How the church gave this priest easy access to young victims

By a Broken Rites researcher

Broken Rites has researched the background of Father Charles Alfred Barnett, who worked as a Catholic priest in various parts of Australia for twenty years until the mid-1990s. Barnett was a member of an Australia-wide Catholic religious order, the Vincentian Fathers (also known as the Congregation of the Mission). That is, he was not a diocesan priest and was not confined to working in one particular region.

On 5 August 2010, Barnett was sentenced in South Australia for at least four years for sexual offences against boys in that state.

Broken Rites has discovered that Father Barnett also ministered in Queensland and New South Wales. His New South Wales activities included visits to St Stanislaus College boarding school in Bathurst, plus time spent living in the presbytery of "Our Lady of the Rosary" parish in St Marys, near Penrith in western Sydney, where Father Richard Cattell was the parish priest.

Barnett made visits to the Kwinana parish in Perth, Western Australia. And he is also believed to have spent time in Melbourne, Victoria.

The South Australian courts can deal only with complaints about alleged incidents within that state. Anyone who wishes to discuss alleged incidents in other Australian states would need to have a chat with Sex-Crime Squad detectives in those states.

Broken Rites research

Broken Rites has interviewed people who were acquainted with Charles Barnett. Also, we have researched his locations in the annual editions of the Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia and the Directory of Australian Catholic Clergy.

Broken Rites has found that young Charles Barnett was originally an Anglican, who lived at Stepney in Adelaide. He joined the Catholic Church as an adult and saw an opportunity to obtain a career as a Catholic priest. He began studying at Adelaide's St Francis Xavier seminary at Rostrevor, where normally he would have been destined for a career in one specific diocese.

A priest who knew Barnett at the seminary has told Broken Rites: "In the late 1960s, the Vncentian order sent their students to complete their theological part of their studies at the Rostrevor seminary for economies of scale. There were only about half a dozen Vincentian students, such as Guy Hartcher etc. Charlie Barnett then expressed his interest in the Vincentians and he formally joined this order."

Thus, he became ordained as "Reverend Charles Barnett, CM" (a member of the Congregation of the Mission).

In the 1970s, the Vincentian order had about 45 priests in Australia. The Vincentians had one or two communal houses in each of Australia's five mainland states. Their national head office was in Sydney.

Broken Rites discovered that Charles Barnett was first listed in the annual Australian Catholic directory in the early 1970s, when his postal address was given as the Vincentian Community (where half a dozen Vincentian priests lived) in Eastwood, Sydney.

In the early 1970s he is believed to have spent time at the "Mary Immaculate" parish in Southport on Queensland's Gold Coast (in the Brisbane archdiocese). This parish was one that was normally staffed by the Vincentian order.

One family who remember Barnett from the 1970s say that they sometimes called him by his middle name as Father Alf Barnett.

South Australia

In the edition for 1975, Barnett was listed as a staff member of the St Francis Xavier Seminary at Rostrevor in Adelaide. This seminary was then being administered by Vincentians.

In the late 1970s, Barnett was listed as an assistant priest in a parish (St Teresa's) at Whyalla, a town in the western region of South Australia. This parish is part of the diocese of Port Pirie (the Catholic Church in South Australia is divided into two dioceses -- Adelaide and Port Pirie).

Barnett was still listed at Whyalla (still as an assistant) in the directories for 1981 and 1983. By 1981, the senior priest-in-charge at Whyalla was Father D. Eugene Hurley, who became the bishop of Port Pirie in 1998 (and later the Bishop of Darwin).

A former pupil at St John's College high school in Whyalla (for Years 7 and 8 in 1976-77) has told Broken Rites how he used to receive "home visits" by Father Charlie Barnett.

During the period of his Whyalla listings, Barnett was not necessarily confined to that town.

Former students of Rostrevor College (operated by the Christian Brothers), in Woodforde, Adelaide, say they remember Father Charlie Barnett in Adelaide in the 1970s.

