The church covered up for Father Frank Klep but failed, now he is spending more time in jail

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 1 February 2020

This Broken Rites article is the most comprehensive account available about how the large Catholic order of Salesian Fathers harboured an Australian paedophile priest, Father Frank Klep, for many years — allowing him to commit sexual crimes against defenceless boys. Gradually, some of his victims managed to expose Klep and the Salesians, resulting in the jailing of Klep. In 2019, Klep (aged 75) had his jail time increased after he admitted abusing more youngsters including a four-year-old.

Frank Gerard Klep was ordained as a priest of the Salesian teaching order in Melbourne in 1972. Years later, ex-students began to reveal that they had been sexually abused by Father Klep when they were children in his "care". During his career, Klep's colleagues and superiors had turned a blind eye to his crimes.

Eventually, in 1994, two ex-students managed to get Klep convicted in Melbourne for indecently assaulting them, when they were aged 13, in the sick dormitory of a Salesian secondary school, Salesian College (also known as "Rupertswood"), at Sunbury in Melbourne's north-west. The offences occurred in the 1970s but were covered up until the 1994 court case.

On the day of the 1994 court case, a Broken Rites researcher was visiting the court building (for a different case) and discovered that a Catholic priest (Father Frank Klep) was in an adjoining courtroom on child-sex charges. Therefore, Broken Rites began researching Frank Klep and the church's cover-up. Broken Rites later found more victims of Klep.

The Salesians eventually transferred Klep from Australia to the Pacific island Samoa -- and they illegally concealed his Australian criminal conviction from the Samoan authorities. In Samoa, he was out of reach of the Australian police. In 2004, after more Melbourne victims contacted the Australian police, Samoa deported Frank Klep back to Australia, where he eventually pleaded guilty regarding the additional victims. He was again convicted. Even as Klep entered jail in December 2005 (eleven years after his first conviction), his Salesian superiors still had not removed him from the priesthood.

In court again on 2 December 2013 (after more of his victims contacted Broken Rites and the police), Klep pleaded guilty to more crimes against boys, including rape and attempted buggery.

This story raises questions not just about Frank Klep but about the Catholic system that sheltered him from justice.

The priest's background

Broken Rites has compiled the following account from court submissions and witnesses' testimonies. Broken Rites was present in court during the main court proceedings.

Broken Rites has ascertained that Father Frank Gerard Klep was born in Holland on 3 October 1943, in a family of nine children. He arrived in Australia with his family when he was aged ten. He went to school at Salesian College, Chadstone (in Melbourne's south-east), and, by age 16, the Salesian Fathers viewed him as a future priest. He began boarding with the Salesians and spent his final two school years (years 11 and 12) in a special classroom of  "aspirants"  for the priesthood. At 18, he joined the Salesian order, the formal name of which is the "Salesians of Don Bosco". Klep's Catholic family (according to his barrister in court in 2005) enjoyed the prestige of having a future priest in the family. One of his younger siblings became a nun.

Klep's Salesian training in the 1960s included teaching in a Catholic school in South Australia. He is also believed to have taught at Dominic College, Glenorchy, Tasmania.

In 1968, aged 25, he went to the United States for theological studies, including at Pontifical College (a Catholic seminary in Ohio).

Catholic priests are advertised as living a life of "chastity" but Klep's barrister told the court in 2005 (at time of sentencing) that, while Klep was in the U.S. in 1968, he met a fellow male student-priest who fondled him sexually. (This kind of experience is not uncommon in the Salesian order.) Klep's barrister said that this was Klep's first experience of "sex" and his first orgasm.

Ordained as a priest in 1972, aged 29, Father Frank Klep worked as a teacher at "Rupertswood", where he was the "religion" co-ordinator. "Rupertswood" then was a boys-only school, with boarders as well as day students. The boarders included many from distant farming communities in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales.

