BACKGROUND: The church helped Father Brian Spillane in his life of crime

This Broken Rites article is the most comprehensive account available about the paedophile priest Brian Joseph Spillane -- and how the Catholic Church enabled him to commit his sexual crimes against children. Father Spillane's victims were mostly boys who were assaulted while he ministered at St Stanislaus College — a Catholic day and boarding secondary school for boys, in Bathurst, New South Wales. And he assaulted girls in parishes elsewhere. Spillane (now aged 74) has recently completed a series of separate criminal trials, resulting in multiple convictions. Spillane is already in jail regarding the girls. On 16 February 2017, a court gave him an additional jail sentence regarding the boys.

Reverend Brian Spillane, C.M, was a priest in the Catholic order of Vincentian Fathers and Brothers (also called the Congregation of the Mission — hence the initials "C.M." after his name). The Vincentians are an Australia-wide order, not confined to a particular diocese. As well as establishing the St Stanislaus boys' boarding school in Bathurst, the Vincentians have also provided priests for several parishes in Sydney, Melbourne and Queensland.

Police have been told that, sometimes, a Vincentian clergyman would try to groom a young boy. Sometimes such a boy might be recruited for training as a future Vincentian brother or priest.

Traditionally, the Vincentians' sexual-abuse has been successfully concealed from the public but, in recent years, some of the Vincentians' victims have finally spoken (separately) to NSW Police detectives. Thus, a significant number of Vincentian priests and brothers have recently been charged in the criminal courts.

How the Spillane cases began

In 2008 and 2009, after an investigation by NSW Police detectives, the NSW Office of Public Prosecutions charged Brian Joseph Spillane with sexual offences against a number of boys and girls.

Spillane had a legal team to fight the court proceedings on his behalf. He pleaded Not Guilty to all charges.

Spillane's legal costs (to 2016) are estimated to have exceeded a million dollars. It would be interesting to find out where these dollars came from. Did the defence funds include money placed on the collection plate in parishes? Or from school fees paid by parents? Did a friendly bishop or archbishop make a contribution from diocesan funds?

The prosecutors chose to hold the girls' case first. In 2010, a jury convicted Spillane regarding the girls and he was jailed for these particular incidents.

The prosecutors then began preparing for the St Stanislaus College boys' case which was more complex. Spillane's legal team tried to obstruct, or delay, the process. For legal reasons, the boys were eventually divided into several groups, with each group being handled by a different jury. These trials were to be held one-at-a-time.

St Stanislaus College (and the Vincentian religious order) had already gained public notoriety for child-sex crimes, and fears were expressed in court that this notoriety might affect the consecutive juries, thus damaging the whole procedure. Therefore, the court placed a temporary media-suppression order regarding all the St Stanislaus boys' proceedings, so as to prevent any jury being influenced by media reports of a preceding St Stanislaus trial.

The media-suppression order was finally lifted on 5 December 2016 after the final Spillane trial was finished. Spillane is still in jail, and on 16 February 2017 he was sentenced regarding the most recent St Stanislaus trials.

Career outline: Broken Rites research

Broken Rites has researched Spillane's life in electoral rolls and church documents.

Born about 1943, he began training for the Vincentian priesthood in Sydney in 1960. The Australian electoral rolls from 1964 to 1968 listed Brian Joseph Leonard Spillane as a student, located at a Vincentian address in Balaclava Road, Marsfield, Sydney.

After completing his training, he was evidently ordained as a priest in the late 1960s (the 1969 Australian electoral roll listed him at St Stanislaus College, Bathurst, as a priest).

According to a St Stanislaus College yearbook, Father Spillane served two periods at this school, totalling 19 years. The first was from 1968 to 1978, during which he had various roles: a form master of various forms from year 7 to year 12; a dormitory master; a full-time teacher of many subjects, mainly language; a sports coach; the dean of discipline; a lieutenant in the cadet unit; and supervisor of the band.

The pupils boarding at St Stanislaus came from towns and farms throughout New South Wales.