New South Wales

At some stage in the late 1970s, the Directory of Australian Catholic Clergy listed Fr Charles Barnett at St Vincent's parish, Ashfield, Sydney, although this might have been a forwarding address. The Ashfield parish is staffed by Vincentians.

In the 1988 directory, the postal address of Rev. C. Barnett, CM, was listed in the index as care of the Vincentian Community at 5 Vincentia St, Marsfield, Sydney, but this edition gave no indication of what work he was doing or where.

A resident of Bathurst, in central-west New South Wales, says that, in the 1970s and '80s, Fr Charles Barnett used to visit (and have extensive stay-overs at) Bathurst's St Stanislaus College, which was staffed by Barnett's religious order, the Vincentian Fathers. Priests lived on the school premises.

Victoria

It is believed that, in the late 1970s, Fr Charlie Barnett also spent some time working at St Joseph's parish in Malvern, a Melbourne suburb. Vincentian priests staff this parish on behalf of the Melbourne archdiocese. It was Melbourne's only Vincentian parish. The parish included St Joseph's primary school and two secondary schools — De La Salle College Malvern for boys and Kildara College for girls.

Military chaplain

The 1983 directory says that, as well as being listed at Whyalla, Barnett was also a chaplain to Army Reserve units.

Former Royal Australian Navy apprentices say that, in the mid-1980s, they remember Father Charlie Barnett as a Navy chaplain at the Navy's apprentice training base HMAS Nirimba at Quakers Hill, near Blacktown, west of Sydney.

Western Sydney

In the late 1980s, Father Charles Barnett lived for some time in the presbytery at the "Our Lady of the Rosary" parish in a suburb called St Marys, near Penrith in western Sydney, where the parish priest was Father Richard St John Cattell. There, Barnett took a special interest in the Antioch movement, involving young people from the parish.

Queensland

In the early 1990s, Rev. Charles Barnett, CM, was listed at St Vincent's parish in Wandal, Rockhampton, Queensland. At that time, the Vincentian order provided staffing for this parish. Father Charlie Barnett made himself popular with families in this parish. Some families allowed their young sons to spend time at the priest's house, and it is believed that some families even arranged for their boys to stay overnight at Father Charlie's house while the parents were away.

In the 1994 directory, Barnett was listed as the Parish Priest in charge of the "Mary Immaculate" parish at Southport, Queensland (where had had originally spent time as an assistant priest in the early 1970s).

Indonesia

In the directories for 1995 to 1997, Barnett was listed as being on leave. He was not listed in the directories for 1998 onwards. By then, he had moved to Indonesia, where he began teaching English and running a business. In Indonesia he was no longer working as a priest.

By 2006, South Australian police had gathered substantial information about Barnett's offences in that state. At that time, Australia and Indonesia did not have a treaty for extraditing persons who were wanted by the police for alleged criminal offences. But this had changed by 2008 and Barnett became the first person to be extradited from Indonesia under a treaty with Australia.

In February 2008, Australian authorities applied in Indonesia (on behalf of South Australia Police) for Barnett's extradition to Australia. The application went to an Indonesian court, which heard details of the Australian allegations. The application was granted and Barnett was arrested by Indonesian police at his house in Depok, just south of Jakarta. He was then detained in custody in Jakarta throughout 2008, pending completion of the extradition process.

On Friday 13 February 2009, detectives from South Australia’s Sexual Crime Investigation Branch took custody of Barnett in Jakarta and took him back to South Australia, where he was placed in custody in Adelaide in order to face a series of court proceedings during 2009 under South Australian law.

The South Australian matters were investigated by the Sexual Crime Investigation Branch, South Australia Police, 30-46 Wright Street, Adelaide, South Australia 5000.

In court, September 2009

On 8 September 2009, Charles Alfred Barnett (then aged 68) appeared In the Adelaide Magistrates Court. His lawyer said that Barnett would plead guilty to three counts of indecent assault. The charges relate to alleged offences at Crystal Brook and Port Pirie, in South Australia’s mid-north, between 1977 and 1985.