The boarders slept in dormitories, partitioned at the end by a curtain, behind which a Salesian priest or brother slept to maintain order. There were about 19 priests, brothers and lay brothers at "Rupertswood".

Klep was in charge of the infirmary, where sick boys were kept. Klep slept in a partitioned section in the infirmary. He administered medication to sick or injured boys.

The prosecution alleged that Klep used to touch the genitals of some boys while the boys were in bed asleep and that, in some cases, he performed oral sex on the boys. Furthermore, some boys alleged that Klep gave them sedatives, or a drugged drink, to put them into a deep sleep before abusing them. Some alleged that he inserted a medical suppository into their anus.

At that time, Frank Klep's victims were unable to report the sex-abuse to their parents or the police. As boarders, the boys were a long way from home. Furthermore, their parents were devout Catholics who would not welcome - or even believe - the complaints. The boarders also knew that a complaint would result in reprisals from the school administration.

Klep transferred from "Rupertswood" at the end of 1979 to become the principal of Salesian College in Brooklyn Park, Adelaide. He is recorded as taking part in many activities with Adelaide boys, including one trip with boys in May 1981 to visit the Salesian houses around Melbourne.

Complaints surfaced in the 1980s

In the 1980s, some "Rupertswood" parents were alarmed that their sons, now becoming adults, seemed to have had their personal development disrupted at the school. Gradually, these ex-students admitted to their parents that Father Klep sexually abused them in the infirmary in the 1970s. Being adults now, the ex-students felt safe to reveal what they could not have said when they were children.

In 1982-6, Klep was back at "Rupertswood" as principal. Alarmed by this promotion, a dozen parents confronted the Salesians' Australian administration and demanded Klep's removal but the Salesians refused. Klep denied everything. These parents also reported Klep to the then chief administrator of the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese but he ignored the complaints.

Eventually, after the parents threatened legal action, the Salesians "solved" the problem by awarding Klep a "study" trip to Rome and the United States.

Returning to Australia in 1989, Klep helped to train priests at Salesian Theological College in Oakleigh (in Melbourne's south-east).

Despite the complaints of 1986, he was again put into contact with boys in 1992 -- as head of the Salesians' Don Bosco Hostel and Youth Centre, 715 Sydney Road, Brunswick, a blue-collar suburb of Melbourne. This centre included some potentially vulnerable youngsters.

One ex-Rupertswood parent, "Cath", said she and the other parents were horrified by this Youth Centre appointment. She complained in writing to the Salesians in 1992 and (she said) received a scolding from the order's Australian head at the time. She dropped her protests.

"I just tried to do the right thing, but we never got anywhere," Cath said later. "They absolutely had it covered, like the Mafia."

Conviction in 1994

In 1993, some Klep victims from "Rupertswood" in the 1970s contacted Victoria's child-protection police, instead of merely telling the Salesians or the Melbourne archdiocese. The child-protection police, unlike the church authorities, took the matter seriously.

First, two siblings ("Kerry" and "Paddy") made sworn police statements at what is now called the Sexual Offences and Child-abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) unit. These boys, who were boarders at "Rupertswood", were from a Victorian country town, where their parents were "pillars of the church". Kerry encountered Klep in Year 9 in the mid-1970s, when he was 13. Paddy, who is four years younger, encountered Klep four years later, in Year 9 when he too was 13. Both boys said they were indecently assaulted in the infirmary.

Paddy said that Klep gave him sedatives. In addition to indecent touching of genitals, Klep inserted a medical suppository into Paddy's anus, the boy said.

Klep denied everything and pleaded not guilty. The Salesians left him on duty throughout the court process in 1994.

Senior Sergeant Steve Iddles, the prosecutor, later said: "He [Frank Klep] forced himself on them [the boys]. Lie down and do as I tell you."

In the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 12 December 1994, a magistrate found Frank Klep guilty and sentenced him to nine months jail, which he was allowed to serve in community service, gardening at nursing homes.

