung himself a year later.
Father F was sacked by the church in 2005, but since then has forged a new life in Armidale as a respected historian.
Damian Jurd’s father, Max, said the former priest should not be allowed to carry on as “an ordinary human being”.
“I’d like to see justice done, I’d like to see him made accountable for his actions,” Mr Jurd told Four Corners.
Armidale Bishop’s response to Four Corners
Ms Mary Ann Jolley
ABC 4 Corners
Dear Mary Ann,
Your email of the 14th June mentions the tragic case of Mr Damian Jurd. Whilst I have only recently become Bishop of the Diocese, I have been made aware of his plight. I offer my deepest sympathies to his family and friends.
As far as I can ascertain, the Diocesan Authorities became aware of alleged incidents of abuse by (‘Father F’) on the 13th August 1987 when he was arrested. He was immediately stood down from all public ministry. The Church paid for his legal fees since every person accused of a crime is entitled to a defence.
(‘Father F’) was later permitted to undertake ministry in the Parramatta Diocese since the charges against him were dismissed and since a Clinical Psychologist’s 1988 report indicated that he did not present any problem to children.
I have no knowledge of any sessions between (‘Father F’) and Rex Brown as you mention.
(‘Father F’) last worked as a priest in 1992 when on the 1st of July his priestly faculties were removed by the then Bishop of Armidale and he was forbidden from any undertaking any public ministry. The diocese took this course of action because, although the charges against him were dismissed, there were continued rumours about him. Subsequently the Church’s Special Issues Resource Group (forerunner to Towards Healing) formed the opinion that he should not undertake public ministry due to these continued rumours.
(‘Father F’) was formally laicised on the 18th November 2005 and no longer has any priestly status in the Church.
Most Reverend Michael Kennedy
Bishop of Armidale