Victims of Fr Paul "Rex" Brown were re-abused by Towards Healing

By a Broken Rites researcher 

Broken Rites is researching how the Catholic Church harboured a paedophile priest, Father Paul Rex Brown, allowing him to commit sexual crimes against boys and girls in northern New South Wales.

The church knew that Brown was a danger to children but it transferred him to new parishes, thus inflicting him on additional children. Catholic families, influenced by the church's holy public image, did not realise that the church was putting their children at risk.

Father Paul Rex Brown (usually known by his middle name, Rex) was one of the most senior priests in the Lismore diocese, which is situated on the NSW north coast, extending from Port Macquarie to the Queensland border. At one time he held the title of Chancellor of the diocese - working directly under the bishop.

The church has been forced to admit that Rex Brown was an abuser and it has been forced to make settlements with two of his victims for the damage that was caused to their lives by the church's protection of Brown. The settlements were made through the church's "Towards Healing" process (which is a "front" for the church's insurance company) and both of these victims have found the Towards Healing process to be an abusive experience.

In 2007 the Lismore diocese accepted a complaint from one of Rex Brown's victims (Eric) and the diocese agreed to sign a deed of settlement with him. Eric has told Broken Rites that, while he was going through the church's Towards Healing process, he felt that he was being re-abused.

In 2013 the diocese made a settlement with a female victim of Rex Brown. This victim (Jennifer) now feels that she has been victimised AGAIN by the way the church treated her during the Towards Healing process. In Sydney in December 2013, Jennifer gave evidence during a public hearing of Australia's national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Eric and Jennifer, who do not know each other, are not Brown's only victims. They are the two who finally brought the Lismore diocese authorities to account.

Broken Rites has been researching Father Rex Brown since November 1993, when we discovered that another alleged offender ("Father F" from the Armidale diocese) had been visiting Brown's house in the Lismore diocese.

Recruited as a priest

Broken Rites has ascertained that Paul Rex Brown was born in the mid-1930s and attended school with the Marist Brothers (now Trinity Catholic College) in Lismore. When Brown was in his early teens, Bishop Patrick Farrelly of Lismore recruited him as a potential future priest and sent him to a "junior seminary", St Columba's College, Springwood, in the Blue Mountains, where he completed his School Leaving Certificate, together with other future priests. After studying for the priesthood in Rome, Brown was ordained for the Lismore diocese in 1959 and soon became prominent in northern New South Wales. He served as the diocesan secretary and, from 1973, he had the title of Chancellor of the diocese.

Brown, who was then based at St Carthage's cathedral, had oversight over the whole Lismore diocese, which includes the towns of Kempsey, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Lismore, Byron Bay and Tweed Heads. The town of Lismore is merely where the bishop has his headquarters.

Child abuse by Fr Rex Brown, 1960 onwards

Father Rex Brown began ministering in the Lismore diocese in 1959 and he was a danger to children from Day One. According to the current chancellor of the Lismore diocese in 2013 (Deacon Christopher Wallace, giving evidence at the Child Abuse Royal Commission in December 2013), a woman has told the Lismore diocese that (as a schoolgirl about 1960) she was touched sexually by Brown in the cathedral. This girl reported this incident to a nun at school but received a belting for casting aspersions on the priest. This victim, who turned ten years of age in September 1960, has also spoken to Broken Rites (in 2004).

About 1981, another family complained to the Lismore diocese (but, unfortunately, not to the police) that Rex Brown had sexually assaulted their son. The diocese's "solution" was to transfer Brown from the cathedral but (as usual in such cases) it retained him in the ministry, sendng him to a parish at Kyogle and later (in  April 1982) to St Joseph's parish at Tweed Heads, thus inflicting him on additional potential victims. Despite his child-abuse, the diocese appointed Brown to the senior position of Episcopal Vicar supervising other priests in parishes in the diocese's north.

Retired to Queensland

About 1986, when he was in his early fifties, Brown was liable to face possible criminal charges involving children. The Lismore diocese authorities arranged for him to take indefinite leave from parish work, while still remaining officially a priest of the Lismore diocese.

He moved across the Queensland border to a private address at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast. Broken Rites has researched Brown's addresses in old annual editions of the Australian Catholic directories. In 1988 he was listed in an apartment at 3 Nineteenth Avenue, Palm Beach. In 1994 it was an apartment at 1374 Gold Coast Highway, Palm Beach. In 1995 it was an apartment at 56 Tallebudgera Drive, Palm Beach. These places are all near Burleigh Heads, which is within the Brisbane Catholic diocese.

Still calling himself "Father" Brown, he participated in church congregations (as a "retired" priest) on the Gold Coast, particularly in Palm Beach, which was part of the Burleigh Heads parish. Meanwhile, the Lismore diocese continued to list Brown in the Australian Catholic Directory as one of its "supplementary priests" (that is, still available for freelance ministry, such as relieving other priests and engaging in "youth work").

