This priest was a danger to young schoolgirls

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 8 December 2018

Broken Rites is doing research about Father Damian Colbourne, who has spent many years as a priest in the Catholic order of Capuchin Franciscan Friars, ministering in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. In Brisbane in May 2017, Colbourne (then aged 75) was jailed for sexually abusing an eight-year-old Brisbane schoolgirl in 1974 (when he was in his thirties). Colbourne was charged by Queensland police in 2016 after the victim reported him to Australia's national child-abuse Royal Commission. In court, he pleaded guilty regarding the Brisbane girl. How many other children were victims of Father Colbourne?

The Capuchin Franciscans, who wear brown monk-like robes, are a comparatively small order in Australia, based in Australia's eastern states.

Father Damian Colbourne's birth name was Anthony Francis Colbourne. When he joined the Capuchin religious order, he was given a "religious" name — "Damian".

Colbourne's Brisbane offences occurred while he was the parish priest at the Guardian Angels church in Wynnum, a Brisbane suburb. This same site also includes the Guardian Angels Catholic primary school, where the girl was in Year 4.

The offences in 1974 occurred on several occasions in the priest's house (the presbytery) and his office.

According to the prosecution, Colbourne allegedly threatened the girl that she and her parents would go to hell unless she performed sex acts with him.

The preliminary proceedings began in a magistrates court in 2016. The charges included indecent treatment of a child under 14 and indecent assault. Colbourne was represented by a Catholic Church-funded lawyer.

In a police statement, the victim said Colbourne told her she had to fondle him because she was “a good girl who wants to go to heaven with your mummy and daddy”.

He allegedly also forced her to perform oral sex on him and he touched her vagina.

The woman told police that her belief at the time was that priests were the closest beings to God and “you must do as they say”.

The prosecutor said the victim was 14-years-old when she finally told her mother what happened, but was not believed.

Colbourne appeared in the Brisbane District Court on 23 May 2017 for sentencing. Judge Tony Moynihan took into account Colbourne's advanced age and his guilty plea. The judge sentenced Colbourne to a total 18 months in jail. Colbourne was ordered to spend four months behind bars, and the remainder of the jail sentence would then be suspended. The judge said that this time behind bars would be onerous for the elderly priest despite his relatively good health.

After completing his jail time, Father Damian Colbourne continued to be accepted by the Capuchin religious order as one of their priests — still living in a Capuchin residence..

The schoolgirl in the Brisbane court case was not Father "Damian" Colbourne's only victim -- she was merely the victim who contacted the Royal Commission and who then was interviewed by the Queensland Police.

Broken Rites has interviewed other females who encountered Father Damian Colbourne during their childhood in Sydney or Brisbane.

Another Brisbane complaint

A woman ("Suzie") has told Broken Rites how she encountered Fr Damian Colbourne at the Guardian Angels parish school in Wynnum in Brisbane when she was aged from seven years to ten years. She said:

"As a priest, Fr Damian Colbourne had more authority than the school principal. He would come into the classroom and borrow a student to run an errand. Or, if you hadn't been to Confession, he would tell you to come and confess to him. He would take you into his office in the school grounds.

"He indecently assaulted me during Confession. He started touching me, undid the zip on the back of my dress, lifted up his Capuchin robes, placed my hand on his penis and told me to kiss it.

"He did this to me on more than one occasion. He ordered me not to tell anybody or the whole family would go to Hell.

"Another girl told her parents that Father Damian was a molester but they would not believe it and that girl got into trouble. Therefore I remained silent.

"My mum does not know about it. I now have children and I don't want it to happen to them or to anybody else's kids."

Two incidents in Sydney

A Sydney woman ("Cynthia") has told Broken Rites:

"Fr Damian Colbourne was a very young priest at St. Fiacre's parish in Leichhardt (Sydney), when my sister and I attended school there.

"One day Fr Colbourne turned up at my family home to visit my parents. Colbourne was always a bit creepy, so I went into my bedroom to avoid him. I was reading on my bed when he walked into my room and sat on my bed. I had been lying on my stomach and as he sat down he put his hand on the back of my thigh. I scrambled up immediately to the opposite end of my bed and told him I should go out and help Mum. He rushed out, said a hurried goodbye to my parents and left. I didn't tell my parents about Colbourne because it was too difficult to complain about a Catholic priest.

"Colbourne left our parish very suddenly for Brisbane, not long after that.

"Years later, when my sister and I were each married with kids and were visiting my Mum, she told us that Fr Colbourne was coming back to Leichhardt. That day, I told Mum what had happened all those years before. And I was horrified when my sister told me he had, on another visit to our home, walked into her bedroom and touched her breasts. She too had got out of his way and hid until he had gone.

"Mum, very soon after, went to see Father Ted Harrop at the Leichhardt parish and told him that if they brought Fr Colbourne back to Leichhardt, she would speak to the police.

"I am sorry to learn now how he continued his indecent assaults in Queensland. I wonder what other children had a similar experience during Colbourne's time here in Sydney."