Vincentian priests and brothers were living in bedrooms on the St Stanislaus College premises.

From 1979 to 1983, Father Spillane was away from St Stanislaus, doing parish and mission work including a period at St Anthony's parish in Marsfield, Sydney.

For three years from early 1981, Spillane joined a "renewal team" led by the Australian head of the Vincentian order which visited Vincentian parishes around Australia, promoting Catholic teachings. These visits to various parishes (and to families) gave him access to girls as well as boys (Spillane was a danger to both genders).

From 1984 to 1991, he was again at St Stanislaus College as the school chaplain. He was the Superior (that is, the leader) of the Vincentian clergy living at this school.

After leaving St Stanislaus College, Spillane was still remembered in the school's 1992 yearbook, in which the two Year Seven classes were each named after a teacher (one of these classes was labelled in the 1992 yearbook as "Year 7 Spillane").

In the early 1990s, Father Spillane ministered at a Vincentian parish (Mary Immaculate) at Southport on Queensland's Gold Coast. From 1995 to 1997, his postal address was the Catholic Mission, Oxenford, near the Gold Coast.

From 1998 to 2004 he was listed as the Parish Priest at a Vincentian parish (St Vincent's) in Ashfield, Sydney.

The above-mentioned addresses were Father Spillane's official workplaces but these were not necessarily his only residential addresses. For example, from the late 1980s onwards, Father Hugh Murray of the Vincentian order conducted a community centre in Tempe House, at Arncliffe, Sydney; and Fr Murray has said that Vincentian priests who spent time living at this address included Brian Spillane.

In 2004, Brian Spillane left the Vincentian order and began living privately in Sydney.

Convicted regarding female victims

In Sydney in November 2010, a New South Wales District Court jury found Brian Joseph Spillane (then aged 67) guilty of indecently assaulting three girls aged between six and seventeen.

The jury convicted Spillane on nine counts of indecent assault against three girls. The alleged events occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s in various circumstances:

  • Some of the offences against girls allegedly occurred when Spillane visited a family in a rural area in north-western New South Wales. Spillane had become acquainted with this family as a result of his work in Bathurst.
  • Other offences against girls allegedly occurred while Spillane was working (in 1979 onwards) from a Vincentian base in Marsfield, a Sydney suburb. He became the leader of a group of Vincentian priests and brothers at Marsfield and he also carried out duties in the local Catholic parish (which was staffed by Vincentians) and at the local parish primary school.

The court was told that Spillane gained access to children through his role as a Catholic priest. The prosecutor, Brad Hughes, told the court that Spillane "would not have been within a bull's roar of these girls if he hadn't been a priest."

The court was told that friendly families welcomed him to their homes. He conducted Mass in their sitting rooms, played games with their children and, according to the evidence, abused their daughters. Spillane would sometimes appear at a family’s house uninvited, the court was told. One mother told the court how Spillane brought presents for the parents and the children.

The court heard how Spillane’s role as a priest protected him. Some of the children mentioned vaguely to their parents that Father Spillane had touched them. There was no evidence in court that any of the parents (or any of the church authorities) reported Spillane to the police at the time of the incidents.

The court was told that, while hearing Confession of children in his parish, Spillane would invite children as young as eight to sit on his lap. Spillane told the court that this “was my pastoral approach to break down the barrier between the fearful God and the loving God."

The court charges in the Sydney court proceedings were confined to incidents that allegedly occurred within New South Wales. The court heard about an incident involving a girl in Queensland but this matter is outside the jurisdiction of the NSW courts.

Bail refused

On 30 November 2010, after the jury verdicts, the court heard an application by Brian Joseph Spillane, seeking to be released on bail while he would be waiting for further court proceedings. Spillane was refused bail and was removed from the court in custody pending his next court appearance.

Attempt to stop the proceedings

Meanwhile, Spillane's legal team raised certain objections regarding the proposed sentence proceedings (involving the female victims) and also regarding subsequent proposed court proceedings (involving a number of male victims).

These objections needed be debated at length in the courts, including the New South Wales Court of Appeal, and this caused a delay in the proceedings.

