The church's 50-year cover-up of Father Finian Egan's life of crime

By a Broken Rites researcher (article updated 1 November 2017

Catholic priest Finian James Egan began committing sexual crimes against numerous Australian children in 1961 but the Catholic Church protected him for the next five decades until some of his victims succeeded in getting him convicted. A court sentenced Egan to a minimum of four years in jail, and this sentence is due to expire on 19 December 2017, when Egan expects to be released, aged 82. This Broken Rites article describes how the church covered up for Egan during his life of crime.

In the Sydney District Court on 20 December 2013, Egan was sentenced to at least four years' jail after a jury found him guilty of seven counts of indecent assault and one count of rape, committed against three girls who were aged from 10 to 17, between 1961 and 1987.

Thus, these three victims exposed the Catholic Church's 50-year cover-up of Egan.

These three girls were not Egan's only victims; these three are merely those who helped the prosecution in this jury trial. Broken Rites knows of other Egan victims, including some males.

Broken Rites research

Broken Rites first heard of Father Finian Egan in January 2003, when we were contacted by one of his victims. Five years later, in 2008, Broken Rites was contacted by a second Egan victim and later by a third, fourth, fifth and sixth victim. These six victims (mostly female) were from several parishes. They were of various ages. They did not know each other. And they contacted Broken Rites separately, not realising that Broken Rites already knew about Egan.

Broken Rites advised each of these victims to have a confidential chat with detectives in the criminal investigation branch of the New South Wales police service. After each victim was interviewed by a detective, each victim was invited (but not obliged) to sign an individual written statement for the Director of Public Prosecutions, outlining this victim's encounter with Egan. Prosecutors eventually used five of these statements (from four of the female victims and from one of the male victims) to launch the prosecution of Egan. In preparing for the trial in 2013, it was decided to confine the 2013 trial to female victims, using three of these women.

Beginning our research about Egan in 2003, Broken Rites ascertained that Finian James Egan was born in Ireland in the mid-1930s. He was recruited to the priesthood in Ireland and was ordained there on 14 June 1959. He was among a significant number of Irish priests who were exported to Australia around that time.

Broken Rites traced Egan's movements in the annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directory. Egan spent his career as a diocesan priest working in parishes in the Sydney metropolitan region. For example:

  • Broken Rites found that in the 1961 directory he was listed as an assistant priest in St Columba's parish, Leichhardt North (in Sydney's inner-west). He frequently visited St Martha's residential institution (for disadvantaged girls), which was situated at 38 Renwick Street, Leichhardt. There he would commit sexual crimes against these vulnerable girls. One of these victims (let's call her "Dorothy"), says she was aged ten when Egan digitally penetrated her in 1961. In 2010, Dorothy contacted Broken Rites, who arranged for her to speak to a Detectives Office in the NSW Police. She then exercised her right to be included in Egan's criminal prosecution.
  • Broken Rites found that Egan's next Sydney parishes included, for example, Cronulla (St Aloysius) and Fairfield (Our Lady of the Rosary).
  • Broken Rites found that Egan's later work included parishes at, for example, The Entrance (Our Lady of the Rosary) and Narrabeen (St Joseph's), both located north of Sydney. One of his female victims from The Entrance was pleased to be included in the 2013 prosecution.
  • For twenty years, between 1978 and 1999 he was the Parish Priest in charge of St Gerard Majella parish, Carlingford. Here he took an interest in the parish's "Antioch" youth group. He attacked multiple youngsters, one of whom (her first name is Kellie) eventually gained the opportunity to participate in Egan's criminal prosecution.

In the 1980s the Sydney archdiocese became divided into smaller dioceses, and Fr Finian Egan's final parish(Carlingford), then came under the new Broken Bay diocese, comprising Sydney's northern suburbs, while the original Sydney archdiocese became confined to the south side of the Harbour.

The 1988 Australian Catholic directory stated that Fr F.J. Egan was the secretary of the Clergy Remuneration and Retirement Fund in the Broken Bay Diocese. (This enhanced his significance among his fellow priests.)

A visit from a paedophile priest

In 1989, while Fr Finian Egan was at Carlingford, this parish was visited by a paedophile priest (Father John Joseph Farrell) who had been sent on extended leave from the Armidale Diocese in northern New South Wales. In 1989, according to church documents, this Armidale priest (nearly 20 years younger than Egan) spent several months based in the Carlingford presbytery. Fourteen years later, in 2013, this Armidale priest began facing criminal court charges regarding sexual crimes allegedly committed against children in the Armidale Diocese 30 years earlier. In 2013, at this early stage of the prosecution process, the prosecutors and the defence lawyers began referring to this Armidale priest's surname (for legal reasons) as Father "F".

Active in retirement

Finian Egan retired from full-time parish duties in 1999 but he continued to be an active priest in retirement. In the 2000 Australian Catholic directory, he was listed for the Broken Bay diocese — as a "supplementary priest". He was still listed as a "supplementary priest" in the edition of the annual Directory, published in mid-2013, during his criminal court appearances.

Priests who are listed publicly as "supplementary" are still presumed by the public to be available for weddings, funerals and other freelance work, including sometimes acting as a relieving priest for another priest who is away.

A church website said that, even after retiring from full-time duties, Fr Finian Egan continued to "have a presence" at the Carlingford parish.

Father Finian Egan was also associated with a church group (the Serra Club) which seeks to attract new recruits to the priesthood. A church website said in 2007: "Fr Finian Egan will be celebrating Mass for Serra [Club] on Wednesday 22nd August 2007 at the Catholic Parish of Waitara, Our Lady of the Rosary Church, and will be our guest speaker."

According to a church website, the objective of the Serra Club is "to foster and promote vocations to the ministerial priesthood of the Catholic Church."

