These women gain justice for crimes committed by a priest many years ago when they were children

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 20 November 2020

For many years, a Catholic priest in North Queensland (Father Neville Joseph Creen) used his priestly standing to hide his child-sex crimes from the police. But eventually, some of his victims (all female) began reporting Creen's past crimes to the police. As a result, Creen was convicted in two court cases in 2003 and 2004 regarding these victims. After this, several more victims contacted the police, and therefore in November 2020 he was convicted again in a third court case regarding these additional victims. (By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 18 November 2020.)

In the first two court cases (in 2003 and 2004), Creen admitted that he touched young girls sexually when he ministered at the Good Shepherd parish at Mount Isa (a mining town in north-west Queensland) in the 1970s. The girls, aged between five and 13, were pupils at Catholic schools in Mount Isa.

It was stated in court that the crimes were concealed from the police at the time but one victim eventually gave a statement to police as an adult, and the police then interviewed other victims. In 2003 Creen pleaded guilty regarding 18 of his victims and in 2004 he pleaded guilty regarding another two. These 20 were not necessarily his only victims — they were merely those who agreed to make a police statement.

According to Broken Rites research, Creen ministered in Mount Isa between June 1973 and December 1981. In the 1979 edition of the Directory of Australian Catholic Clergy, he was one of four priests at the Mt Isa parish, which is within the Townsville Catholic diocese. (From 1967 to 1983, this diocese was administered by Bishop Leonard Faulkner, who later became the archbishop of Adelaide.)

According to the annual Australian Catholic directory, Creen was still listed as a priest of the Townsville diocese in 1996, but his name vanished from the 1997 directory and from subsequent editions. Evidently, at this stage, he parted company with the priesthood. But he was not brought to justice in court until 2003.

It is unclear exactly when the Townsville diocese became aware that Creen was committing child-abuse crimes or what discussions it had with Creen in 1996 (or earlier). But on 9 September 2003, the day that the public was due to hear about the police charges and about his guilty plea, the diocese was finally forced to publicly acknowledge his crimes.

First court case, 2003

On 9 September 2003, Creen (then aged 63) appeared in the Brisbane District court, where he pleaded guilty to indecent dealings with 18 of the Mount Isa girls, who were aged between five and 13.

Crown prosecutor Carl Heaton described Creen as a trusted and accepted member of his community who "could not walk down the street without people stopping him for a chat".

"He was welcomed into the home of many families. They took him into their homes and fed him on many occasions, regular occasions, and included him as a member of the family to a large extent," Mr Heaton said.

"It was within that environment (Creen's) offending was committed."

According to the prosecution, Creen told one of his victims that God had placed trust in him. Mr Heaton said Creen's comment showed that he had expressly used the authority of his position in both the school and the church to achieve the abuses.

The offences occurred in a variety of places including in the families' homes during visits, on church youth camps, during confession and once at a wedding. One girl was aged just five when Creen abused her at a youth camp and later at the home of her grandparents.

Church statement

Meanwhile, on the day that Creen appeared in court to plead guilty, Bishop Michael Putney (who had administered the Townsville diocese since 2000) circulated a pastoral letter to parishes, announcing the case that was about to become public.

Putney's letter seems to acknowledge that the 18 victims in the police charges were not necessarily Crean's only victims. Putney wrote: "Every time someone is convicted of such crimes one becomes aware of just how many lives have been damaged in this way and how many others there must be in the community who have not found a way to come forward."

The bishop invited any of Creen's numerous victims to contact the diocese for "pastoral" help. [That is, the church was not advising victims to contact the police.]

Jailed

In sentencing Creen on 12 September 2003, Judge Ian Wylie said Creen had used his position as a priest and his standing in the community to intimidate the girls into remaining silent about their ordeals.

Judge Wylie sentenced Creen to 3 1/2 years' jail, with 14 months to be spent behind bars and the remainder to be suspended for four years. The judge said the part-suspension was to reflect mitigating factors in Creen's favour.

Prosecutors' appeal lost

In November 2003, the Queensland Attorney-General applied to the state's Court of Appeal to seek an extra seven months behind bars for Creen, but the appeal court refused, mainly because Creen now claimed to be rehabilitated. Appeal judge Geoff Davies said the sentencing judge (Judge Wylie) had correctly taken several factors into consideration: the fact that Creen had a new adult relationship; his good work in the community; and the fact that the charges were more than 20 years old (and consequently the long delay in the victims reporting the crimes to police).

One of Creen's victims ("Kathryn", aged 42 at the time of the appeal) told a journalist that she was molested by Creen on three occasions when she was 11. She said she was offended by one judge's comments about how long it took for victims to come forward. Kathryn said: "In my mind he has no comprehension of how the effects of child abuse work on a child."