Finally, in early April 2012, the NSW Court of Appeal cleared the way for the Brian Joseph Spillane proceedings to resume.

Sentenced regarding the girls, April 2012

On 19 April 2012, after Spillane had been in custody for 17 months, Judge Michael Finnane sentenced him in the Sydney District Court regarding the female victims.

In his sentencing remarks, the judge called each assault "serious, planned and callous". He said Spillane's position as a priest and his "standing in the community" allowed him to gain access to the homes of his victims, many of whom came from devout Catholic families.

Some of the offences occurred when Spillane was alone with his victims in their bedrooms for night-time prayers. One happened in a car after he had said Mass at a memorial service.

"He was very trusted and the parents of each of the victims readily gave him access to their daughters because of that trust and the esteem in which he was held," Judge Finnane said.

"The victims in this trial were all girls to whom he got access when he was conducting parish missions or ... when he was visiting a country town.

"It was sexual abuse carried out by a trusted priest and was a major breach of trust."

The judge said Spillane had shown no remorse and no contrition for his offending "which means that there can be little hope of rehabilitation".

Jailed regarding the girls

Judge Finnane sentenced Spillane, then aged 69, to jail for nine years with a right to eventually apply for release to serve the final part of his sentence on parole. (This jail sentence was reported in the media.).

Charges regarding boys

The cases regarding St Stanislaus College were held between 2013 and 2016, using separate juries (hence the need for a non-publication order during these trials, so that the cases would not be jeopardized by the media).

The boys' cases resulted as follows:

  • After a trial in 2013, Spillane was convicted of assaults on five St Stanislaus College boys.
  • In 2015 he pleaded guilty to assaults on four St Stanislaus boys, committed in the late 1980s.
  • During 2016, he was convicted of assaults on five St Stanislaus boys, committed between 1974 and 1990.
  • In early December 2016, a jury found him guilty of 11 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and buggery on four St Stanislaus boys between 1976 and 1988. He was acquitted of one charge of buggery.

The media-suppression order was finally lifted on 5 December 2016 after the final St Stanislaus trial was finished. Spillane was already in jail, still serving his sentence for his crimes against the girls.

Another jail sentence

On 3 February 2017, Judge Robyn Tupman held a pre-sentence procedure for Spillane regarding the boys. This was an opportunity for any victim to submit an impact statement showing how Spillane's crime (and the church's cover-up) affected this victim's life. The Judge takes these impact statements into account when preparing Spillane's sentence.

On 16 February 2017, Judge Tupman sentenced Spillane to at least nine years in jail (with a maximum of 13 years) for 16 offences (including buggery) against the male victims. As the sentences (for the girls as well as the boys) will run partially concurrently, Spillane's eligible release date has been extended by five years to November 2026.

The judge said Spillane abused his position of trust as a teacher and chaplain and "used religious rituals to increase his power over his victims".

"Most of the complainants were boarders [at St Stanislaus College], a long way from home and in many cases away from home for the first time," she said.

"Many of the complainants didn't realise what was happening was inappropriate, in large part because he was a priest.

"They didn't tell anyone for many years. Perhaps more insidiously, they didn't expect to be believed.

"He knew that he could act with impunity and there was almost no chance his offending would be revealed."

A victim speaks out

Outside the court, after the sentencing, one St Stanislaus College victim (Damien Sheridan) was interviewed by television, radio and newspaper reporters. He authorized the media to publish his name and photograph. Damien also released copies of the typewritten Victim Impact Statement that he had submitted to the court's February 3 pre-sentence hearing.

Damen said: "I was a shy, well-mannered boy from a small country town of Forbes with very little wisdom in the ways of how the world works. I was raised a Catholic with strict catholic morals, although no one ever told me to be aware that there are wolves dressed as sheep out there."

Damien said that Spillane's abuse (and the church's cover-up) devastated his later development, leaving him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He has had difficulty getting and keeping employment.

Further research

The Broken Rites group is continuing its research about Brian Joseph Spillane and the church's cover-up.