The Salesians' barrister immediately told the court that Kelp would appeal against the conviction. This discouraged the media from reporting the conviction.

A Broken Rites researcher, who attended the Magistrates Court on the day of the conviction, followed up on the progress of the appeal. Broken Rites eventually found that, in fact, Klep did not proceed with the appeal.

By this time, the metropolitan media had lost interest in the case. However, Broken Rites tipped off a local weekly newspaper, the Sunbury "Regional" (circulating in the district around "Rupertswood"), and this newspaper published four paragraphs about the Klep case on 20 December 1994.

After the conviction, Klep had discussions with Catholic Church psychiatrist Richard Ball but (according to statements made in court in 2005) this did not constitute "treatment" because Klep's plea of "not guilty" indicated that he showed no remorse. The Salesians arranged no subsequent on-going professional treatment for Klep -- and this indicates that the Salesions, too, felt no remorse.

One victim, Kerry, told Broken Rites : "Klep's actions have altered my life in many ways. I feel cheated by the Catholic Church which for years must have known of this problem with many clergy and yet took no stand to remove those responsible or even to apologise to the victims concerned."

Another victim comes forward

After the 1994 conviction, Father Frank Klep was transferred to a position at Auxilium College (a training and retreat centre for clergy) at Lysterfield, south-east of Melbourne.

In 1996, another former "Rupertswood" student ("Pierre") contacted the police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse unit. Pierre alleged that, when he was in the infirmary in 1973 aged 14, Klep had fondled him, performed oral sex on him and penetrated his anus with a finger.

Police interviewed Klep in June 1996 but, once again, he denied the allegations. When the investigating detective was transferred to a country area, the file lay dormant in Melbourne for a while.

Klep in Samoa

About May 1998, the police began instituting charges against Frank Klep (regarding the victim "Pierre") but the Salesians arranged for Klep to work at Moamoa Theological College in Samoa. In August 1998, Melbourne police tried to serve a criminal summons on Klep in Melbourne (for five sexual assaults on Pierre) but Klep was already in Samoa -- and Australia has no extradition treaty with Samoa. Police then issued an Australia-wide arrest warrant for Klep.

The people of Samoa were not aware that the newly-arrived friendly priest was a convicted child molester who was wanted on more charges back in Australia. Neither he nor the church felt an obligation to tell anyone about all that.

In 2002, Broken Rites was contacted by a United States journalist, Reese Dunklin of the "Dallas Morning News", Texas, who was investigating the Catholic Church's habit of allowing sexually-abusive priests to move from one country to another. Broken Rites told Dunklin about Father Frank Klep and certain other Australian Salesians who had gone to Pacific islands. Dunklin eventually flew to Samoa and published a long article about Klep in the "Dallas Morning News" on 18 June 2004.

To satisfy Klep's victims, the Salesians' Australian headquarters had previously claimed that Klep would never again deliver Mass publicly or participate in any activity that may bring him into contact with children. But Dunklin found that Klep was helping during Mass at a Samoan church and at the nearby Salesian schools. A photo in the "Dallas Morning News" showed Father Klep in Samoa handing out sweets to children after Sunday Mass. The paper reported that teenaged boys were waiting for Klep outside.

Samoa's top Catholic, Archbishop Alapati Mataeliga, told Dunklin that he was startled to learn about Frank Klep's criminal conviction. He said the Salesians should not have hidden the conviction from him.

The archbishop said he had just learned, from the media, about the Salesians' promise that Frank Klep would not deliver Mass or participate in any activity that may bring him into contact with children. The archbishop said he should have been told this earlier.

Dunklin's article pointed out that the Salesians of Don Bosco, one of the largest Catholic religious orders, concentrate on educating and housing some of the world's most needy and vulnerable children. Yet influential Salesian officials, worldwide, have spoken out forcefully against cooperating with law enforcement agencies investigating sex-abuse allegations.

