Father Jack Gubbels died while police were seeking to interview him

By a Broken Rites researcher

Australia's Melbourne Catholic archdiocese recruited and trained a priest, Father Jack Gubbels, whose big interest was in "befriending" boys. The Melbourne diocesan authorities soon transferred him "on loan" to far-north Queensland, out of the reach of the Victoria Police. Eventually Gubbels took sick leave and worked as a bus driver in Queensland — until some of his Melbourne victims contacted Broken Rites.

Broken Rites advised these Melbourne victims to contact a unit of detectives in the Victoria Police.

On 18 August 1995, a Victoria Police detective went to Queensland, seeking to interview Father Jack William Gubbels on the Gold Coast about child-sex sex offences that he had allegedly committed in Melbourne. According to the police, Gubbels (then aged 49) refused to co-operate with them. A few hours later that day, Gubbels was found dead in his bed in his home at Helensville on the Gold Coast. As result, being dead, he could no longer be taken to court to be charged with the sex offences.

The Victoria Police had wanted to interview Gubbels about a complaint from Springvale, a suburb in Melbourne's south-east. The police had obtained a written, signed and sworn statement from a Springvale man ("Basil"), stating that, when he was a 13-year-old altar boy at St Joseph's parish there in 1977, he had been indecently assaulted by Gubbels.

Basil stated that Gubbels, known simply as Jack, was then involved in a youth club in this parish. Gubbels used to visit Basil's family for evening meals. When the boy went to bed, Gubbels would say good-night to him in the bedroom. Gubbels would return to the house later and re-enter the boy's bedroom through a window. He would get into bed with the boy and would handle the boy indecently.

Police also obtained a statement from Basil's brother, who witnessed Gubbels in the bedroom after lights-out. Basil's parents told the police that they trusted Gubbels, thinking that their children would be safe with a Catholic priest.

Broken Rites research

Broken Rites has ascertained that Gubbels, who was of Dutch background, was born on 12 May 1946. According to police, his original Victorian driving licence gave his first name as Jakobus but he was known universally as Jack. He grew up in Melbourne and went to school at St Joseph's, Springvale.

After being selected by the Melbourne archdiocese for training as a future priest, he entered Melbourne's Corpus Christi College seminary in the early 1970s. He was one of a number of trainee priests who used to visit St Augustine's boys' orphanage (operated by the Christian Brothers) at Geelong to "help" the boys. (Other "helpers" there included Father Michael Charles Glennon and Father Terrence Pidoto, both of whom were jailed later for sexually assaulting boys in their parishes and youth groups).

"Basil" (the complainant from the Springvale parish) told Victoria Police that Gubbels once took him on a visit to St Augustine's orphanage, where there was a swimming pool. Basil stated that Gubbels used to stay overnight at St Augustine's. Gubbels brought a St Augustine's boy (about Basil's age) back to Melbourne to stay at Basil's house. Basil also stated that Gubbels used to take boys, including Basil, to stay at a house on the Victorian coast.

By 1975, Gubbels was a deacon and later became ordained as a priest. His earliest parishes, in which he served in the middle and late 1970s (as a youth leader, deacon or assistant priest) included:

  • St Joseph's parish in Springvale (this was the parish where Gubbels had grown up);
  • St Mary's parish in Dandenong (in Melbourne's south-east);
  • St Peter and St Paul parish in South Melbourne (in 1978 until early 1979), working under the under the Parish Priest in charge there, Father Bob Maguire.

While at South Melbourne, Gubbels had access to boys from St Vincent's Boys' Home (operated by the Christian Brothers), situated in that parish.

During 1979, in a strange decision, the Melbourne archdiocese arranged for Gubbels to transfer, "on loan", to the Townsville diocese in far-northern Queensland. This strange transfer would have required an agreement between the archbishop of Melbourne and the bishop of Townsville.

In Queensland, despite being only 33 and very junior, Gubbels was put in charge of a parish ("Our Lady of Lourdes") at Collinsville (inland between Townsville and Mackay) in 1980-81.

About 1982-83, he re-appeared in the Melbourne archdiocese, as an assistant priest at St Edmond's parish, Croydon, in Melbourne's outer-east. (Father Terry Pidoto was also working in this parish at that time.) Around this time, Gubbels was acting as an honorary probation officer, which meant that young male offenders could be placed under his supervision and control.

About 1986, the Melbourne archdiocese transferred Gubbels back to the Townsville diocese. In the Townsville diocese, between 1986 and 1991, he was listed as being in charge of parishes, firstly at Cloncurry (St Colman's parish) and later at Charters Towers (St Columba's parish).

