The Catholic Church's dirty secrets: abuse, injustice and a damning letter

SUPPORT: John Parmeter takes comfort in knowing his actions have helped other victims.  Picture: Simone De Peak
SUPPORT: John Parmeter takes comfort in knowing his actions have helped other victims. Picture: Simone De Peak

HE’S the man whose statement to Hunter police about being sexually abused by a Catholic priest launched Strike Force Georgiana in 2007, and ultimately led to a royal commission.

His name is John Parmeter, pictured above, and he wants people to know who he is as Strike Force Georgiana enters its eighth year investigating historic child sexual abuse cases.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will hold its 17th public hearing next week, with more than 16,000 calls about child sexual abuse so far, and another three years to go.

The priest, Peter Brock, pictured below, died last week. Today, Mr Parmeter reveals the ugly truth – what he calls the ‘‘dirty secrets’’ – about the Catholic Church’s elevation of Father Brock to a national role in 2010, despite knowing of his ‘‘sexual misconduct’’ with Mr Parmeter and his twin brother from when they were nine years old.

Father Peter Brock

Father Peter Brock

And Mr Parmeter reveals the most damning document of all – a written apology by Father Brock on May 7, 2008, after he was confronted about the years of sexual abuse.

‘‘I acknowledge that my actions have caused you pain and distress, no matter how unwittingly or unintentionally on my part. I am ashamed and sorry for that, and offer this sincere apology. I hope this letter can help you on your journey.’’

From a letter from Peter Brock, to John Parmeter, May 7, 2008

‘‘I acknowledge that my actions have caused you pain and distress, no matter how unwittingly or unintentionally on my part,’’ the priest wrote to Mr Parmeter.

‘‘I am ashamed and sorry for that, and offer this sincere apology. I hope this letter can help you on your journey.’’

Mr Parmeter vomited after the confrontation. This week he spoke about the power the priest retained over his life, in part because of the Church’s whitewashing of Father Brock’s history, and the failure of existing institutions to secure justice.

‘‘I don’t have to hide any more. I don’t have to be ashamed. These aren’t my secrets. These are the Church’s dirty secrets,’’ Mr Parmeter said this week.

In 2009 Father Brock proclaimed his innocence after 26 serious child sex charges against him were withdrawn at a committal hearing that demonstrated the sometimes-insurmountable obstacles faced by victims of historic child sexual abuse in the criminal justice system.

A year later the then Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone announced Father Brock’s return to ministry ‘‘with considerable joy’’ after a Church investigation overseen by the NSW Ombudsman’s office.

A few weeks after that the Catholic Church celebrated by giving the priest a national title, as head of its Year of Grace.

But what remained hidden was a report sent to the Ombudsman after a mandatory Church investigation of child sex allegations against Father Brock.

A summary sent to John Parmeter and his twin brother Paul shows the priest was celebrated by the Church in public, despite its knowledge of the ugly truth.

‘‘Between approximately 1968 and 1975 whilst Father Brock was an assistant priest and priest within the diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, he engaged in a range and pattern of behaviours with and/or towards John and Paul Parmeter who were children at the time,’’ the Church investigation found.

‘‘That range and pattern of behaviour constituted sexual misconduct as defined by the NSW Ombudsman Act 1974.’’

The definition of ‘‘sexual misconduct’’ includes ‘‘any sexual relationship with a child’’.

In his statements tendered to court in 2009,  Mr Parmeter detailed his parents’ close relationship with Father Brock because of music and their Catholic faith.

Father  Brock went on to win an Order of Australia Medal for his services to choral music.

Ron and Yvonne Parmeter were proud of their children’s musical successes.

John Parmeter told police about Father Brock being a regular family guest, and how his parents organised for the priest to provide personal music training for their children at the presbytery.

Father Brock also became a drinking and card-playing partner for Ron Parmeter, John Parmeter told police.

And when the priest phoned Yvonne Parmeter after a hard day, and asked for John to visit him at the presbytery to play cards, ‘‘Mum would push for me to go and see Brock as he was the priest and it would be nice for us to do things for him’’.

In their statements to police,  both John and Paul Parmeter described how the priest’s early hugs in the presbytery during music lessons gradually became something more after the priest initiated strip poker.

John Parmeter described the powerlessness of a young child left alone with a priest who was his father’s drinking partner and his mother’s close friend, but who was also introducing sexual behaviour in secret.

‘‘I could never at this time tell anyone that this had happened,’’ Mr Parmeter told police about serious and humiliating sexual incidents at the presbytery.

‘‘I still believed this was my entire fault and I was the problem.’’

He was about 13 at the time of the incidents.

In his statements to police, Mr Parmeter detailed shocking sexual abuse allegations involving other men. Two men, including Newcastle dentist Ashleigh Jarrold, later pleaded guilty to child abuse charges. Jarrold was jailed for more than seven years for child sex and child pornography offences. The other man received a two-year suspended sentence for child pornography offences.

John Parmeter once worked at BHP, and was later a social worker and nurse. Paul Parmeter was a gifted music and computer teacher.

Both men suffered severe breakdowns as adults because of their experiences as children, and will need regular treatment and support for the rest of their lives.

Both men received substantial settlements from the Church  compared with the standard  payout of $30,000, but as Paul Parmeter said this week: ‘‘What I received is a drop in the ocean compared with what I’ve lost.’’

John Parmeter sails his yacht on Lake Macquarie. He enjoys playing the Titanic theme when he takes nervous sailors out. Sailing helps him cope when the black thoughts crowd his mind.

He takes  comfort from knowing  his statement to police in 2007 launched Strike Force Georgiana, and its investigations provided proof of the need for a royal commission which has exposed the truth about child sexual abuse in Australian institutions.

‘‘If it helps others, that helps me,’’ he said this week. ‘‘That helps like hell.’’

THE NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions reviewed its handling of a committal hearing into child sex allegations against Father Peter Brock in 2009, after complaints by John and Paul Parmeter.

The then director, Nicholas Cowdery, rejected the men’s claims that a late substitution in the prosecution team had affected  the case, but he conceded  late changes occurred ‘‘from time to time’’ because of financial constraints.

John Parmeter’s lawyer, John Ellis, said it was difficult to secure prosecutions in historic child sex abuse cases, and ‘‘things went pretty badly wrong’’ with the Brock case.

‘‘The damage suffered by victims of serious childhood abuse makes it extremely difficult for them to get convictions,’’ Mr Ellis said.

Former Maitland-Newcastle diocese child protection officer Helen Keevers said she vomited beside her car after hearing John Parmeter’s allegations in September 2007.

‘‘Brock had been a friend of mine and I was in complete shock, but had no doubt of the accuracy of the allegations,’’ Ms Keevers said.

She called John Parmeter a hero who spoke to the diocese after a relative told him Father Brock was returning to the area and looked forward to seeing the relative’s young sons.

‘‘John couldn’t bear the thought of what happened to him happening to a child, so he agreed to speak to police.

‘‘In his first phone call to police, he was told that because the events occurred 30 years ago there was nothing they could do. I rang the sex crimes squad in Sydney the next day and lodged a complaint. Strike Force Georgiana was a result of that complaint.’’