Dunklin said that Salesian officials worldwide had spoken out against co-operating with police investigating sex-abuse allegations. He quoted Salesian Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez of Honduras - then regarded as a possible candidate to be the next pope - as saying: "It would be a tragedy to reduce the role of a pastor to that of a cop. I'd be prepared to go to jail rather than harm one of my priests."

Broken Rites showed Dunklin's article to several Australian journalists who began investigating Australian aspects of the Klep story.

Frank Klep back in Australia

In late June 2004, the Samoan government deported Klep because he had failed to disclose his 1994 conviction. On his visa application for Samoa, Klep had sworn that "I ... have never been convicted of a criminal offence." The lie was witnessed, and endorsed, by Klep's then Salesian boss.

Returning to Australia on 25 June 2004, Frank Klep was immediately arrested on the 1998 charges involving Pierre. The publicity about Klep's return from Samoa resulted in more victims contacting the police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse unit.

Embarrassed by the publicity about Father Klep, the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese wrote to Klep immediately after his arrival, stating that he was no longer authorised to function as a priest within the boundaries of the Melbourne diocese. (However, this prohibition related only to Melbourne; the Melbourne diocese had no power to ground a Salesian priest in other dioceses or other countries.)

At the Melbourne Magistrates Court in April 2005, Frank Klep was charged with 28 incidents of indecent assault [i.e., touching of genitals] and one of buggery [i.e., Pierre's allegation of digital penetration]. These alleged offences were against eight "Rupertswood" boys, mostly aged 14 to 15, in 1973. Klep's lawyers (hired by the Salesians) contested the charges fiercely but, after hearing evidence, the magistrate decided that there was certainly enough evidence for a jury to convict Klep and he therefore ordered Klep to stand trial.

Pleaded guilty

When the matter was scheduled for a higher court (the Melbourne County Court) later in 2005, Klep decided to plead guilty.

The guilty plea meant that the evidence would not need to be argued in court. The defence and prosecution submitted an "agreed statement of facts", describing certain incidents of indecent assault committed by Klep. These were "representative" charges -- just one or two incidents per victim, although some of the victims had allegedly been assaulted numerous times during several years.

As these court proceedings were getting under way, two more "Rupertswood" victims contacted police. In December 2005, Frank Klep finally pleaded guilty in the County Court to 13 incidents of indecent assault involving ten Rupertswood boys. All were boarders and all were assaulted in the infirmary.

Klep's barrister asked the court for a wholly-suspended sentence, particularly in view of the long delay in reporting the offences to the police. The publicity and the disgrace were a sufficient punishment, the defence claimed.

However, Judge Francis Hogan quoted a letter from the leader of the Salesians' Australian province, dated 13 December 2005, which stated that the Salesians had not yet decided what to do about Klep's future as a priest. The Salesians' letter failed to explain why Klep was still a priest in 2005 (11 years after the 1994 conviction) and why the church had not removed him from the priesthood.

The prosecution sought an immediate jail sentence, pointing out that the boys were particularly vulnerable because they were ill and because, as boarders, they had no parents on hand to whom they could complain; and, furthermore, the delay in reporting was because the boys could not tell their devout parents about church sex abuse.

Off to jail

Early in December 2005, just before Klep was due to be sentenced, another "Rupertswood" victim contacted police, and his case was included in the sentencing, making 14 incidents involving eleven victims.

Sentencing Klep on 16 December 2005, Judge Francis Hogan said Klep had violated the innocence of his students. The judge told Klep: "You betrayed their trust in a most appalling way. Not only were you in a position of trust but you were also in a position of power."

The judge also said: "Offences of this kind are difficult to detect because they are committed against children who are scared and do not complain."

Judge Hogan sentenced Klep to a total of 36 months jail, with one year behind bars and the remainder possibly on parole. However, this sentence was later increased considerably by the Victorian Court of Appeal [see below in this article].

