Church finally says 'Sorry' to victms of Fr Thomas O'Keeffe

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Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related

By a Broken Rites researcher

  • Article posted on 1 January 2012

After action by Broken Rites Australia, the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese has apologized to former altar boys of Father Thomas O'Keeffe.

Thomas O'Keeffe (his surname has also been spelt as O'Keefe) spent his priestly career in the Melbourne archdiocese. Broken Rites has researched his name in the annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directory. This confirms that his parishes (all within the Melbourne metropolitan area) included:

  • Sandringham (Sacred Heart parish) until about 1965;

  • Preston East (Holy name parish) and then St Kilda West (Sacred Heart parish) in the late 1960s;

  • Brighton (St Joan of Arc parish) about 1969-70 (approx.);

  • Doveton (Holy Family parish) in the early 1970s; and

  • Thornbury (St Mary's parish) in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
O'Keeffe died in the late 1980s.

Since Broken Rites became prominent in 1993, it has been contacted by three former parishioners of O'Keeffe who suffered serious sexual abuse when they were young boys in O'Keefe's parishes. As O'Keeffe had died, it was no longer possible for the police to prosecute him. Broken Rites gave information to these victims about how to tackle the Melbourne church authorities with a view to obtaining justice.


  • "Joshua" (born in early 1950) was an altar boy for O'Keeffe at Sandringham in 1961-63. Joshua had a difficult home life and O'Keeffe used to drive him home from school.

    Joshua described to the Melbourne church authorities how his genitals had been physically tortured by O'Keeffe. The church authorities accepted Joshua's account. He received a moderate amount of compensation after agreeing that he would not take legal action against the church to receive a larger amount. He also received a written apology, signed by the then archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, expressing regret about the harm that had been done to Joshua by Fr Thomas O'Keeffe.

    Joshua, like every other church victim, was abused in private (no other boys were present during Joshua's incidents). Joshua, like most church victims, did not tell his parents about the abuse. Also, he did not talk about it to his school mates. Therefore, Joshua does not know if O'Keeffe abused any other boys among Joshua's peer group, although he would expect that O'Keeffe would certainly have done so — it is just that Joshua does not know which ones.


  • "Percival" (born 1965) said he was sodomised by O'Keeffe at Doveton in the 1970s. Percival became a "difficult" child and his parents could not work out what was troubling him. His family doctor referred him to a psychiatric centre for assessment. In 2003, at the age of 37, Percival was seeing a counsellor at Melbourne's Centre Against Sexual Assault.

    Broken Rites advised Percival about ways of tackling the Melbourne archdiocese. Later the archdiocese accepted his complaint and referred him to its compensation panel for a settlement.


  • "Pedro", who was at the Doveton parish, said he was sodomised by O'Keeffe in 1972. He said he was still considering what action to take.

    Other incidents

    Several other people told Broken Rites how O'Keeffe used to cultivate excessive intimacy with boys. While the following examples might not constitute a criminal offence, they would certainly count as a breach of professional ethics.

  • "Dominic" (born in 1956) , who was an altar boy at Sandringham, said: "When I was changing into my white altar-boy robes before helping at Mass, O'Keeffe would enter the room, grab me and grope my genitals from the outside of my robes."

  • "Liam" (born in 1960) encountered O'Keeffe at Doveton in the early 1970s when Liam was in Grade 6 at the parish school. He said:

    "O'Keeffe used to invite kids to visit him in his presbytery He showed us pornographic magazines, with nude pictures of women. He told us dirty jokes, which I didn't always understand at the time.

    "He would drive two or three boys to the beach. Afterwards, we would go to his presbytery to change out of our swimming costumes and to have a shower. O'Keeffe would make the two or three boys get into the shower together and O'Keeffe would strip off and get into the shower with us. He would rub soap on the kids' bodies, on the pretext of getting all the sand off."

    Liam said that certain other things also happened but (he said) he was too embarrassed to tell Broken Rites about these things. He said he might be prepared to tell those things to a tribunal of inquiry.

  • "Peter" who was an altar boy in the Doveton parish under O'Keeffe in the 1970s, said: "I was never touched physically by O'Keeffe but O'Keeffe used to show pornographic magazines to us boys.

    "He ran cricket for all the boys of Holy Family school during school lunch and recesses as well as on Sundays after Mass. After matches we would go to the presbytery and have ice-creams and soft drink. Eventually, after he had established a rapport with us, he'd offer us some of his magazines — all pornography. My brothers also recall this. We never told our parents.

    "After O'Keeffe moved to the Thornbury parish, he remained in contact with my family. He used to visit us in Doveton on Sunday nights. Often he'd bring new board games for me and my brothers. On a few occasions during school holidays my brothers and I (and a few other kids) would stay at O'Keeffe's presbytery in Thornbury. We would watch films, play sports and games. Porn magazines would be shown around in the evenings."


    As well as Thomas O'Keeffe, several other questionable priests have been sent to the Doveton parish at various time, including:
    Fr Wilfred Baker;
    Fr Peter Searson; and
    Fr Victor Rubeo.

    And, when O'Keeffe was at the Thornbury parish, his assistant priest was Fr Anthony (Tony) Bongiorno. The Melbourne archdiocese eventually apologised for child-sex offences committed by Bongiorno at a later parish, Brunswick. On August 30 and 31, 2007, the Melbourne Herald Sun published unflattering articles about Bongiorno's activities during his time in the Thornbury parish.