The church finally admits the crimes of Fr Patrick Cusack

After action by Broken Rites, the Catholic Church has been forced to admit that a "highly respected" priest, Father Patrick Cusack, committed sexual crimes against primary school girls in the Canberra-Goulburn archdiocese during many years. During his priestly career, Cusack was protected by the church's code of silence about clergy sexual abuse. But, after his death, so many Cusack victims came forward that the church finally had to acknowledge the priest's crimes.

The victims say that Fr Cusack regularly removed each girl, one by one, from the classroom of the parish primary school, between the ages of 8 to 11, to "have a chat with Father". Customarily Fr. Cusack would sit the girls on his knee and would begin by touching their ear lobes. He would then seek to touch other parts of their body including the genitals. In some cases he would instruct the children to perform oral sex. Occasionally, penis-vagina contact occurred.

Fr Pat Cusack was born within the Canberra-Goulburn diocese in 1928 and was ordained as a priest in Rome in 1951. He worked in various Canberra-Goulburn parishes from 1955 and was in charge of St. Matthew's, Page, Canberra, from 1970 to 1977.

After his death in 1977, the Page parish kept a photo of Cusack on display in a position of honour in the foyer of the parish primary school. In the photo, Cusack had a little girl sitting on his lap.

The story of Maria

The unmasking of Cusack in July 1994 began when a woman ("Maria", aged 28 in 1994) contacted Broken Rites.

Maria said: "When I was 8 in 1974, Father Cusack began taking me regularly from my classroom to our school hall which also served as our chapel. There, in a small room where he kept his Mass vestments, he began his routine of molestation which escalated from fondling of my ear lobes in Primary Year 3 to genital contact by Year 5.

"He used his priestly authority to make me keep the abuse a secret. The secret burdened me, disrupting my communication with my family. I began to hate school and my parents because nobody ever asked me about Cusack, and I knew that I was not allowed to complain about a Catholic priest. I became a troubled child, building a great wall around myself. I refused to go back to St. Matthew's for Grade 6. My parents took me to a psychiatrist and moved me to another school.

"All this trauma damaged my adolescent development. Cusack gave me a bad impression of men, and I have subsequently had poor relationships with males. During all the years since Cusack's abuse, I have become depressed whenever I think of Cusack and the church's cover-up.

"I could not bring myself to tell anybody about Cusack until I told my sister in early 1993, when I was 27. My sister was not surprised that Cusack was a child molester. She said she now realised why I had been such a disturbed youngster.

"In 1993 I officially complained to a top cleric in the Canberra-Goulburn Diocese about Cusack's abuse but he claimed that he had never heard of this sort of thing happening before in this diocese. He tried to convince me that I was Cusack's only victim. He asked me to keep quiet about it, which is exactly what Cusack had asked me to do. It is no wonder that my parents were too trusting about a priest," Maria said.

The story of Leanne

After being silenced by the senior cleric, Maria felt powerless. Later, by chance at a party, she learned about another girl ("Leanne"), who had also been sexually assaulted by Cusack in the same parish around the same time as Maria. Leanne was attending a government school but her parents used to send her to visit Cusack at his parish house for "religious instruction".

Now Maria realised that she was not Cusack's only victim, and she realised that Cusack had been aided and abetted by the church veil of secrecy about church abuse.

Therefore, Maria phoned Broken Rites on 11 July 1994, seeking our help in ending the cover-up. Maria said: "There has been too much secrecy. The church authorities do not want parents to hear about this but, as a parent myself, I don't want other parents to be left in ignorance and I don't want other children to be at risk.

The cover-up is exposed

Broken Rites located the other victim, "Leanne", and examined her case. Broken Rites then issued a news statement on Canberra radio, announcing that we were investigating complaints about Cusack and suggesting that the church remove the photograph of Cusack from the foyer of St. Matthew's school.

Within hours of the radio broadcast, dozens of Cusack's victims came forward. Many of these females had previously complained to church authorities. However, the church authorities had told each victim that she was the only victim and that Father had erred only once.

Realising now that they had each been deceived by their church, the women contacted radio stations, TV newsrooms, newspapers, the Broken Rites telephone hotline and the Archdiocesan office to confirm the Broken Rites statement. In addition, several women said they had sisters or friends who were molested by Cusack.

According to the victims, Cusack often reeked of alcohol.

Five of the women, including "Maria", were interviewed by the Canberra Times, which published an article about the Cusack case on 28 July 1994. All the women said they had been told not to tell anyone about Cusack's abuse, and they had all thought that nobody would believe them because of the "high regard" in which a Catholic priest like Father Cusack was held.

The Canberra Times article quoted Canberrra-Goulburn auxiliary bishop Patrick Power. Bishop Power did not deny that there had been complaints about Cusack's abuse. He said: "Such conduct is the greatest betrayal of trust that there could be. There is no way I would ever condone it."

Eventually, the archdiocese issued a press release stating, "Reports coming to light 17 years after his death that Fr Pat Cusack sexually molested children have caused widespread shock and sadness, Catholic archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn Francis Carroll said today."

Cusack's background

Broken Rites has researched Cusack's background. He came from a family that was prominent in southern NSW and Canberra. Patrick Aubrey Cusack was born in Boorowa, near Yass, New South Wales.

Broken Rites has checked Father Cusack's career in the annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directories. He was first listed as an assistant priest in Canberra from 1955 to 1959. He was listed as an assistant priest at the parish of St Peter and St Paul in Goulburn in 1960-67 and at two Canberra parishes (O'Connor and Aranda) in the late 1960s before becoming the Parish Priest in charge of St Matthew's in Page in 1970.

In 1977, aged 49, Cusack was found dead in his parish house, sitting in a chair. Senior priests came to the house and checked through Cusack's possessions and papers, removing certain items.

Children from St Matthew's primary school, including girls who had been molested by Cusack, were forced to attend the priest's funeral. At the time of the funeral, the victim "Maria" (the one who contacted Broken Rites in July 1994) had left St Matthew's school but her parents (unaware of her assaults) were still parishioners there, and Maria was forced to join the other children of the parish who lined up as the coffin was carried from the church.

He was buried in Woden cemetery in Canberra (in Catholic section A, allotment 063).