Judge Hogan ordered that Klep's name be placed permanently on the Register of Serious Sexual Offenders and that a sample of his saliva be taken for DNA testing. (Detectives took Klep's fingerprints in 1994.)

Klep's conviction was widely reported in radio and television bulletins and in newspapers.

Sentence increased

On 19 April 2006, the Director of Public Prosecutions for the State of Victoria appealed aginst Judge Hogan's sentence as being too lenient. Three Supreme Court judges heard submissions from the prosecution and the defence.

The defence counsel submitted that the sentence should be reduced because Klep had received an additional punishment - "losing his job". However, the defence counsel admitted that Klep had not been expelled from the Salesian order.

That is, according to the defence, Klep was still a priest. And this was four months after his December 2005 conviction -- and eleven years after his 1994 conviction.

The appeal judges increased Klep's sentence to a total of 5 years 10 months jail, with parole possible after 3 years 6 months.

How the church hurt the victims

Klep's victims submitted written impact statements to Judge Hogan before the sentencing in December 2005. Each victim described how Klep and the Salesians had adversely affected the victim's subsequent life. The impact was caused not only by Klep's actions but also by the church's culture of cover-up. The effects included: losing trust in other people; disrupting the boys' relationship with their families; becoming socially withdrawn; sexual identity problems; substance abuse; and destroying their relationship with their fellows in the Catholic community.

In her sentencing remarks, Judge Hogan emphasised that Klep had left his victims with profound and lasting psychological scars.

For many victims of Father Frank Klep and other Salesians, the anchor of their lives has been cut, leaving them spiritually and emotionally adrift. They consider it a high price to pay for the bad faith of Salesian priests and administrators.

One victim, Kerry (from the 1994 case), told reporters on 16 December 2005 that his mother, a church person all her life, has lost all trust in the Catholic Church, as have the rest of Kerry's family.

In court again in 2013

In early 2013, after some more of Klep's victims had contacted the police, Klep was investigated again by detectives from Task Force Sano in the Sex Crime Squad of the Victoria Police.

In the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 2 December 2013, Klep (then aged 70) pleaded guilty to 14 charges, including one count of rape, one count of attempted buggery and 12 charges of indecent assault.

[Victoria's criminal statutes have been revised since the 1970s. The definition of an offence, such as "rape" or "buggery", always depends upon the definition that was used in Victoria's criminal laws in the particular year in which each offence was committed.]

These 14 charges were not the only offences in the prosecutors' charge-sheets. When Klep pleaded guilty to these 14 charges involving the 14 victims, prosecutors withdrew another 22 charges against him.

After the December 2013 hearing, Klep was released on bail, until he would be called to face a judge in the Victorian County Court in 2014 for sentence proceedings.

Pre-sentence hearing, April 2014

On 3 and 8 April 2014, Frank Gerard Klep (aged 70) appeared in the Victorian County Court, where he pleaded guilty to 12 counts of indecent assault, buggery, attempted buggery and rape.

Judge Frank Gucciardo heard submissions from the prosecution and the defence about what sort of sentence should be opposed upon Klep regarding the additional victims.

And several victims each made an impact statement to the court, explaining how this church-abuse had affected them in their teenage and adult years. These victims told the court about the depression, substance abuse and failed relationships they have experienced in the years since Klep's crimes.

"Frank Klep, you left a lasting impression on me that will never be erased," one victim said. "I'm often ashamed of myself. How did I let this happen to me?"

One man spoke of the shame and helplessness he felt when Klep attended his grandmother's funeral after assaulting him. This victim told Klep: "I can never forgive you for having the gall to turn up and participate in the funeral. I can still see you standing there."

Another victim told the court he abused alcohol as a coping mechanism for the trauma. He said: "When I had dark days I would drink myself into unconsciousness." He recalled waking in cold sweats after dreaming he was back at the Sunbury school.

