A Catholic religious Brother is charged with assaulting a Sydney schoolboy

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 24 May 2016

A retired Catholic religious Brother (Brother Peter Higgins, now 77) is facing a Sydney magistrates court, charged with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy at a Patrician Brothers school in the mid-1970s. Police allege that the primary head teacher (Brother Basil Downey) knew about Higgins' offending at the time, and therefore Downey (now 89) is charged with having been "an accessory after the fact". Originally, lawyers for the Patrician Brothers obtained a court order prohibiting the media from referring to the Patrician Brothers or naming the two defendants but this order was later defeated by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The offences allegedly occurred after school had finished for the day, at Patrician Brothers Catholic School (formerly called St Mary's school, now called All Saints) in Liverpool, a suburb in south-western Sydney.

According to documents submitted in court, the former schoolboy (now in his 50s) alleges that he was indecently assaulted by Brother Higgins (then in his thirties) on three separate occasions; and on a fourth occasion, Brother Higgins allegedly committed buggery on the boy.

The documents allege that during the buggery episode, the school principal (Brother Basil Downey) walked into the room and discovered what was happening. Police allege that Brother Downey then drove the victim home and told the parents that the boy fell over and landed on his backside.

Brother Higgins is charged with three counts of indecent assault and one count of buggery. Brother Downey is charged with being an accessory after the fact.

According to the court documents, the victim revealed the incident to his wife, mother and other family members in 2006. His mother then contacted her local bishop and the Catholic Church made internal inquiries, during which the two Brothers denied all allegations.

The police investigation has been prompted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In January 2016, Peter Higgins was interviewed by Liverpool detectives at Wyong Police Station, north of Sydney.

Basil Downey was interviewed at Mount Druitt Police Station, west of Sydney.

Detectives officially submitted the charges to a magistrate during a brief hearing at Liverpool Local Court on 2 March 2016.

Originally, the church's defence lawyers obtained an order from the court, preventing the media from publishing the defendants' names (or referring to the Patrician Brothers). On 19 May 2016, the Director of Public Prosecutions obtained a court order removing this name-suppression.

The case has now been transferred to Campbelltown Local Court, where the case is scheduled to have its next mention on 29 June 2016. The court process will then continue on later dates.

Meanwhile, both Higgins and Downey are released on bail.

The Liverpool Detectives Office is continuing its investigation by Detective Senior Constable Andrew Booth. Police are urging anyone with information to call Liverpool police on 02 9821 8444 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. Reports can also be made online at https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au/

Some background about Liverpool schools
by Broken Rites

Broken Rites has researched the evolution of Catholic schools in Liverpool.

About 1880, an order of nuns (the Sisters of Charity) developed a parish primary school (then named St Mary's), catering for boys and girls, in George Street, Liverpool.

The same religious order, the Sisters of Charity, also operated an orphanage (called St Ann's) in the same street from 1888 to 1977. The orphanage was mainly for girls, with occasionally a few young boys. These children attended St Mary's primary school. The Orphanage was relocated to smaller premises at Medley Street Liverpool in 1970 and continued to receive children until the end of 1977.

In 1954, the Patrician Brothers came to Liverpool to cater for boys. The Sisters of Charity provided a classroom in George Street for the Patrician Brothers and a playground for the boys.

Thus, the boys' school and the girls' school were closely associated. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the nuns even provided a hot mid-day meal for the first group of Brothers. A Brother might be seen walking anywhere around the campus, including in the girls' school.

During the 1960s, the Patrician Brothers boys' school was gradually expanded on nearby land (provided by the Sisters of Charity), and the Brothers began to live in a "Monastery" in George Street, near the girls' school.

In the 1960s, when Liverpool's population was booming with new immigrants from other countries, the Patrician Brothers began expanding their secondary-level classes in Liverpool (at the rear of George Street, along Bigge Street), although they still kept some primary-level classes (Years 5 and 6).

By 1964, the Monastery in George Street accommodated eight Patrician Brothers.

In 1966 the Patrician Brothers in Liverpool had 479 students (mostly secondary, plus primary Years 5 and 6), with six Brothers in the secondary section, two in the primary and three lay teachers. The school continued its primary Years 5 and 6 until 1990.

By the 1990s, the Brothers and nuns in Liverpool had been replaced gradually by lay teachers. In 2015, the boys' secondary school amalgamated with the adjacent girls' school and became known as All Saints College.