FULL STORY: How the church continued covering up for this priest

By a Broken Rites researcher , article updated 20 September 2020

A victim (John Parmeter) has spoken publicly in the media about how he was sexually abused for years by a prominent Australian priest, Father Peter Brock, beginning at the age of nine in 1968. The Catholic Church culture of silence blocked John from complaining until 2007 when he was aged nearly 50 and, by then, the church's cover-up had damaged John's life. In 2008 John received a written apology from the priest and later a financial settlement from the church. But the church authorities still praised Father Brock and elevated him to a prominent national role, thereby making John Parmeter feel abused again by the continuing cover-up. John Parmeter has authorized the media to publish his own name because (he says) John's public statement exposes the church's cover-up, thereby helping other church victims.

Broken Rites has researched Father Peter Julian Brock. Born on 18 Sept 1945, he was ordained as a priest, in the late 1960s, for the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, north of Sydney. Maitland-Newcastle, with about 40 parishes, is one of the eleven Catholic dioceses in the state of New South Wales.

Early in his ministry, Father Brock met the Parmeter family and became a regular visitor to their house, where he would drink alcohol and play cards. He began taking an interest in the family's nine-year-old twins, John and Paul. As "loyal Catholics", the Parmeter family automatically trusted this priest.

Father Brock, who had musical expertise, arranged to give the twins some musical tuition at his parish house, the presbytery. Again, the parents trusted the priest to have custody of their children.

John Parmeter says that, from the outset, Brock's behaviour was physical (with hugs) and it gradually became  sexual. By the time the twins were 13 (in 1972), Brock's offences had become serious child-abuse crimes. But, because his family was "so Catholic", John realised that he would not be able to say anything negative to his parents about this Catholic priest. John says that he had to suffer the sexual abuse (and the church's culture of cover-up) in silence.

This silence and hypocrisy damaged John's adolescent and adult development. By 2007, when he was still feeling hurt, John resolved that he did not want any other child ever to suffer from church-abuse as he had done. He  told his story to a woman who was working as the child-protection officer for the Maitland-Newcastle diocese. 

John also contacted the New South Wales Police and, after some delay, he was helped by the Lake Macquarie Detectives Office at the Charlestown Police Station, near Newcastle. After listening to John's story, the detectives arranged for John to compile a written statement. The detectives then launched an investigation and they also interviewed (and obtained a written statement from) John's twin brother whose life, also, had been damaged by Father Brock and by the cover-up.

In September 2007, Bishop Michael Malone (of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese) made a surprise announcement — that Fr Peter Brock was standing down (temporarily) from the ministry to allow for a certain "investigation" to take place. Bishop Malone refused to elaborate on the nature of the investigation or who was conducting it.

Around this time, Broken Rites researched Fr. Peter Brock in the archives of the Australian Catholic Directory. We ascertained that, from 1969 onwards, Brock's parishes in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese included (and this is not a compete list): Waratah, Merewether, Charlestown, Kurri Kurri, Boolaroo, Belmont, New Lambton and East Maitland. Broken Rites noticed that, in the 1980s in addition to his parish work, Brock was a part-time chaplain for the deaf community and for the University of Newcastle.

The detectives continued their investigation during 2008. Because other similar cases of church-related child-abuse were finally being reported to police, a special unit of detectives (called "Strike Force Georgiana") began operating in the Newcastle region to handle all these cases.

In 2008 John Parmeter had a private meeting with Father Peter Brock, telling him how Brock's behaviour had damaged the lives of John and his brother. John says this discussion took place while he and Brock were sitting on a park bench. John asked for a written apology, and therefore on 7 May 2008, Father Brock gave a written apology to John, including these two sentences:

"I acknowledge that my actions have caused you pain and distress, no matter how unwittingly or unintentionally on my part.

"I am ashamed and sorry for that, and offer this sincere apology. I hope this letter can help you on your journey."

In his letter, Brock carefully avoided incriminating himself but he certainly was admitting wrong-doing against a child.

Court case

In October 2008, the NSW Police formally charged Peter Julian Brock with 22 incidents of serious child-sex offences, committed against John and his brother.

[In the New South Wales criminal statutes, child-sex offences are defined as those crimes that are committed before the victim is 16 years old. The offences are particularly serious if they were committed by a person who is in a position of trust, such as a clergyman.]

On 11 March 2009, Father Peter Julian Brock appeared before a magistrate in the Newcastle Local Court. Brock indicated that he would contest the charges. A preliminary hearing began in October 2009, with John Parmeter as the main witness. 