2 more victims, 2004

In November 2004, after serving his 14 months behind bars, Creen was due to release. But, before walking free, he was charged in the Brisbane District Court with a further six charges of indecent dealing involving two more Mount Isa girls under 12. He again pleaded guilty.

The court was told that he offended against these two girls around the same time that he had touched the other 18 girls. The court was told that the new complaints were of a similar nature to the previous complaints.

The court was told that Creen, who dealt with a number of daughters of his parishioners, committed his offences while the children sat on his lap. He had slipped his hand under the girls' clothing to touch them in the genital region, even when their parents were in the room, and on two occasions had penetrated them digitally.

In his sentencing, Judge Brian Boulton said Creen's breach of trust had ruined the lives of the women who, at the time of the sentencing, were now in their thirties and forties.

"The effect upon them has been quite disastrous," the judge said.

However, the judge said he was taking into account that Creen had rehabilitated himself since the offences were committed, and he gave Creen a two-year wholly suspended sentence on the condition he did not re-offend during the next two years.

Aboriginal girls at risk

In the 1970s, Mt Isa had two Catholic primary schools (St Joseph's and St Kieran's). The pupils included some indigenous children.

As well as the primary schools, there was also a Catholic secondary girls' school, San Jose College, which had some indigenous students. (San Jose College later became a part of Mount Isa Catholic High School.)

A woman ("Donna") who was a schoolgirl in Mount Isa in the 1970s told Broken Rites in 2008: "I lived in Mount Isa with my parents, both of whom were indigenous. I encountered Father Creen at St Joseph's Catholic primary school in Year 7 when I was aged eleven, and I was one of a number of indigenous girls there. I had some bad experiences with Father Creen in this school. After Year 7, I went on to San Jose girls' college. Later, I left Mount Isa and worked in various parts of Queensland. Creen's behaviour disrupted my personal development, sending me off the rails in my teens, and I still feel the effects. I was not involved in the prosecutions in 2003 and 2004. The girls in those court cases were not Creen's only victims. I am glad that Creen was eventually brought to justice."

Of the indigenous girls at San Jose College, about 20 of them (aged from 12 to 16 years) came from distant areas and they boarded in Mount Isa at a Catholic hostel for indigenous girls, Marillac House. It is believed that Father Neville Crean had contact with Marillac House girls.

Military chaplain

Research by Broken Rites indicates that, as well as working in parishes, Neville Creen was also listed in the annual Australian Catholic directories as a part-time chaplain to Australian Army reserve units. Indeed, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was not in the Townsville diocese at all but was transferred to work as a full-time chaplain in the "Military Ordinariate of Australia" (this "ordinariate" was the equivalent of a diocese, covering chaplains in all Australia's navy, army and air force bases). The 1988 Catholic directory listed him as "Rev. N. Creen, RFD", presumably meaning that he held the Reserve Force Decoration (RFD), which is a medal 'for efficient service in the reserve forces'.

Crean's address in the late 1980s and early 1990s was listed as the "Character Training Team", care of the School of Artillery, Australian Army, Manly, Sydney. It is unclear what qualifications Creen had in "character training". Was he engaging in "character training" when he assaulted all those girls in Mt Isa?

In the early 1990s, Fr Neville Creen went back to the Townsville Diocese as the Parish Priest in charge of the Holy Spirit parish at Cranbrook in the city of Townsville, Queensland. In addition, in the 1994 Catholic directory, he was listed as a part-time university chaplain at Townsville (the city in which the James Cook University is situated).

However, from 1997 onwards, Creen was no longer listed as a priest anywhere in Australia.

When he appeared in court in Brisbane in 2003, he was listed in court documents as living in Sydney.

Jailed again in 2020

In a District Court in Queensland on 17 November 2020, Neville Creen was charged with committing crimes of indecency against two more of his female victims.

The offences occurred while the girls were pupils in a Catholic primary school in Mount Isa in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One girl was aged nine or ten and the other girl was aged 10 to eleven. The court case was arranged by detectives in the Queensland Police child-protection investigation unit (the CPIU), which is based in Townsville, North Queensland).

Creen pleaded guilty.

The judge imposed a 15-months jail sentence and ordered Creen to serve three months of this behind bars, with the remainder to be served while living in the community if he remained in good behaviour. The jail time was reduced in view of Creen's guilty plea and because he had already served time behind bars.

  • Footnote: To help internet searches: Neville Joseph Creen's name has sometimes been mis-spelt as Neville Joseph Crean.