In 1991, a friend who was a boarding master at Mount Carmel College in Charters Towers, Queensland, committed suicide. Gubbels gave the eulogy at his friend's funeral.

By 1992, Gubbels was on "sick leave" from the priesthood and his name was abruptly dropped from the annual Australian Catholic directories. "Basil" (the complainant from the Springvale parish) told Victoria Police that Gubbels had a trip to Holland in 1993.

In 1994 and 1995 Gubbels was employed by Jupiters Casino on Queensland's Gold Coast as a bus driver.

Victorian police began investigating Gubbels during 1995. Learning that he was in Queensland, they sent a Melbourne detective to interview him but the police were beaten by Gubbels' sudden death.

A church farewell

A concelebrated requiem mass was held for Gubbels on 28 August 1995 at St Mary's Church in Dandenong, in Melbourne's south-east, where Gubbels had served as a deacon towards the end of his seminary training. About twenty priests participated, including the vicar-general of the Melbourne archdiocese, Monsignor Gerald Cudmore. Father Grant O'Neill, who knew Gubbels in the seminary, gave the homily and referred to "problems" (unspecified) which affected Gubbels' life. A private cremation was then held.

Cudmore told a Melbourne suburban newspaper that, at the time of his death, Gubbbels had not left the priesthood and was merely on sick leave.

Victims among his relatives

While the Melbourne priests were celebrating their requiem Mass for Gubbels, some of Gubbels' relatives had a different memory of him. A young male relative of Gubbels has told Broken Rites that, after the funeral, several young male relatives of Gubbels revealed that they had been sexually abused by him.

At the time of the abuse, none of them knew that Gubbels was also doing it to the others. Each of them said he was unable to tell his parents at the time, because of Gubbels' status as a priest, but they felt free to do so at last, when they revealed their experiences to each other after the funeral.

More complaints

Newspapers in Melbourne and Queensland reported Gubbels' death and the police investigation. Several more male witnesses came forward, saying that they had been sexually abused by Father Gubbels.

However, because Gubbels is now dead, the police are unable to proceed against him for these new complaints.

Orphanage victim

"James", a former resident of St Augustine's orphanage at Geelong, told Broken Rites: "In 1975, when I was eleven, I was put into St Augustine's after my parents separated. Jack Gubbels used to visit there. He slept in a dormitory with the boys. One night, he hopped into bed with me and handled my genitals.

"On another occasion Brother Alford, from St Augustine's, took some of us boys in a mini-bus to Melbourne, where we visited Gubbels at the Corpus Christi seminary.

"Gubbels's assault had a bad impact on me. It has affected my self-esteem. I have realised this in recent years."

Complaint at Croydon parish

After Gubbels' death was reported in the media, a woman ("Tammy") from Melbourne's Croydon parish (St Edmund's) asked her son ("Mervyn") if he knew anything about Gubbels' sexual abuse and the son replied: "Yes, he molested me in the Croydon parish when I was eleven."

Tammy then arranged for Mervyn to speak to Broken Rites. Mervyn stated: "I met Gubbels at St Edmund's primary school in Croydon in 1982 when I was eleven and I got to know him better at a school camp. He became a friend of my family. A year later, when I was twelve and a half, I went with Gubbels by car to Queensland for a three-weeks trip. There was a group of us and we travelled in two cars. In Queensland, we had a day trip to his old parish, Collinsville, where Gubbels looked up some old friends.

"Gubbels molested me twice — once on the Queensland trip and again later at our house. He had been drinking on both occasions. I could not tell my parents about the assaults because my family had Gubbels on a pedestal."

Mervyn's mother, Tammy, told Broken Rites: "In the early 1980s, when my son was being indecently assaulted, my husband and I were knew nothing about it. My husband and Jack Gubbels were great mates.

"We kept in contact with Jack Gubbels until 1995. We knew that he had problems in north Queensland when he went back to minister there again in the late 1980s. In the middle of 1991, while he was at the Charters Towers parish, Jack Gubbels attempted suicide and ended up in hospital. He went on sick leave from parish work. We know all this because he was still a friend of ours and we were keeping in contact.

"Then he went to Brisbane for rehabilitation. He still had the use of a church car for a while. Next, he went to work at Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast, as a bus driver, and that is where the police from Victoria finally tried to interview him.

"When I heard about his death, I asked my son if Jack Gubbels had ever touched him sexually, and then I learned that my son had been a victim. I was devastated."

Another complaint

In August 2014, Broken Rites received a report of yet another victim, who encountered Father Gubbels at the South Melbourne parish before the church authorities evacuated Gubbels to Queensland.

FOOTNOTE: The name Jack Gubbels, which is of Dutch origin, has sometimes been mis-spelt as Jack Gubbles