It is not clear why Rex Brown found it necessary in his fifties to take early "retirement" from full-time appointment in Lismore diocese parishes. A former youth worker, who observed Brown's activities in the early 1980s, told Broken Rites in 2007: "It was not normal for the church authorities to remove a priest merely because of child abuse. They might shift a priest to put him beyond the reach of the police. Insiders from the Lismore diocese believe that the diocese was glad to see Brown go on leave because his expensive lifestyle was a drain on church funds. Some of his big spending was to silence his victims."

Convicted for child-porn

Early in 1996, Broken Rites discovered that Queensland police (from the Juvenile Aid Bureau at Surfers Paradise) were investigating Father Rex Brown for complaints regarding boys on the Gold Coast. Raiding Brown's Palm Beach residence, the police found child pornography featuring boys. The police then prosecuted Brown on the child pornography charge, although more serious charges might have been more appropriate.

Broken Rites ascertained that in Southport Magistrates Court (Queensland) on 27 March 1996, Paul Rex Brown pleaded guilty regarding the child pornography, and magistrate David Hogan fined him $300. Broken Rites alerted the media about this court hearing and, as a result, the conviction was reported in the Gold Coast Bulletin on 2 April 1996 and the Lismore Northern Star on 3 April 1996.

The Queensland detectives told Broken Rites in 1996 that Brown was lucky to get off with merely a conviction for pornography. One detective told Broken Rites: "It is like the 1920s when the FBI could not catch the United States gangster Al Capone for serious crimes but he eventually got convicted in 1931 for income-tax evasion."

Even after his pornography conviction, Brown still frequented a Catholic congregation in Palm Beach. In 2002, a Palm Beach man contacted Broken Rites saying: "I heard that Brown had a conviction for pornography, so I went around to the Palm Beach church, where I saw Rex Brown's name on a notice board about being involved in something. I checked with the parish priest, who confirmed to me that, yes, Rex Brown does come to this parish and that he is a retired priest."

Buried with church honours

Brown died on 30 June 2005. Broken Rites discovered that, at the time of his death, he was still listed in the Australian Catholic Directory as a "supplementary priest (retired)" of the Lismore diocese. He was given a Requiem Mass in St Carthage's Cathedral, Lismore, and was buried, with honour, among his fellow priests in the East Lismore cemetery.

After the funeral, a senior priest from St Carthage's Cathedral wrote a glowing, sanitised tribute to Father Rex Brown in the newsletter of Trinity Catholic College, Lismore, where Brown had been a pupil. The tribute ended: "May he be embraced in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity." The tribute gave the impression that Father Brown was a high-achieving priest, presumably a model for other boys to follow.

The story of Eric

At St Joseph's parish in Tweed Heads (near the Queensland border) in the early 1980s, Rex Brown made his presbytery (the parish house) into a drop-in centre for boys, including some boys from a local refuge for homeless youth — Futcher House, Tweed Heads. (Futcher House is pronounced as in "future".) Futcher House was associated with Rex Brown's parish and Brown was a frequent visitor to this refuge.

At Tweed Heads, Brown would choose a homeless boy to live with him in the presbytery as his sexual partner.

One such boy was Eric, who spoke to Broken Rites in 2007, asking us to publish his story:

"I was born in May 1967 and grew up in western Sydney. My father was an alcoholic and drug addict. When I was 13, I ran away from home. In 1982, when I was 14 and still homeless, I went to the Futcher House youth refuge, in St Joseph's parish in Tweed Heads.

"Later, the Tweed Heads priest, Father Rex Brown, persuaded me to leave Futcher House and live at his parish house, the presbytery. To do this, Brown needed the approval of the Lismore diocese leadership. That is, the Lismore diocesan leadersip already knew about the 1981 complaint against Rex Brown; and they knew that he later had me living in his house; and they turned a blind eye to this.

"A youth worker at Futcher House, named Luke, tried to talk me out of moving to live with Brown but, unfortunately, I did not take his advice.

"From time to time, church officials from the Lismore Diocese (even the bishop himself) would visit the Tweed Heads parish but they didn't take any action about me living with a paedophile priest. They just left me at risk.

"At the presbytery, on a daily basis, after dinner, Father Rex Brown would encourage me to drink with him and would get me drunk. He would sit me on his lap, cuddle me and touch me on the genitals. He would get me to masturbate him. Eventually he forced me to perform oral sex on him. He ejaculated which made me feel sick.

"Father Brown kept an open house at the presbytery for boys aged about 14. He was a big spender and he seemed to have access to a plentiful supply of church funds. He would always offer us smokes and alcohol. He would take us to fancy restaurants. He would take me to Brisbane occasionally and we would stay in a motel.

"Other church people knew that Brown was molesting me. At one time a Marist Brother was staying at this presbytery. And another priest was living there, although he was out a lot.

