A FORMER Newcastle journalist and St Stanislaus College, Bathurst Old Boy, whose endorsement of the college led to a friend’s son being sexually assaulted, will lead a silent vigil on Friday as the college holds a controversial apology service.
Terry Jones said he would never get over the pain of knowing his recommendation led to a boy being sexually assaulted by notorious St Stanislaus chaplain Brian Spillane. It has driven Mr Jones’ campaign to have the Vincentian Catholic order and the college acknowledge the full extent of crimes committed by its representatives.
“People in Bathurst did not believe, and many still won’t believe, these things happened, and so the college sits up there on top of the hill looking over the city, still trying to control things,” Mr Jones said.
“I was a journalist working in Bathurst when a bunch of these priests were charged and when I saw my friend’s name as a victim of Spillane I was shocked. I was horrified. I was devastated. I rang my friend to apologise. His son became suicidal. He became a recluse. He’d only been a little boy when he went to the school.”
Records show more than 160 people have alleged sexual abuse by 16 men associated with St Stanislaus College over decades, with nine offenders convicted, compensation paid to victims in other cases, and three acquittals.
Mr Jones, sexual abuse survivor Damien Sheridan and son Zakarie, Greens MP and justice spokesman David Shoebridge and Carole Nielsen, whose son Tor was the first St Stanislaus abuse victim to make a statement to police in 2008, have strongly objected to an apology on Friday during a “liturgy of sorrow and hope” at the school where the crimes were committed.
The apology, announced in January, will be held on the day Vincentians’ founder St Vincent de Paul became a saint, as the college celebrates its 150th anniversary.
Blue Knot Foundation president Dr Cathy Kezelman said an apology on school grounds where children were violated would be “inherently re-traumatising” for many victims, and she was critical of the decision to hold the apology on St Vincent de Paul’s canonisation day which was a celebratory day for the Catholic order that ran the school.
Both of these decisions show that the institutional religious affiliation is being prioritised, and not the victims.
“Both of these decisions show that the institutional religious affiliation is being prioritised, and not the victims,” said Dr Kezelman, whose organisation is one of Australia’s peak advocacy groups for abuse survivors.
“It is important that a genuine apology provided by any institution in which children were sexually abused is provided with the needs of victims an absolute priority.”
In a statement on Wednesday college principal Dr Anne Wenham defended holding the service at the school’s performing arts centre because it was “only constructed 10 years ago”. There would be prayers to God seeking forgiveness, but Dr Wenham insisted “the victims themselves are at the heart of this occasion”.
While there was some criticism of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse for not holding a public hearing into the college while trials of St Stanislaus offenders stretched over eight years, Mr Shoebridge said the Bathurst case raised serious questions about what the Catholic Church had learnt after four years of commission revelations.
“St Stanislaus’ apology is an affront to survivors and victims,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“To centre the apology around a church service and to hold it on the anniversary of their patron saint’s canonisation shows how little respect they have for the students who were abused.
“You can’t apologise until you comprehend the damage you have done. This is an institution still in denial about the scale of the child sexual abuse that it allowed to happen in its dormitories, halls and chapels.
“Survivors and their supporters will not allow the pain and damage to be whitewashed away with a faux apology. They will be holding a separate vigil on Friday and they are telling this school they won’t slip away in silence.
You can’t apologise until you comprehend the damage you have done. This is an institution still in denial about the scale of the child sexual abuse that it allowed to happen in its dormitories, halls and chapels.
“This is a hard lesson for Bathurst, but it’s essential they learn about the past and change current practice, to ensure the region’s schools and civic leaders protect this and future generations of children.”
Carole Nielsen said the eight years of trials and non-publication orders applied by courts so that other trials would not be prejudiced meant the community did not know the full extent of the crimes committed, and the college did little to shed light on the subject.
In February, after Spillane was jailed for crimes against multiple former students, the college issued a statement commending a newspaper editorial headed “One man’s evil can’t define a whole school”, describing it as a “balanced reflection” only days before “we are able to celebrate our sesquicentenary on Sunday”.
“They said nothing about all the other priests and brothers who’d destroyed children’s lives,” Mrs Nielsen said.
“I’ve never seen the Old Boys come out and support the students who were victims of these criminals. The college is holding a service in the middle of winter on a dark Friday night right away from the town. It’s as if they’re trying to keep everyone away.”
In her statement Dr Wenham repeated that media would “not be present at the college or the service” where Vincentians head Father Greg Brett would issue an apology to survivors on behalf of the order, and Dr Wenham would apologise on behalf of the college.
“We cannot come close to ever living the pain and suffering that the victims of sexual abuse at Stannies and their families have experienced and continue to experience,” Dr Wenham said.
“The decision to make this apology is with a genuine commitment to say sorry. This is our commitment and the victims themselves are at the heart of this occasion.”
She said the college had organised for “mental health professionals” to support anyone in need of “immediate emotional support” after Mr Sheridan told the Newcastle Herald he had not been to the college since leaving in the mid 1980s after being sexually assaulted by Spillane.