The church sheltered this criminal while he damaged some vulnerable young lives

By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 6 March 2019

Broken Rites is currently doing further research about how the Catholic order of Christian Brothers enabled Brother William Peter ("Dave") Standen to commit sexual crimes against boys in a New South Wales boarding school between 1977 and 1981. The boys (aged 10, 11 12) were feeling isolated and homesick in their first year as boarders, away from their rural families. Overwhelmed by the church's "holy" image, the boys were forced to remain silent about the crimes for many years. Thirty years later, one of these victims spoke to a NSW Police detective, who then located some more of Brother Standen's victims from this school. These victims have each told how the church's culture of cover-up damaged their later lives, ending up in family break-ups and/or life-long struggles with drug and/or alcohol abuse and disrupted careers. Meanwhile, Brother Standen rose to senior positions in the Christian Brothers, including as the principal of St Mary’s Cathedral College in Sydney while George Pell was Sydney's archbishop. In 2016, a judge sentenced Brother Standen to jail, and now his victims are still trying to repair their lives.

In court in 2016, Brother Standen (then aged 67), pleaded guilty to committing indecent assaults or indecent acts against 18 boys at this country boarding school (in southern New South Wales), where he was the year 7 dormitory master when he was aged about 30. These 18 boys were not necessarily his only victims; these 18 are merely the victims who took the opportunity of being included in this court case.

According to information submitted in court during the hearings, one boy at a time would be summoned to Brother Standen's living quarters after "lights out" under the guise of discipline or tuition. Standen would order the boy to bend over, or to lie face-down on Standen's bed or across his knee, and would then molest the boy as he quizzed him on mathematics or tested his spelling. Brother Standen would then commit the acts of indecency.

At the time of Standen's offences, this boarding school was a "Christian Brothers College" for boys. By the mid-1990s, the Christian Brothers’ involvement in this school was winding down, with an increasing number of lay staff. In 2000, this boys' school merged with a local Catholic girls' school to become co-educational, with a new name not containing the words "Christian Brothers".

When Judge Anthony Blackmore conducted a pre-sentence hearing in Sydney's Downing Centre Criminal Court on 15 April 2016, Standen's defence lawyer (whose fees were provided by the Christian Brothers) requested a non-publication order, suppressing the name of the school where Standen's offences occurred. [Two other Christian Brothers were each facing future trials for child-sex offences allegedly committed at this same school.] For legal reasons, Judge Blackmore granted this suppression order regarding the name of the school but he refused another request by the same lawyer for a suppression order on Brother Standen's name.

Brother Standen's other schools

During his long career in the Christian Brothers, Standen was a teacher or administrator in various Catholic schools. Broken Rites does not have a full list of these schools but our research has found two:

  • In mid-career, Standen spent six years as the deputy principal at St Dominic's College, Penrith, in Sydney's outer-west.
  • Finally, he was the principal at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral College for a decade before he retired in 2010.

After 2010, Standen continued to be a fully-fledged member of the Christian Brothers in retirement. The Christian Brothers continued to accept him as one of their members even while in jail.

Brother Standen's real name

According to court documents, Brother Standen was charged under his birth name, William Peter Standen. The documents give his date of birth as 4 April 1949.

[In the Christian Brothers order, his religious name is Brother "David" Standen. Within the Christian Brothers, he has also been listed as Brother "W.D." Standen.]

How the court case began

Police (from a unit called "Strikeforce Charish") arrested Standen on 19 August 2014 at Sydney Airport when he was returning to Australia after being overseas. The chief investigator was Senior Detective Dave Turner, of Goulburn Detectives Office, southern NSW.

Standen appeared first before a magistrate in May 2015 in the Goulburn Local Court. The magistrate granted bail pending Standen's future court proceedings.

In another court appearance on 29 February 2016, Standen pleaded guilty to 11 child-sex offences. He indicated that he would plead not guilty to all other charges.

Standen was due to face trial at Sydney's Downing Centre District Court on 1 March 2016 regarding the contested charges. However, he told the court, just before a jury was due to be empanelled, that he wanted to "consider his position". He returned to court next morning and pleaded guilty, meaning he could now be sentenced regarding all 18 victims. Standen was remanded in custody.

Victims' impact statements

Standen was brought back to court, in custody, on 15 April 2016, for a pre-sentence hearing. Any of the victims now had the right to submit an impact statement to the pre-sentence hearing, telling the judge how the abuse (and the cover-up) affected their later life.

Standen sat in the court prisoners' dock as eleven victims took turns to read out their impact statements. Several victims were too upset to speak; therefore, their statements were read out by a support person.

One victim told Standen: "I now know that I can look at you and see clearly that your power is rapidly diminishing, whilst my power continues to grow and flourish. As it turns out, these were your demons, not mine. I have faced them [the demons], taken them on and defeated them."

One victim said he was terrified by the abuse. He said: "Every minute of my life was taken up with avoiding Brother Standen. So bad was my fear that I would wet the bed to avoid meeting Brother Standen at night on the way to the bathroom. I became a loner who trusted nobody and feared everyone."

Other victims recalled being groped through their underwear or being watched in the showers.

One victim recalled the day his family first delivered him to the school. He said:

"I remember the sense of loneliness as my father and sister left me there that afternoon but my father insisted that the Brothers would look after me and take care of me."

This victim said Standen's abuse began within weeks. His statement said:

"I had never been disciplined like this before in my life.

"I was naive. I didn't know whether this punishment was only for particularly bad boys or whether this was the norm.

"After all, I had been indoctrinated from birth that when in times of strife, turn to the church, and these Christian brothers were men of the church."


Sentencing Standen on 10 June 2016, Judge Blackmore said that Standen's guilty plea entitled him to a discount on the sentence but a full-time custodial sentence was the only option.

The judge described Brother Standen's actions on the boys as "deplorable". While he agreed with the defence that the offences were not at the top end of abuse, there were a number of aggravating circumstances, he said.

"The offences were committed on young boys who were isolated, away from home, vulnerable and at times home sick," the judge said.

"Some were experiencing separation anxiety and he used this as a basis to take them to his room. He was in a position of trust and he completely abused that trust. It is a breach of trust of the highest order in my view."

The court had been told that Standen used the guise of discipline to take boys into his room. The physical "punishments" included Brother Standen handling the boys' genitals. Judge Blackmore did not accept that this was within the range of discipline at the school at the time. He described it as "wrong on every level."

Judge Blackmore said the offences had had a devastating impact on victims' lives. He praised them for their courage in detailing this in their impact statements to the court.

Judge Blackmore sentenced William Peter Standen to nine years two months in prison. Standen was ordered to serve four years and seven months behind bars before becoming eligible to apply for parole.

Civil action

A Canberra legal firm is acting for some of Standen's victims in demanding compensation from the Christian Brothers headquarters in Australia for the damage done to each of these victims.