The church accepts a sex-abuse complaint re Xavier College, Melbourne

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Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related

By a Broken Rites researcher

The Catholic Jesuit order in Australia has acknowledged that a Jesuit priest, Fr John Byrne, engaged in "problematic behaviour" against pupils. Byrne taught at prominent Catholic schools in Melbourne and Sydney.

According to the Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography, John Byrne was born in Gunnedah in rural New South Wales, on 29 February 1912. He gained a scholarship that gave him secondary schooling with the Jesuits. Ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1947, he spent his whole career working as a teacher in Jesuit schools:

  • Xavier College, Melbourne, until 1949;
  • St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, 1950-61;
  • St Ignatius College, Riverview, Sydney, 1962-66; and
  • Burke Hall (the preparatory school of Xavier College), Melbourne, 1967-72.
At his final school, Burke Hall, Byrne was prefect of studies and discipline. According to students, Byrne would take a boy to his private quarters to be punished. According to a Jesuit colleague, Byrne was removed from Burke Hall during 1972, evidently because of his "problematic behaviour". This was the last year that he worked in a school environment, near boys. Thereafter, he was transferred to an office position.

Byrne died in Melbourne on 23 December 1974 aged 62.

A church investigation confirms abuse

A former student, Mark, says that he was sexually abused by Fr John Byrne at Xavier College's preparatory school (Burke Hall) in Melbourne in 1971 when Mark was aged 11. Mark says it was sadistic violent abuse. Mark says that this abuse, plus the church's cover-up, disrupted his teenage development and his later life.

In 2005, Mark lodged a complaint with the Catholic Church's Professional Standards Office (the PSO) in Sydney. On 23 December 2005 a senior Jesuit, Fr Geoffrey King, who was in charge of professional-standards matters for the Australian Jesuits, wrote to Mark, stating:

    "I must say that your account of events at Burke Hall bears very much the ring of truth . . . It is certainly true that John Byrne was moved from Burke Hall during 1972, and there seems good reason to suspect that it was as a result of some problematic behaviour on his part."
In May 2006 the PSO appointed a solicitor/mediator to investigate Mark's complaint and to interview priests who were colleagues of Father Byrne. The Jesuits could not assist with the investigation but when Mark referred the solicitor/mediator to some of the pupils who were in his class, significant corroborative evidence was found. On 30 October 2006, the solicitor/mediator reported that Mark's allegations "are justified". The PSO then wrote to Mark, confirming that Mark's allegations had been substantiated to the "adequate evidentiary standard".

The PSO arranged a facilitation meeting with Mark at which the Jesuits offered Mark a "financial gesture", provided that Mark signed away his rights to seek a more appropriate figure. Mark declined this "gesture" as it was an amount that he considered not to be commensurate with the damage done to his life.

However, eventually Mark and the Jesuits reached agreement about an amount of settlement, and the Jesuits then sent their compensation cheque to Mark.