This is the full story of Father Michael Charles Glennon, one of Australia’s most notorious child-abusers

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Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related sex-abuse, including victims of Father Michael Charles Glennon.

By a Broken Rites researcher

When the Catholic Church ordained Father Michael Glennon as a priest for the Melbourne Archdiocese, it gave him easy access to children. This launched Father Glennon on a career of child-sex crimes.

By the year 2003, Fr Michael Glennon had been convicted five times (and was serving a long jail sentence) for child-sex offences, involving a long list of children, mostly boys. However, these were not his only victims — they were merely those who eventually spoke to the police. The world will never know exactly how many children Father Glennon abused. Even Glennon himself would have lost count of the real number.

Broken Rites has researched Glennon’s criminal prosecutions. We have also interviewed some of his victims, who helped to bring him to justice. Broken Rites referred two families to an appropriate police unit to report Glennon's offences.

Michael Glennon’s background

Michael Charles Glennon was born about 1944 in a family of ten children and grew up in Melbourne’s working-class northern suburbs, among a mixture of Irish Catholics, European immigrants and Aboriginal families. There, becoming a professional Catholic — a priest — was a means of getting ahead in the world.

The Melbourne archdiocese recruited Glennon as a trainee for the priesthood at Melbourne's Corpus Christi College seminary. Glenon was not the only sex-offender in the seminary. Former students at Corpus Christi have told Broken Rites that Glennon's room-mate for the first six months was Terrence Pidoto, who later ended up in jail for child-sex crimes.

While training to be a priest, Glennon was also acting as a Scout leader but not much is known about those activities. After being ordained in 1971 (aged 27), he became a Scout “chaplain”.

By then, he was also "working" with homeless boys. The 1972 annual report of St Augustine's boys' orphanage, Geelong, said that students from Corpus Christi seminary, including Father Michael Glennon and Father Terry Pidoto, "have frequently travelled down to St Augustine’s and have given many hours in counselling, holding discussions and helping the boys generally."

It is not clear exactly how Glennon and Pidoto “helped” the boys.

About 1972, Glennon began his first permanent appointment as an assistant priest in Thornbury East (the Holy Spirit parish), followed in the mid-1970s by Moonee Ponds (St Monica’s) and Reservoir (St Gabriel’s) — all in Melbourne’s north, the region where he had grown up.

He acted as a “chaplain” at local Catholic schools. At St Monica’s school in Moonee Ponds, he did football coaching, taught karate and took children on camping trips.

At the Marist Brothers boys’ school (later re-named Redden College and Samaritan Catholic College) in Preston (the suburb where Glennon was born), he conducted “sex education” classes. A former student there has told Broken Rites that Fr Michael Glennon was popular there because he was well known as an expert in karate.

Glennon’s activities ranged far and wide beyond these parish boundaries.

Glennon's rural camp

During the 1970s, he launched a youth group, the Peaceful Hand Youth Foundation, in which he taught karate. Somehow, he acquired a 16-hectare rural property, “Karaglen”, near Lancefield, north of Melbourne.

It is not clear how Glennon managed to afford to acquire this land. The land was on two titles and Broken Rites knows the official folio numbers of both titles. According to a title search, Glennon acquired the first allotment on 12 August 1977 and this was transferred to the Peaceful Hand Youth Foundation Pty Ltd on 23 January 1978. The second allotment was bought by the Peaceful Hand Youth Foundation (not in Glennon's name) on 3 June 1991.

Initially a bunch of huddled tents and scrubby wilderness, “Karaglen” grew to become a collection of huts and a hall attached to Glennon's private bedroom. Groups of children would visit there, staying overnight in sleeping bags, for the karate camps that Glennon regularly held there. Parents trusted Father Michael to look after their children because they trusted Catholic priests. Father Michael was sometimes the only adult present at the camp.

According to evidence by victims, the children were required to take turns in sleeping with Father Michael in his bedroom. However, the children were intimidated into remaining silent about Father Michael's activities.

First jail sentence, 1978

In 1978 the first allegation surfaced when a 10-year-old girl said Glennon had sexually assaulted her in his car at “Karaglen”. Glennon pleaded guilty to indecent assault and was sent to jail, serving seven months of a two-year sentence. This was the only time he ever pleaded guilty. During the next two decades, he would contest all subsequent charges fiercely.

[Much later, it was revealed that in 1979, nine weeks after his release from jail, he indecently assaulted a 16-year-old girl during a sleepover at Karaglen].

After his release from jail, Glennon was still a priest, although the Melbourne archdiocese did not appoint him to another parish. However, the archdiocese had no control over Glennon’s unofficial activities.

Glennon continued to practice as a freelance priest throughout the 1980s. He held Catholic-style religious services at his home at Thornbury (a Melbourne northern suburb), preaching a conservative Catholic liturgy to his flock of poor or immigrant families and Aboriginal families. And, despite his jailing, some parents continued to allow their children to visit (and even to have sleepovers at) “Karaglen”.

Glennon charged again, 1984-85

In 1984, Glennon was charged with indecently assaulting a boy, aged 11, and sodomising another boy, aged 13, during a camp sleepover, but was acquitted on both charges.

After this, the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese moved to distance itself more clearly from Glennon. As well as refraining from giving Glennon any more parish appointments, the archdiocese officially declared in 1984 that Glennon no longer had rights to practice as a priest on behalf of the Melbourne archdiocese. However, Father Michael continued to minister privately to his unofficial congregation.

