JAILED: A Melbourne priest sexually abused five boys in the 1970s and 1980s

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, 1 October 2019

For 25 years until 1999, Father Peter Maurice Waters ministered in parishes of the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese. This priestly role enabled him to sexually abuse young persons. In 1999, some victims began to report Waters' crimes to the police. Eventually, the matter was investigated by detectives from the Sano Taskforce of the Victoria Police sexual crimes squad, located in central Melbourne. On 25 September 2019, a criminal court sentenced Waters (aged 74) to jail for offences against five boys.

Peter Waters was born in March 1945 and was ordained as a priest about 1972. The charged offences occurred between 1974 and 1987, mainly while Father Waters was in his thirties.

According to court documents, the five victims came from "very Catholic" families. Waters "befriended" these families, becoming a welcome visitor there. He would then befriend a boy from these families, becoming the boy's mentor. The parents would trust the priest to look after the boy and they would accept Waters' invitation for the boy to sleep overnight at the priest's house.

One victim stated that, while he was in a guest-bed one night at the priest's house, Waters climbed into the boy's bed and started indecently assaulting the boy's genitals. This happened again on another occasion. After this, the boy avoided Waters.

The other victims gave statements about similar indecent assaults that occurred while they were in Waters' custody.

The victims were unable to report these assaults to their parents at the time because of Waters' priestly status. This cover-up had a bad impact on each boy, adversely affecting their emotional development even into their adult years. Eventually, each victim realised that Waters' child-abuse was a criminal offence.

Originally, at a committal hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court in 2018, Peter Waters pleaded not-guilty to all charges. The case then proceeded to a higher court, the Melbourne County Court, where the matter would be handled by a judge and jury.

At the County Court in 2019, Water re-confirmed his not-guilty plea. The court divided the male victims into two separate trials, with separate juries.

  • In one trial, which lasted for several weeks during August 2019, a jury found Waters guilty of offences against three boys.
  • After this verdict (at the end of August), Waters entered a plea of guilty relating to another proposed trial which involved offences against two boys. This plea meant that Waters was automatically convicted regarding these two boys, and therefore this additional jury was not needed.

The charges in these guilty verdicts included six incidents of indecent assault, plus one count of Waters performing an act of gross indecency.

In another trial, Waters was also charged with committing sexual offences against a girl (four counts of indecent assault and one count of carnal knowledge, in a legal category relating to female victims up to the age of 16) but Waters successfully defeated the charges relating to this girl.

During all of Waters' trials, the court imposed a media-suppression order, so that any jury would not be influenced by media reporting of a previous trial. In late August 2019, when the final jury was no longer needed, the suppression order was lifted.

On 5 September 2019, the County Court conducted pre-sentence proceedings. This enabled the prosecutors and the defence lawyers to make submissions to the presiding judge (Judge Scott Johns) about what kind of sentence should be imposed on Waters. And the victims each had an opportunity to submit an Impact Statement, telling the judge how Waters' crimes have affected each victim's personal development. At the end of this September 5 hearing, the judge ordered that Waters be placed in custody to await the sentencing date.

Sentencing Waters on 25 September 2019, Judge Scott Johns said the details of each case showed how the priest had abused the trust put in him by parents and the boys who considered him a mentor.

"The context demonstrates the monumental breach of trust involved in your offending," the judge said. 'The context demonstrates the monumental breach of trust involved. You had access to these boys' lives that your role as a priest and the relative innocence of the times allowed.

"The confusion and sense of betrayal for each of them when you breached their trust has been devastating for them."

Judge Johns sentenced Waters to a total of 36 months of imprisonment The judge suspended 22 months of the jail term for two years, leaving him to spend the next 14 months in jail.

Peter Waters was then removed from the court, to be taken to jail.

Broken Rites research

The Melbourne archdiocese (in the state of Victoria) covers the Melbourne metropolitan area and some nearby towns such as Kyneton, plus the city of Geelong. The remainder of the state of Victoria is divided into three other dioceses.

According to research by Broken Rites, Father Peter Maurice Waters was first listed (as "newly ordained") in the annual Australian Catholic Directories in 1973. He then ministered in various parishes of the Melbourne archdiocese including Croydon, Strathmore, Dandenong, Oakleigh, East Malvern, Camberwell, Aspendale, Blackburn, Bell Park (a suburb of Geelong) and (finally, from 1995 until 1999) Kyneton. Interspersed among these parishes he had several periods of being listed as "on leave", plus a year or so as a hospital chaplain.

Waters liked to mix with significant people. In the 1980s, while working and living in parishes, he did some teaching in the religious education department of Christ College -- a Catholic tertiary institution which has since become absorbed into the Australian Catholic University. In this academic role, he moved in the same circles as some other Catholic Church academics such as Dr George Pell (Pell was then becoming the head of Melbourne's Catholic seminary).

Father Peter Maurice Waters was prominent in the Melbourne archdiocese until 1999, when the archdiocese was forced to admit to the media that it "has received and accepted the findings of Mr Peter O’Callaghan QC, the archdiocese's Independent Commissioner, which accepted the accusations of four complainants against Father Peter Waters." Because of the media exposure, the archdiocese had to stop giving Fr Waters any more parish appointments, and it began paying him retirement benefits. Waters began living privately in a rented apartment in inner-Melbourne's South Yarra district. Broken Rites research has revealed that, beginning in 1986, Waters owned a residence at Smiths Beach on Phillip Island in south-eastern Victoria; and he cited this as his residential address when he appeared in court in 2018.

Since 1999, according to Vatican internal law, Peter Waters has retained his priestly qualification — but without a parish (and without any other official role in the church). In 2017, police charged him with child-sex offences relating to his time in parishes. The Peter Waters case then began proceeding through the court system, culminating in the jail sentence in September 2019..