Support for Father Finian Egan

At Fr Finian Egan’s final parish (St Gerard’s parish in Carlingford), his parishioners included Gregory Eugene Smith, a lawyer who was elected in March 2007 as the Liberal Party’s member for the metropolitan seat of Epping in the New South Wales parliament.

In his inaugural speech in the NSW Parliament in 2007, Greg Smith mentioned that he had been a parishioner of Fr Finian Egan at St Gerard Majella's parish at Carlingford.

Greg Smith added:

  • "At St Gerard's, Father Finian Egan charmed us with his Irish wit and his pastoral devotion to his flock."

Greg Smith’s website has stated:

  • “Greg is a man of enduring faith and commitment and has been heavily involved in the life of the Catholic Church…

    “Greg was also formerly the President of NSW Right to Life…

    “Greg is a Cantor at St Gerard’s Church, Carlingford…"

When Barry O’Farrell’s Liberal Party government came into office in NSW in 2011, Greg Smith became the Attorney General, putting him in charge of the state’s legal affairs. Greg Smith then appointed Damien Tudehope (a lawyer) as his chief of staff. According to media reports, Damien Tudehope had been a long-time associate of Fr Finian Egan in the Catholic community.Damien Tudehope has been connected with the Australian Family Association. Tudehope has a great interest in family issues — he has stated that he and his wife have nine children.

The church "investigates" itself

By 2008, at least one former parishioner of Finian Egan had lodged a complaint with the Catholic Church about having been sexually abused by Egan. But, instead of arranging for the complainants to speak to detectives in the New South Wales police, the church began "investigating" Egan itself. This "investigation" continued for two years.

By 2010, at least one of Egan's victims by-passed the church authorities and contacted detectives in the NSW police. Thus, an investigation by the police finally began.

Therefore, the Broken Bay diocese issued a media statement on 17 May 2010, admitting that its "investigation" of Egan had so far lasted for two years. The church claimed that it had "suspended" Father Egan "from public ministry" during this "investigation". However, the diocese confirmed reports (made in the media) that, despite being "suspended", Fr Egan had conducted Mass during his "suspension" without obtaining approval from the bishop.

Moreover, media reports revealed that, during his period of "suspension", the Catholic Church allowed Fr Finian Egan to say Mass during a visit to Ireland. The Broken Bay Diocese did not inform the Irish church authorities that, at the time of the Ireland trip, Fr Egan was supposed to be under suspension from priestly ministry.

Thus, by 2010 Egan's crimes were being investigated by the proper authorities - detectives in the NSW police. The investigation team was located at Eastwood Detectives Offrice, Sydney.

Court proceedings begin

In 2012, police charged Egan with multiple child-sex offences. He appeared briefly before a magistrate in a Local Court and was placed on bail for the duration of the forthcoming court processes. By the end of 2012, he had opted to proceed straight to a trial before a judge in Sydney's District Court, instead of first having a preliminary airing of the evidence in a Local Court.

When the District Court hearing began at Sydney's Downing Centre courts in October 2013 (with Judge Robyn Tupman), Egan was now facing eight counts of indecent assault and one count of rape in relation to four girls aged 10 to 17 in the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s.

Egan pleaded not guilty to all charges. This necessitated a jury trial, held in October 2013. Early in the District Court proceedings, It was decided to base the trial on three of the victims.

Guilty verdict

On 4 November 2013, a jury returned the Guilty verdicts against Egan (aged 78 in 2013) regarding each of the three women.

Before sentencing Egan, the judge heard submissions from the prosecution and the defence - and from the victims. In a pre-sentence hearing on 16 December 2013, each of the three women entered the witness box to make impact statements to the court, describing how this church-related abuse had disrupted their lives. They described the guilt, shame, pain and fear they have been forced to endure during their adult lives.

One woman (Broken Rites is referring to her as "Dorothy"), now in her 60s, was indecently assaulted by Egan on multiple occasions when she was sent at the age of ten to St Martha's School for disadvantaged girls in Leichhardt (in Sydney's inner-west) in the early 1960s.

''Father Egan pulled me on to his knee, he put his hands up my dress, pulled down my underwear and put his hands into my vagina,'' the victim said of the incident, which occurred in the church's sacristy.

She told the nuns what was happening but they accused her of lying and subjected her to violent punishments, including forcing her to drink vomit-inducing doses of castor oil, for speaking wicked things about a priest.

"I was a 10-year-old child who needed to be cared for, but instead I was manipulated, abused, punished and humiliated," the woman told the court through her tears.

Another woman said Egan took away her childhood, her innocence and her trust in people.

"Father Egan took away the chance for me to experience my first kiss with a boy, my first sexual experience," the woman said, adding Egan was like a member of her family who then abused her under her mother's nose.

A third woman (her first name is Kellie) told the court that she refuses to be labelled as a victim.

"I'm not a victim. I'm a survivor," the woman said.

She told the court that her Catholic mother had disowned her, blaming the child for not stopping the abuse.

"Still to this day I'm being crucified for what he has done," the woman said.

"I'm here today to lay the blame where it belongs: at the feet of the pedophile sitting in front of you."

[Kellie asked the media to publish her full name, including her surname, but Broken Rites has a policy of not identifying any victims and therefore we are not publishing Kellie's surname].

Jailed

On 20 December 2013, Judge Robyn Tupman sentenced Finian James Egan to a maximum of eight years jail. He will become eligible to apply for release on parole after serving four years in custody. After serving his minimum four-year sentence, Egan would be would be 82 years old.

During the trial, the court was told that, although he is retired from full-time parish work, Father Finian Egan is still officially a priest of the Catholic Church.

Broken Rites is continuing its research about how the Catholic Church placed children at risk in the hands of Father Finian James Egan.