A Catholic religious Brother, now 81, is jailed for a rape committed 45 years ago

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 1 December 2019

In November 2019, a Sydney court jailed a retired Catholic religious Brother (Brother Peter Higgins, now aged 81) for committing sexual offences (including buggery) on an 11-year-old schoolboy in the mid-1970s. The offences occurred on several days (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 Sydney's south-west. Higgins will remain in jail until at least November 2022.

According to evidence given in court, the former schoolboy (now in his 50s) was indecently handled by Brother Higgins (then in his thirties) on several separate occasions; and, on another occasion, Brother Higgins committed buggery on the boy while forcing the boy against the Brother's desk. The offending occurred in 1974 in an empty classroom after school had finished for the day.

The court was told 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. Thus, Higgins' crimes were concealed from the police.

According to court documents, the victim revealed the incident to his wife, mother and other family members in 2006. His mother then merely contacted her local bishop [instead of reporting the crime to the proper authorities -- the police] and the Catholic Church merely made internal inquiries, during which the two Brothers denied all allegations. Thus, the holy image of the Catholic Church was protected.

Eventually, a police investigation was prompted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In January 2016, Brother Peter Higgins was interviewed by Liverpool detectives. Police also interviewed Brother Basil Downey. Police charged Brother Higgins with three counts of indecent assault and one count of buggery. Brother Downey was charged with being an accessory after the fact.

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.

During the Local Court process, both Higgins and Downey were released on bail.

The matter was then scheduled to be heard by a judge in the Campbelltown District Court.

In May 2019, the Campbelltown District Court found Higgins guilty of one count of buggery and two counts of indecent acts. ["Buggery" was a term used in the criminal statutes in the 1970s, the decade in which Higgins' offences occurred. Higgins was required to be charged under the 1970s laws.]

After the jury's decision, the judge remanded Higgins in custody to await the sentencing procedure, which was conducted in November 2019 when Higgins was sentenced to jail.

The other Brother (Basil Downey) died before he could be tried in court on his charge of having been "an accessory after the fact".

Some background
about Liverpool schools
by Broken Rites

Broken Rites has researched the evolution of Catholic schools in Sydney's 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.