Klep preyed on many of the boys as they lay ill in the school's sick bay, which he operated. Several of the boys awoke during the night to find Klep had removed their pants and was interfering with their genitals. One boy was pinned to his bed and raped. Another boy was sexually abused by Klep when he used a pay phone outside his office to call home.

During this hearing, Klep read out a written apology for his crimes. But several victims were upset by this and they walked out of the courtroom, exercising a power they never had when Klep was their principal and teacher.

Defence barrister Julie Sutherland said the apology was evidence of Klep's true remorse for what she claimed were "stale and antique" offences.

But Judge Gucciardo said: "There's nothing 'stale or antique' about the hurt echoing in the court this morning."

Referring to the victims' walk-out, the judge said: "The human wreckage he [Klep] leaves behind him gets to file out of court" he said. "Where's their [the victims'] rehabilitation program?"

Jailed again, May 2014

Sentencing Klep on 26 May 2014, Judge Gucciardo said Klep knew that his position of authority as a priest and teacher would prevent his victims from coming forward. The boys who tried to tell their parents were not believed, the judge said.

In determining the length of Klep's new jail sentence, Judge Gucciardo took into account several factors regarding these 15 new victims: the number of victims this time; the seriousness of each crime in this batch; the length of the 2005 jail sentence; Klep's early guilty plea this time; his current age (turning 71 in October 2014), et cetera.

After making these calculations, Judge Gucciardo gave Klep a new jail sentence of 10 years and six months, with a non-parole period of six and a half years.

When the 2005 sentence and the 2014 sentence are added together, this means that Klep's maximum jail sentences will have totalled 15 years 6 months, with a total of 10 years 6 months behind bars.

Further victims

In Klep's first three court appearances (in 1994, 2005 and 2014), a total of 25 victims helped the police to bring Klep to justice. But these were not Klep's only victims; these 25 were merely those who bothered to have a chat with the detectives. According to research by Broken Rites, most Catholic Church sex-abuse victims remain silent for many years (or perhaps forever).

Some of the victims in the above-mentioned court cases, from 1994 onwards, have told Broken Rites that they know of other Klep victims who, for family reasons or other reasons, have not contacted the police. Such a victim might remain silent because, perhaps, he has still not told his devout Catholic parents about being sexually abused by a Catholic priest. And some victims might have (unwisely) reported Klep's crime to the Salesians (that is, to Klep's mates), instead of to the police.

Victims said that they know of several "Rupertswood" former students who have committed suicide since leaving the school and who are believed to have been victims of sexual abuse.

Sentenced again in 2019

In the Melbourne County Court on 9 April 2019, Klep (aged 75) was sentenced again after he pleaded guilty to five more counts of indecent assault. His victims were four boys at the Salesian College in Sunbury and a fifth boy at a school camp in Dromana during the 1970s and 1980s.

One of the survivors in the latest case was a four-year-old boy when he was assaulted by Klep at a mansion on the school grounds. Other boys were molested when they went to the sick bay for illnesses or injuries. In one instance a homesick 12-year-old was assaulted on the second night of a school camp at Dromana.

One of the survivors previously described the school as a "house of horrors".

Sentencing Klep on 9 April 2019, Judge Gabriele Cannon told Klep: "You were a prominent member of an institution that was supposed to be about love, compassion and kindness ... but under its cover you perpetrated evil."

The judge said Klep had grossly breached the trust the children and their parents placed in him. And he exploited the power he had over them in order to offend, she said. The judge said Klep's actions had a profound impact on the survivors. They had their lives mangled by Klep's actions, she said.

Klep pleaded guilty to five counts of indecent assault and was sentenced to serve five years for the crime, some to be served cumulative to his current imprisonment.

Klep was already serving a 10-and-a-half-year prison sentence for molesting 15 schoolboys. The latest sentence added an overall two years to his time behind bars.Klep would now be eligible for release on parole in 2022.