Priest was caught filming naked boys while they showered

A visiting Catholic priest has pleaded guilty in court to filming boys, without their permission, while they were naked, in shower-cubicles at an Australian beach.

Father John Charles Houston was ordered by the court not to loiter near public pools or beaches.

Father Houston (born 3 March 1955) appeared before a magistrate on 28 July 2009 in Raymond Terrace Local Court, near Newcastle, New South Wales.

According to police, Father John Houston was visiting New South Wales at the time of the offences.

His temporary address was listed on court papers as the Monastery of the Most Holy Redeemer, Maitland Vale Road, Bolwarra Heights, New South Wales (near the city of Maitland, inland from Newcastle).

He was in active ministry at the time of the alleged offences, police stated.

How the case began

The filming incidents were alleged to have occurred in shower cubicles at Blacksmiths Beach (south of Newcastle) during the New South Wales Surf Life Saving Championships on 1 March 2009. Houston was charged by Lake Macquarie detectives on March 26.

In Belmont Local Court (south of Newcastle) in April 2009, Houston was charged with two counts of filming a person in a private act without consent to obtain sexual arousal and one charge each of filming a person's private parts without consent and filming a person in a private act without consent to obtain sexual arousal (aggravated).

The aggravated charge related to a 14-year-old boy and carried a maximum jail term of five years.

Another charge related to an "unknown adolescent male".

Final court appearance

When the case was listed again in Raymond Terrace Local Court (near Newcastle) on 28 July 2009, Houston applied to have the matter dealt with under mental health legislation.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of filming without permission. Two other charges were withdrawn.

Rather than penalising Houston, the magistrate ordered that he be supervised by mental health workers, continue to take his medication and to not loiter near public pools or beaches.

Houston would be subject to the court's orders for 18 months and would face a potential jail term if he breached those orders.

Church statement

When Houston was charged in March 2009, the Newcastle Herald contacted Bishop Michael Malone, head of the Newcastle-Maitland diocese. Malone issued a short statement, saying:

"Father Houston came to the [Maitland-Newcastle] diocese in September 2008 to minister to the Redemptoristine Community, a small enclosed group of religious women, in Bolwarra Heights.

"As he is not a priest of this diocese, I am unable to provide you with any further information."

Broken Rites research

The Redemptoristine nuns at Bolwarra Heights, where John Charles Houston was staying, are a small community. Founded in Italy in 1731, this order was introduced in Australia from Canada in 1965 by Bishop John Toohey, of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese. Bolwarra Heights is this order's only address that is listed in the Australian Catholic Directory.

In the court proceedings, police stated that in 2008, before moving to Bolwarra, Houston had been at an address in Windsor, Melbourne.

The police did not say which religious order John Charles Houston belonged to or which country or countries he had been ministering in.

Broken Rites has found that John Charles Houston is not listed in any of the annual editions of the Australian Catholic directory as ministering in Australia.

The Catholic Church has many religious orders, some of them quite small, which operate internationally — and this is where John Charles Houston fits in.

Broken Rites has ascertained that John Charles Houston may be Australian-born but he was ordained (while overseas) into an order called the Consolata Fathers or the Consolata Missionaries. He has worked as a priest in African countries, including South Africa.

  • Article updated 12 May 2011.