AMID calls for a Royal Commission into Catholic Church cover-ups of child sexual abuse cases, Armidale resident Peter Jurd, who featured in Monday night’s Four Corner’s expose, spoke to The Express about how the program has sparked hopes of finally seeing justice for his brother Damian and other victims.
Mr Jurd, a mature-aged student who moved to Armidale four years ago to study law at the University of New England, said he only found out for sure that he was living in the same town as his brother’s alleged abuser, Father F, when his family was contacted by the Four Corners investigation team.
“We had heard he might be here but we didn’t know,” Mr Jurd said. “It’s only in the last couple of months that I’ve been made aware he was definitely here in Armidale. But because Four Corners was investigating him, I didn’t want to interfere in that. It was hard at times - it would have been nice to go and confront him.”
Father F, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is a defrocked Catholic priest originally from the Armidale Diocese accused of sexually molesting a string of altar boys in Moree and Sydney during the 1980s, including 11-year-old Damian Jurd.
It’s alleged that during a weekend trip from Moree to Narrabri, Father F fondled Damian’s genitals in the car and later raped him three times.
Sexual abuse charges brought against Father F in 1987, when Damian was 15, were thrown out by a magistrate who preferred to believe the testimony of a Catholic priest rather than the delinquent teenager Damian had become.
“The sad fact was that Damian got into the criminal stuff directly because of the abuse,” Peter Jurd said. “But for a magistrate to say that to a child abuse victim, it really did send him over the edge from that point.”
In a civil case a decade later, Damian received $198,000 in compensation from the Armidale Diocese, but took his own life in 2001 at the age of 28.
Mr Jurd said new evidence unearthed by the Four Corners team proving Father F admitted to three senior Catholic priests in 1992 that he had sexually interfered with five young boys meant that the case against Father F had moved beyond allegations into the realm of concrete evidence.
“There was a sense of relief, that I could see something could happen,” he said. “Surely the justice system can move forward from there.”
A former landscape gardener, Peter Jurd completed a HSC-equivalent course at Tamworth TAFE in 2008, after serious injuries from a charity mountain bike event left him unable to work for 12 months.
He did well in his studies, and now aged 44, he’s a year off finishing his law degree, hoping to become a solicitor and maybe a barrister.
Studying law wasn’t directly related to seeking justice for Damian but he thinks it influenced his decision.
“It was always a consideration. There’s always Damian at the back of my head. He never leaves. There was a sense that maybe some day I could help in getting justice for Damian and the other victims.”
Mr Jurd said viewing the Four Corners program, “Unholy silence”, with his family on Monday night was gruelling, as it brought back memories of Damian, but he hopes it will provoke action by the police and the justice system.
“What my family and I hope to see happen as a result of the Four Corners program is that the man who was the focus of the show is brought to justice and made accountable for the many lives he has ruined. We would also like to see an investigation into the allegations that senior church officials were aware that criminal acts were committed on children, by the person referred to as Father F in the program, and that anyone who was aware of these crimes and actively suppressed that knowledge in order to place the considerations of the church before that of the wellbeing of children are also made to answer for their actions.”
In a statement released yesterday, the Catholic Bishop of Armidale, Michael Kennedy, has said he will appoint an independent expert to review all available records relating to Father F.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance has renewed its calls for a National Royal Commission into abuse of children in the care of the Catholic Church, in the wake of the Four Corners program.