Priest dies while facing child-abuse charges

By a Broken Rites researcher (article updated 17 December 2017)

On half a dozen occasions during 2013 and 2014, a Queensland magistrate granted an adjournment to a retired Catholic priest, Father Dermot Casey, who had been charged with sexual offences against ten children, including girls and boys. The defence lawyers kept producing medical certificates saying that the priest (aged 78 in 2014) was not well enough to come to court. In August 2014, Father Casey died; and therefore his victims were no longer able to obtain justice.

Dermot Casey was charged with multiple counts of indecent treatment of ten children (including girls and boys), allegedly committed between 1977 and 1988. He was also charged with one count of common assault.

The prosecution file included statements from former school pupils, including some from Beenleigh (a Brisbane suburb) and some from Salisbury (south of Brisbane).

The prosecution alleged that some of the incidents occurred during visits to Queensland's south coast.

Police first contacted the priest in 2012 at an address in Boronia Heights, where he was living in a retirement home.

The case first came up, for a brief filing procedure, in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court on 12 March 2012. The priest was not required to attend court on this first mention day. The magistrate adjourned the case until a later date.

During 2013, when the case was listed for a committal mention, the priest did not appear. His lawyer said this was for medical reasons but did not tell the court any details of the priest's condition. During the following months, Casey failed to appear on several more occasions.

In 2014, prosecutors were still pressing to have the case dealt with in court, until the news came about Dermot Casey's death.

The police investigator was Detective Senior Constable Duncan Blackburn, from the Child Safety and Sexual Crime Group at the Queensland Police State Crime Operations Command.

The church is forced to compensate victims

Broken Rites has learned that the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane has signed an out-of-court civil settlement with a former schoolgirl who lived in Brisbane's Beenleigh parish when Father Dermot Casey was the Parish Priest in charge of that parish.

About 1979, a family from the Beenleigh parish contacted Brisbane Archbishop Francis Rush about a matter involving Fr Dermot Casey and the family's daughter, who in 1979 was a pupil at the local Catholic primary school, St Joseph's Tobruk Memorial school, Beenleigh. Rush was archbishop from 1973 to 1991 (he died in 2001 and was succeeded by Archbishop John Alexius Bathersby).

Twenty-one years later, in 2000, this family again approached the Brisbane archdiocese on behalf of the same daughter. In 2002, by which time she was in her thirties, this daughter extracted an out-of-court civil settlement from the Brisbane archdiocese.

The settlement Deed, dated 19 June 2002, contains three signatures on behalf of the church authorities:

  1. Bishop John Gerry, signing the Deed in his role as an auxiliary bishop of the Brisbane archdiocese;
  2. Archbishop J.A. Bathersby, who is described (alongside this signature) as "one of the Trustees" of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane; and
  3. Another signature by Archbishop J.A. Bathersby, who is described (alongside this signature) as "Executor of the Estate of the late Archbishop Francis Rush".

The Deed states: "[The woman] has alleged that, during or about 1979, she was unlawfully sexually and physically assaulted by Fr Dermot Casey.

"[The woman] alleges, that as a result of these assaults, she sustained loss, damage and injuries and may require counselling or therapy in the future."

According to the Deed, the three church signatories "deny that they are liable in any manner" to the woman regarding the alleged assaults. "However, in order to avoid the cost, expense and inconvenience of litigation, the parties to this Deed have agreed to settle the claim."

According to the Deed, the church signatories agree to make a payment to the woman. In exchange for this payment, the woman acknowledges that this sum "is paid in full extinguishment of her rights" against the church signatories. This, the Deed says, releases the church signatories from all claims (and any future claims) against the church signatories.

Dermot Casey's career details

Father Dermot Casey was ordained as a priest about 1960 and he belonged to the Brisbane archdiocese. According to the annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directory, Fr Dermot Casey's parishes in the Brisbane archdiocese have included (and this is not a complete list):

  • Cannon Hill (St Oliver Plunkett's) in the late 1960s;
    Beenleigh (St Patrick's) in the 1970s; and
    Salisbury (St Pius X) in the 1980s.

About 1970, Father Dermot Casey spent time in Vietnam as a military chaplain for Australian soldiers who were then engaged in the war in Vietnam.

In 1991, while still belonging to the Brisbane archdiocese, he served as a full-time army chaplain at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, north Queensland.

At other times, while working in Brisbane Archdicese parishes, he was also a part-time military chaplain for the Army Reserve.

Father Dermot Casey's recreations included sailing a yacht, which he kept based on the Queensland coast. Some of his child-sex crimes were committed on that boat when he would take one of his victims there for a weekend.

Dermot Casey retired from full-time parish work in 1996 and then began residing in a Brisbane Catholic retirement village at Boronia Heights. In the 2010 edition of the annual Australian Catholic Directory, Reverend Dermot Casey was still listed as a "supplementary priest" (retired) of the Brisbane Catholic archdiocese. But, after some of Casey's victims finally contacted the police, the archdiocese deleted Casey's name from the Directory's 2013 edition.

Death

The police charges against Father Dermot Casey were due to be mentioned in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court again on 1 September 2014. The Mental Health Tribunal was also considering whether he was fit to stand trial.

However, Father Casey died on 21 August 2014. On August 27, a funeral Mass was held at Brisbane's Camp Hill Catholic church. A funeral notice “warmly welcomed” his family and friends to attend. Victims were not invited.

The funeral notice described him as "Father Dermot Casey". That is, although he was retired from parish work, the church authorities allowed him to keep his priestly status, permanently, even after the church had paid out compensation and even while he was facing criminal charges.