A Melbourne priest is stood down during a child-safety investigation

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article posted 18 June 2018

In June 2018 a Catholic priest in Melbourne — Father Paul Newton — has been ordered to stand down while civil authorities investigate an alleged breach of the State of Victoria's child-safety laws. Melbourne's archbishop Denis Hart has asked Father Newton to take a period of administrative leave during the investigation.

New child-safety laws came into effect in Victoria in 2016, requiring organisations (including churches) that work with children to have measures in place to prevent and deal with child abuse. Broken Rites is not suggesting that Father Newton poses a risk to children, and it is not known what the alleged breaches relate to.

Broken Rites research has found that Fr Paul Newton was ordained for the Archdiocese of Melbourne on 29 June, 2002. He has studied in Rome and has also completed studies at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. He has been serving in parish ministry in Melbourne with a special focus on youth and young adults.

Broken Rites research has found that, after being ordained, Fr Newton's earliest parishes in the Melbourne archdiocese included Deer Park, Geelong (assisting Fr Kevin Dillon), Mornington, Seymour, Fawkner and Keilor Downs/Kealba. During his early years, the Archdiocese also used Fr Newton as a relieving priest in various parishes. 

Before going on leave in June 2018, Fr Newton was in charge of two adjoining parishes in Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs — St Kevin's in Ormond and St Patrick's in Murrumbeena.

In a letter to parishioners at Ormond and Murrumbeena dated 6 June 2018, Archbishop Hart said the concerns about Fr Newton related to alleged breaches of the Archdiocese's code of conduct, child safety legislation and related matters.

"In order for the investigation to be conducted in a fair and just manner, it is important that Father Newton be given the time and opportunity to respond to these allegations," the archbishop wrote.

"I appreciate such an announcement can be a cause of anxiety and concern. In fairness to Father Newton, I would encourage you [to] allow him to enter this period of investigation and for you to let it run its course and not to presume judgment upon him."

Melbourne archdiocese communications director Shane Healy told a Fairfax Media reporter that the matter was initially referred to Victoria Police, who then referred it to the Victorian Government's Commission for Children and Young People.

"An investigation is now under way and there will be no other comment to ensure this process is not impeded," Healy said.

Parents at St Patrick's Primary School Murrumbeena and St Kevin's Primary School Ormond were told of the news by email on Monday 11 June 2018 (the Queen's Birthday public holiday in Victoria).

Teachers were also given a script to read out to students on the next day. The script said: "We want to make sure our school community is a safe place for all of you. Your wellbeing is our key focus."

Teachers were also instructed to start the day with a special prayer to Jesus asking for his help and support. "Please join me as we pray the Our Father together," it said.

A parent, who did not want to be named, told Fairfax Media that he found this request "disconcerting and uncomfortable."