The lawyer said Barnett would plead not guilty to other charges of unlawful sexual intercourse and indecent assault at Port Pirie, Crystal Brook, Whyalla and Blackfriars.

The magistrate remanded Barnett in custody to appear in the South Australian District Court for further proceedings.

In court again, October 2009

On 12 October 2009, Charles Alfred Barnett appeared before a judge in the South Australian District Court regarding the remaining charges. He pleaded not guilty to two counts each of unlawful sexual intercourse (this is a more serious charge than indecent assault) and two counts of indecent assault. The alleged victims in these charges were boys aged between 11 and 16 at the time of the offences, which date back as far as 1979, the court heard.

Pre-sentence hearing, June 2010

On 29 June 2010 Charles Alfred Barnett appeared in court while Judge Paul Rice heard pre-sentence submissions.

Barnett's defence lawyer claimed that Barnett had not realised how wrong his acts were at the time when he offended against the boys

Judge Rice said he did not believe that the priest did not know sexual abuse of children was wrong.

The defence lawyer said told the court how Barnett had lived in Indonesia since the mid-1990s. The lawyer said that, while Barnett was in custody in Indonesia, he paid a $32,000 "down-payment" to get out of the squalid jail into home detention - but the money went missing.

Judge Rice said this payment sounded like a bribe.

Prosecutor Kathy Rozaklis said there was an element of grooming in Barnett's behaviour as he used his position as a priest to gain the trust of families whose children he abused.

She called for Barnett's sentence to reflect the public's outrage and revulsion for the crimes.

In statements read to the court, Barnett's victims called him a despicable monster and spoke of feeling betrayed by the Catholic Church.

One victim wrote about Barnett: "He was a creep, like a snake." The victim said he had been too terrified to sleep when the priest stayed in his bedroom after befriending the Catholic farming family near Port Pirie (South Australia).

The victim stated that he does not want to go to heaven if it is "full of priests" who have abused children.

Judge Rice remanded Barnett in custody, with the sentencing details to be handed down on a later date.

Sentenced, August 2010

In sentencing Charles Alfred Barnett on 5 August 2010, Judge Paul Rice said that Barnett's crimes had "wrenched the innocence" from his victims. The effect on the victims had been devastating, he said.

The judge told Barnett: "You knew what you were doing was legally and morally wrong, not the least because you were a Catholic priest."

The judge took into consideration Barnett’s guilty plea and the time that he had spent in custody in Indonesia. The judge imposed a jail term of six years and six months, with a non-parole period of four years. Both terms were back-dated to February 2009, when Charles Alfred Barnett was placed in custody in Australia.   

Comment by an ex-parishioner in western Sydney

"Tom" a former parishioner of "Our Lady of the Rosary" parish in St Marys, near Penrith in western Sydney has told Broken Rites:

"In the late 1980s (about 1987-89, as I remember), Father Charles Barnett spent about two years living with Father Richard Cattell in the presbytery at our parish. I knew Barnett very well. He used to come to my family's house a lot.

"My Mother disliked Barnett immensely; and she has since explained to me that she thought he was odd and not what she considered a normal priest. She is not at all surprised that he ended up facing court for serious crimes of such a nature.

"Barnett was heavily involved in the Antioch movement (for youg people) in our parish.

"We always thought something was odd about Barnett. He would always encourage us boys (we were aged about 17-20) to come over to the presbytery and play cards late into the night. I remember one particular night (at the presbytery) my brother went to the toilet and Barnett rushed in behind him and started urinating in the bowl at the same time. My brother quickly retreated. Things became strained after that incident.

"I would be extremely surprised if there are no Charles Barnett victims in New South Wales – in particular around the St.Marys and Penrith areas in western Sydney. My only fear is that his victim(s) maybe too intimidated/embarrassed to come forward – or that since Barnett disappeared in the mid 1990s they may have given up hope of finding justice one day?"

Tom ended his story with this comment:  "I no longer have anything to do with the Catholic Church and have spent the last 20 years protecting my kids from it."