Does the public have a right to know?

By a Broken Rites researcher

In court in late 2012, a Catholic religious Brother (Br Martin Harmata, of the Patrician Brothers order) was charged with sexually abusing children at a school in Sydney's west (Patrician Brothers College, Blacktown). The question arose about whether Brother Harmata could be granted a media-suppression order. (This would prevent the public — and any other victims — from learning Harmata's name and the name of the school.) However, the suppression order was removed. Thus, the people of Sydney have been allowed to learn about this case.

On 26 September 2013, Brother Harmata, then aged 60, was jailed for at least three-and-a-half years. He had pleaded guilty to several crimes committed against boys in the 1980s at Patrician Brothers College, Blacktown.

The charges included the indecent assault of a person under 16 under his authority and assault and committing an act on indecency towards a person under 16.

Background

Brother Martin Harmata taught science and mathematics at this Patrician Brothers school. During his 30 years there, he had access to thousands of students.

A keen outdoorsman, he befriended many families in the local area, convincing parents to let him take their sons away on school camps.

Many years passed before a victim of Harmata reported the crimes to the police (that is, instead of merely "tipping off" the school or the church authorities).

How the case began

In 2012, detectives from a special unit (called Strike Force Avia) in the New South Wales sex crime squad interviewed one of Brother Harmata's victims, followed by a second victim, concerning incidents that had occurred more than two decades earlier when these victims were boys at the school.

On 12 November 2012, these detectives arrested Harmata at The Entrance, a beachside town north of Sydney, where the Patrician Brothers have residential accommodation in Boomerang Road. The case came up for mention in Wyong Local Court on the following day. According to police documents at that time, the charges (as of November 2012) were for six offences relating to two boys who were aged 12 to 13 at the time. The charges included the indecent assault of a person under his authority and committing an indecent act towards a person under his authority.

Early in the court proceedings in late 2012, the question arose about whether Brother Harmata could be granted a media-suppression order regarding his name. However, the suppression order did not survive. But the names of sex-abuse victims are always automatically suppressed (otherwise, victims would be too embarassed to come forward).

The detectives then interviewed a third victim.

Eventually, in Sydney's Parramatta District Court on 21 June 2013, Brother Martin Harmata pleaded guilty to eight child-sex offences committed against three boys who were under his authority during the late 1980s. And this information was reported in the media.

Because of Harmata's guilty plea, the June 2013 hearing was relatively brief. Harmata was released on bail until the sentencing day.

Harmata was sentenced in Parramatta District Court on 26 September 2013. He received a discount on his sentence for entering an early plea.

His sentence was back-dated to July 2013 and he would be eligible for parole in January 2017.

Despite his conviction, it is expected that Brother Harmata will continue to be accepted by the Patrician Brothers as a member.

Video footage

With media outlets allowed now to fully report the Harmata case, two television channels aired video footage of Brother Martin Harmata leaving the court on 21 June 2013 after his guilty plea.

  • To view an ABC News video, click HERE.
  • A shorter video, from the Seven Network News, may be seen HERE. The Seven News video may be slower to load.

Investigation continues

Police are urging any victims of sexual abuse at Patrician Brothers Blacktown (or any other school) to have a confidential chat with a detective from the Sex Crimes Squad. Even if a particular complainant does not wish to lay charges, the information from this person can enable the detectives to help other victims to obtain justice.

A statement by NSW Police on 22 February 2013 said:

  • "State Crime Command's Sex Crimes Squad is comprised of experienced detectives dedicated to investigating crimes of a sexual nature, regardless of the passage of time. Any person who has been a victim of sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the incident occurred, is encouraged to make a report at their local police station.

    "Anyone with information about sexual abuse should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page:
    https://www1.police.nsw.gov.au/
    Information you provide will be treated in the strictest of confidence. We remind people they should not report crime information via our Facebook and Twitter pages."

The Patrician Brothers

In Australia the Patrician Brothers have operated mostly in New South Wales. According to the 2011 edition of the Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia, the Patrician Brothers still own property at six addresses in New South Wales — at Blacktown, Bradbury, Casula, Fairfield, Ryde and The Entrance. In the 2004 directory, the Patrician Brothers were also located on Thursday Island, off the northern coast of Queensland. In the 1988 directory they were also located at Narellan NSW and Wahroonga NSW.

The Patrician Brothers have been active in Third World countries, including Papua New Guinea, India, Pakistan and Kenya — beyond the reach of Australian police and beyond the reach of Broken Rites Australia.

In approximately 2005, the Catholic Church authorities appointed a senior member of the Patrician order, Brother Philip Mulhall (born as Francis Mulhall), as executive officer of the church's National Committee for Professional Standards. The NCPS superintends the church's Australia-wide "Towards Healing" process which claims to "help" the church's sex-abuse victims.

To read about another paedophile Patrician Brother (Thomas Grealy, alias "Brother Augustine"), click HERE.

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