In November 1985, after receiving further complaints about Father Michael, police charged him with several sexual offences, including buggery and indecent assault of five boys and one girl, aged between 12 and 16 years, in 1977-80. During the 1985 court proceedings, 3AW broadcaster Derryn Hinch sabotaged this prosecution by publicising Glennon’s 1978 conviction. Hinch’s blunder meant that Glennon’s jury trial had to be postponed. Glennon was therefore released on bail and he continued as a freelance priest. And Glennon continued to abuse children.

Father Glennon’s authority, 1980s

Why were parents so trusting of Glennon, even in the late 1980s after the Derryn Hinch publicity? One of Glennon’s later trials (in 2003) heard the testimony of a woman whose nephew was one of Glennon’s victims in the 1980s. She told the court that she saw her nephew in bed with Father Michael at “Karaglen” one night in 1986 when she walked through his room on the way to the bathroom.

Asked by Judge Roland Williams if she trusted Father Michael, the aunt declared: "Of course I did. I'm a Catholic aren't I? I mean, you go by the cloth… Who else do you trust in this world? ...He came around to our houses and we used to sing and we used to talk all hours of the night and enjoy each other's company because he was just good to talk to... I thought this world was good when you talked to a priest."

Similar statements were repeated throughout Glennon’s other trials.

Prosecutor Rosemary Carlin told one court session about Glennon’s popularity, charisma and persuasiveness among his followers. She said: "They think the world of Glennon... He is their priest, their friend, their confidant... He has shown them he has a profound understanding and respect for the Aboriginal culture."

During one trial, the jury was shown video footage of an open-air communion Mass Glennon held at “Karaglen” in 1989. The footage included the smiling faces of three boys who were repeatedly abused by Glennon. One of them, aged 12, was dressed as an altar boy, leading a procession of children to make their first communion.

The video also included a sermon by Glennon, in which he told the congregation: "Everybody here, priest included, is and has been a most wicked, wilful sinner."

This is the kind of things that Glennon was doing in the late 1980s, while he was out on bail.

Another Glennon trial, 1991

Eventually, in 1991, after the Hinch affair had faded from the memory of potential jurors, Glennon’s trial was held. The jury found Glennon guilty of attempted buggery of a boy under 14 and two counts of buggery with violence.

Glennon was sentenced to jail but successfully appealed to the Victorian Court of Appeal, arguing that the publicity had prevented him receiving a fair trial.

Thus, Father Michael was a free man again — and he returned to his faithful followers.

Glennon still a priest?

On 29 December 1991, after Glennon's successful appeal, Melbourne’s Sunday Age wondered whether Father Michael Glennon was “still a priest” and whether he would be entitled to regain his position in the Melbourne archdiocese. However, Melbourne’s Catholic vicar-general (Monsignor Hilton Deakin) said the archdiocese had already deprived Glennon of his capacity to work as a priest for the Melbourne archdiocese.

But not completely, apparently... The newspaper quoted Hilton as saying: “We have made only two exceptions and they were made on very compassionate grounds. We returned his rights for one day at a time — for the funeral of his mother and the wedding of his sister.”

In other words, Glennon was still a Catholic priest, being allowed officially to minister to his own family.

Anyway, Father Michael told the Sunday Age that he had no plans to rejoin the Catholic Church in an official capacity.

Asked what he planned to do, Father Michael said he would apply for unemployment benefits, but “what do I say when they ask me what I’m qualified to do? I’m pretty good as a Catholic priest – what have you got in that line?”

Jailed in 1992, 1999 and 2003

Glennon’s successful appeal was short-lived. In 1992 the Victorian state prosecution office successfully appealed to the High Court of Australia against the Victorian acquittal. Glennon was sent back to jail, this time for at least seven years (with no parole possible until mid-1998).

In 1997, as his release neared, Glennon was charged with new sex offences — 65 charges, involving 15 male victims and one female, between 1974 and 1991. The offences included indecent assault, buggery, attempted buggery and rape. Glennon committed many of his crimes while on bail awaiting trial for other sex offences, including during the delay caused by the Derryn Hinch publicity.

The youngest victim was seven years old. The victims included Aboriginal children, and Glennon used his knowledge of Aboriginal traditions to scare his victims into silence.

These proceedings were split into three separate trials, with different juries. Each trial was held in secret so that jury members could not be prejudiced.

  • In May 1999, in the first trial, Glennon was convicted on all but five of 29 counts relating to the abuse of six children between 1974 and 1978. He immediately began serving a jail sentence for this conviction, with the total jail sentence to be increased if convicted after the subsequent trials.

  • The second trial began in September 1999 and, after another appeal and a retrial, was decided in August 2003 when Glennon was convicted of sex assaults against an Aboriginal boy in 1983.

  • The third of the split trials was held in August-October 2003 with a conviction. A jury found him guilty of 23 charges of abuse on three boys from 1986 to 1991.

A police officer told Broken Rites that the third trtial was to have included a female victim but this victim was badly damaged and she died of a drug overdose before the case reached court.

Glennon sentenced, 2003

In November 2003, as a result of the three trials, Glennon (then aged 59) was sentenced to a total of 18 years jail, with a 15 year minimum. However, in 2005, after an appeal, some of the charges were quashed and his total sentence was reduced to a minimum of 10 years six months, dating from October 2003.

This meant that, at last, the children of Victoria were safe from Fr Michael Glennon.

And a police officer told Broken Rites that, after Glennon was jailed in May 1999, a very senior cleric from the Catholic Church visited Glennon in prison. There, the cleric read an official statement to Glennon, declaring that he was no longer authorised to practise as a priest of the Catholic Church. Evidently, in May 1999 the Melbourne church leaders were keen to cut Glennon adrift before the Glennon scandals caused more damage to the church's reputation. [But this sacking came nearly 30 years too late for the many victims of Fr Michael Charles Glennon.]