St Stanislaus College, Bathurst in the firing line over apology to child sex survivors

A FORMER Newcastle man who was sexually assaulted by a priest at a Vincentian Brothers college has slammed the order, the college and the Catholic Church for an apology to victims on Friday, June 16, the day Vincentian founder St Vincent de Paul was made a saint.

“If he saw what’s happened at that school he’d be turning in his grave,” said Damien Sheridan of Bathurst’s St Stanislaus College, where 16 priests, Vincentian Brothers or laymen associated with the college have been the subject of serious child sex allegations, with multiple convictions.

“They’re saying sorry to try to make themselves look good, but putting it on that day shows it’s still all about them. It’s still all about the church. They couldn’t even make an apology without putting a church angle on it.”

Mr Sheridan was sexually assaulted by notorious St Stanislaus teacher and college chaplain Brian Spillane in 1985 when he was 13 and a boarder at the school.

He finished his schooling at Newcastle where the impact of the serious, shocking and secret abuse by Spillane left him “angry and out of control”.

It was also in Newcastle where he learnt to surf.

“That was the only time I really felt free, when I was out surfing,” he said.

Mr Sheridan was scathing of how the college’s extensive child sex history was described as “moments of darkness” at a college event in February to mark its 150th anniversary, only days after Spillane was sentenced to a lengthy jail sentence for crimes against former St Stanislaus students.

“It’s not moments of darkness. It’s 30 years of a well-organised paedophile network. They knew what they were doing,” Mr Sheridan said.

Records show more than 160 former students have alleged they were sexually assaulted by religious and laymen associated with the college. Nine of the 16 men charged have been convicted of child sex crimes in NSW and other states, and only three have been acquitted. The church has paid compensation or made apologies to people who alleged they were sexually abused by three other priests/Vincentian brothers or laymen associated with the school, and a court has permanently stopped a trial against another St Stanislaus alleged offender because of his age and health. 

It’s not moments of darkness. It’s 30 years of a well-organised paedophile network. They knew what they were doing. - St Stanislaus College, Bathurst child sex survivor Damien Sheridan

Mr Sheridan’s son Zakarie described the apology church service, to be held at the school where the crimes were committed, as “appalling”, and it was the college, Vincentian order and the Catholic Church that needed educating about the life-long impacts of child sexual abuse on victims.

“My father re-lives it every day of his life. Every day I wish it didn’t happen, and I’m his son,” Zakarie said.

“The fact that they’re making an apology during a church service, where the crimes were committed, shows they don’t have a clue, haven’t spoken to victims and haven’t bothered to educate themselves about what is needed.”

In a statement in May college principal Dr Anne Wenham said she was deeply sorry for what young men experienced at the college. The public apology was “a shared acknowledgement that the abuse of children and young people was a failure of the Mission of the College which seeks to open the eyes, minds and hearts of our students to God’s loving presence in their lives”, Dr Wenham said.

“It is our hope and intention that the Apology and Liturgy may offer one step in the healing process for survivors, as well as for their families and friends,” she said.

The college said “Media are not permitted to attend” the event which is open to the public.  

St Stanislaus College, Bathurst Bishop Michael McKenna and the Vincentian order did not respond to requests for comment from the Newcastle Herald.

Damien Sheridan said he emailed the college to say he would attend the apology, but did not receive a reply. He was not asked if he had concerns or needed professional support to attend the college for the first time after he was sexually abused there. Zakarie Sheridan said they were not asked if they had any difficulties getting to Bathurst for a Friday night event, of if they could afford accommodation.

Many former students were boarders who do not live in the Bathurst area.

“Not one person has offered anything. I haven’t had compensation from the church. I’m on a disability pension. I’ve got problems with my car but I’m driving from Sydney to Bathurst to attend,” Damien Sheridan said.

“I don’t want to go. I have post traumatic stress disorder and I don’t know what’s going to happen when I walk back into that place. But as much as they tried to tear us down over 10 years while these cases went through the courts, we made it.

“I’m going. I’ve got to go because I have to see this through. I’m not going to let the bastards get away with it.”

Current and former priests, Vincentian Brothers and laymen associated with St Stanislaus College, who were convicted of child sex crimes, are priest Brian Spillane, Richard McPhillamy, priest Kevin Phillips, teacher Stephen Wade, priest James Jennings (convicted of child sex crimes in Victoria and acquitted of allegations in NSW), priest Charles Barnett (convicted of child sex crimes in South Australia), priest William Irwin, Brother John Gaven and a priest who can’t be named for legal reasons, who was convicted of child sex crimes in another state.

A NSW judge in 2011 granted a permanent stay against further court proceedings involving former priest Hugh Murray, because of his age and health.

The Vincentian order paid $43,000 compensation to a former St Stanislaus College student in 1993 who alleged he was sexually abused by priest Guy Hartcher. Father Hartcher was acquitted of two indecent assault charges in 1997 and continued to work as a priest.

Former St Stanislaus principal and priest Peter Dwyer, priest Phil Robson and another man who cannot be named were found not guilty of child sex offences.

The late priest Dominic Phillips, who trained priests at St Stanislaus College more than 50 years ago, has been the subject of allegations from a number of women who alleged they were sexually assaulted in Queensland and Victoria.

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