In his written statements tendered to court, John described how Father Brock’s early hugs in the presbytery during music lessons gradually became increasingly sexual.

John described how Brock had introduced a card game, "Strip Jack Naked", where players lose pieces of clothing depending on what cards they are dealt. When they played this game at the Parmeter family home, the game would stop when the participants were reduced to their underpants. But, at the church presbytery, the players would end up naked and this enabled Brock to progressively commit serious child-sex crimes.

John's police statement made it clear how a child, when left alone in the custody of a priest, was powerless to combat the secret crimes of the priest.

"I could never at this time tell anyone that this had happened," John  told police.

The court scheduled the hearing to resume in December 2009. During this two-months recess, John (the principal witness) found that his emotional strength was failing and on 3 December 2009 the office Director of Public Prosecutions announced that it had decided not to proceed with the 22 charges.

Therefore, by New South Wales state law, the church was obliged now to make an internal investigation about the Brock matter and prepare a report for the state Ombudsman's Office. Thus, Bishop Michael Malone said in a public statement: "As withdrawal of charges does not equate to a finding of guilt or innocence, this journey is not yet over."

A white-wash

In November 2010, after the church's  in-house investigation had been reported to the Ombudsman, Bishop Michael Malone announced , "with considerable joy",  that Father Brock would return to ministry "by his own choice . . . in a quiet way", and initially would "focus his considerable talents on ministry to adults" [that is, not to children].

Bishop Malone's "joyful" announcement gave the impression, incorrectly, that Father Brock had been officially "cleared".

However, when John Parmeter and his brother obtained a summary of the report, they found that it actually confirmed Father Brock's wrong-doing. The summary stated:

"Between approximately 1968 and 1975 whilst Father Brock was an assistant priest and priest within the diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, he engaged in a range and pattern of behaviours with and/or towards John and Paul Parmeter who were children at the time.

‘‘That range and pattern of behaviour constituted sexual misconduct as defined by the NSW Ombudsman Act 1974."  [The definition of "sexual misconduct" includes "any sexual relationship with a child".]

This means that Bishop Malone's "joyful" announcement amounted to a white-washing of Father Brock's record.

This white-wash upset both of the twins, who felt that they had been re-victimised by the church's tactics. They protested to the diocese.

The diocese's child protection unit manager, Sean Tynan, soon wrote to the brothers, expressing regret over the diocese's handling of Brock's return to ministry. Mr Tynan wrote that there was "no intention to be disrespectful or inconsiderate to you", but "with the benefit of hindsight, this should have been dealt with better".

On 2 March 2012 the church white-washed Father Peter Brock further by announcing, in a media release from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, that Father Peter Brock had begun working as its national project officer, preparing for the church’s "Year of Grace" which would be launched in mid-2012. Church website gave prominent mentions of Fr Peter Brock as the contact for this project.

The church pays compensation

Meanwhile, the twins (through a lawyer) asked the Maitland-Newcastle diocese for a civil settlement. The diocese agreed to give an ex-gratia payment to each of the brothers on the church's usual condition — that the victims must sign away their legal right to sue the church for damages. [This is a money-saving tactic by the church, to limit the size of the compensation.]

The amount paid to each of the twins in this private settlement was larger than the average amount that the church usually pays to all its victims in private settlements. However, even this amount was not enough to make up for the damage that had been done to the life of each of the brothers.

The cover-up is exposed

For several years from 2009 onwards, Father Peter Brock threatened to sue any victim, or any media outlet, if they dared to tell the story from the viewpoint of the victims. This intimidated John Parmeter into silence, as he could not afford to pay the legal costs that would be incurred in defending himself. Thus, the cover-up continued.

Father Peter Brock died on 11 September 2014, aged 69, after he (and his supporters) had been trying to silence the Parmeter children for more than 40 years.

John Parmeter finally told his own story in an interview with journalist Joanne McCarthy, published on the front page (and also on inside pages) of the Newcastle Herald newspaper on Saturday 20 September 2014, with a photo of John, 

John, the article said, takes comfort from knowing that his statement to police in 2007 helped the police investigation of child-sexual abuse ("Strike Force Georgiana") in the Newcastle region. This Strike Force proved the need for a national royal commission which has exposed the truth about child sexual abuse in Australian institutions, the article said.

Broken Rites normally has a strict rule of not naming or identifying any victim but John Parmeter has authorised the Newcastle Herald to use his name and photo, so as to give support to other victims.  He explained: "If it helps others, that helps me."