"A woman came to the presbytery every day to cook and clean for Father Brown and me, and she would have known the danger that I was in, but (like the clergy) she maintained the church's code of silence.

"Another visitor to Brown's house was Father F******, from the Armidale diocese. Certain things happened to me at the hands of Father F*****.

"Father Brown also used to molest a homeless boy named Mark, two years younger than me, from Sydney, who was living at Futcher House. After a while, Mark suddenly left the parish with a lot of money and returned to Sydney but he threw himself under a train and committed suicide. This was reported in the newspapers. A brother of Mark's had previously died in the same way — under a train. I felt responsible and embarrassed for not having the guts to report the cruelty that Father Brown inflicted on Mark and me.

"Brown also spoke affectionately about a boy whom he had befriended at the Kyogle parish.

"I left the Tweed Heads presbytery in 1985."

Impact on Eric's life

Eric told Broken Rites how his personal development was disrupted by the Catholic Church's "Reverend" Rex Brown:

"Father Rex Brown encouraged me to drink alcohol. He himself was a big drinker. He would drink first thing in the morning and he would drive a car (with me as a passenger) when he was drunk. He would also let me drive his car and would make me run errands for him.

"His drinking set a bad example for me. I developed a problem with alcohol myself.

"My education was not looked after as Father Brown insisted I stay with him and I was not encouraged to go to school. These were wasted years, at a crucial stage in my life.

"I have been unsuccessful at maintaining a relationship.

"My complaint is not merely about what Father Brown did with his hands but also about the diocese leadership for knowingly inflicting a paedophile priest on me.

"The church had a responsibility to ensure that someone like Father Brown was not foisted on me and also to make sure that the crimes were not covered up. The church owes me an apology for what the church (not just Rex Brown) did to me." 

Eric and "Towards Healing"

After Eric went through Towards Healing, he told Broken Rites all about the process:

"In early 2007, when I was living in Mackay in central Queensland, I contacted the church's Professional Standards Office (Towards Healing) in Sydney, who passed me on to a smaller PSO in Brisbane. I  told Towards Healing about my two complaints: the abuse by Rex Brown; and the failure of the then bishop of Lismore to protect me. Towards Healing told me that their process could not accept any complaint about a bishop and they restricted me to the Rex Brown matter.

"Towards Healing said they would arrange for a church representative to interview me in my home town, Mackay, but eventually (after a very long, frustrating delay) they said it would have to be in Rockhampton (450km away from my home), and that the interview would have to be at 8.00am. So I drove all that way in the middle of the night, arriving by 8.00am, but had to wait an hour and half at a church community centre, where I was finally interviewed by a woman. I was not told what her qualification were.

"I told the woman my story and she kept making me repeat the story over an over, while each time she would try and soften (and lessen) the sexual abuse.   When I explained that father brown would sit me on his lap and try and make me fondle him sexually, she trivialized it by asking: 'Was he just giving you a good night kiss?'

"I said that Father Brown wanted me to suck his penis.  But the woman still tried to interpret is in a less serious fashion.

"When I tried to tell her about what a visiting priest from Armidale (Father F******)  did to me while he was staying in Rex Brown's presbytery, she told me: 'Oh we're not here to discuss anything except the Rex Brown matter'.

"I also wanted to mention that the bishop of Lismore was aware of me living with Father Brown and I got the same response. 

"After this meeting (and after many more weeks of silence), I contacted Towards Healing again, asking about the next step. They made me return to Rockhampton for another interview. This time I insisted that they pay for my accommodation and they did. The interview, with two people from Professional Standards, was very official and they were very cold. No sympathy was given and I felt very ashamed..

"Several weeks later, they arranged for me and my partner to fly to Brisbane to meet with a bishop (a bishop from Brisbane, not Lismore). When we arrived we were taken to a very darkened room were there were four people on one side of the table and we were sat opposing.  We were introduced to the bishop who was dressed in full church gear with jewelry.  Also present were three women, and we were given only their first names. I felt embarrassed telling intimate details to three women and a bishop.

"When I told the Brisbane bishop about the bishop of Lismore, he stopped me and stated that this was not about bishops but only about Father Brown. I tried to talk to him about the other priests that came to visit and again he cut me off.

"During all these months of dealing with Towards Healing, the church representatives all seemed lacking in sympathy.  First, I was made to feel that I was telling a made-up story and later I was made to feel that my abuse was just one of life's normal issues.  Their attitude was that I should get over it and move on.

"When you explain to them the torture  you went through and the daily battle you still face today, there is no apology no sympathy  - just the feeling that you have no right or reason to feel the way you do. 

"I now realise that Towards Healing  is designed to protect the church, not to protect me.

"Eventually the Lismore diocese paid me a relatively small amount of compensation, although not enough to make up for the disruption that the diocese has caused to my life by its harbouring of a paedophile priest, Father Paul Rex Brown."