The church ordained a child-abuser — and knowingly retained him in the ministry

By a Broken Rites researcher

A Catholic priest, Father David Daniel, repeatedly committed sexual crimes on children throughout his 20-year career as a priest, the Melbourne County Court was told. Parents complained to the church authorities but the church ignored the crimes until some of the victims finally began to speak to detectives in the Victoria Police sex crime squad. Finally, Father Daniel was brought to justice, by the police, not by the church. Thus, the church's cover-up was exposed. This article is the most comprehensive account available about the Father David Daniel cover-up.

David Daniel (born on 19 September 1942) was ordained for the Melbourne archdiocese in 1975, aged 32 (i.e., a mature-age entrant). One victim (born in 1966) told the court that Daniel began abusing him at the age of six (i.e., about 1972 or so, which would have been before the priest's ordination). Thus, the diocese ordained a sexually-active priest — and then inflicted him upon unsuspecting parishioners under the halo of "celibacy".

The total number of Daniel's victims is not known but police located six — four boys, one girl and one adult male. For court purposes, the prosecution specified 18 assaults between 1978 and 1994 but these were not the only abusive incidents. Two of the victims were abused for up to four years and one for 16 years.

The charges included: 16 counts of indecent assault, gross indecency, and indecent acts involving children (i.e., Daniel touching the children indecently, or forcing them to touch him indecently, or him performing indecent acts on himself in a child's presence); one charge of sexual penetration involving a 16-year-old boy in the priest’s custody (the priest performed oral sex on the boy); and one charge of indecently assaulting an adult male.

Most of the 18 charges relate to the 1990s, some as recently as 1994 (Daniel's final year in parish work).

In the Melbourne County Court on 14 July 2000, Judge Mervyn Kimm officially classified Daniel, then aged 57, as a Serious Sexual Offender under the Crimes Act and sentenced him to six years' jail, eligible for parole after 4 years 6 months.

The priest's history

Representatives of Broken Rites were present in court during the trial, supporting the victims.

Broken Rites has compiled the following account from the court proceedings.

Seven of the charged assaults (involving three victims) occurred during 1975-86 while Daniel worked as an Assistant Priest at Newport, East Brighton and Mount Waverley (all in metropolitan Melbourne). Daniel used to visit an elderly relative of his in Melbourne's south-east, who would have one or other of her grandchildren staying with her during school holidays. The children's parents and grandmother assumed that a "celibate" Catholic priest would be trustworthy.

The assaults occurred either in a child's bedroom, or while a pyjama-clad child was watching television with the priest in a darkened lounge room, or while a child was having a shower.

Victim 1 was "BRIAN". Brian said in court that, in fact, Daniel's sexual abuse of him began at the age of 6 (in 1972-3) and continued on countless occasions during 16 years to the age of 22 (in 1988) but, for court purposes, only four of these assaults (at age 12, in 1978) were charged. Daniel warned Brian to keep quiet about the abuse or "you won’t go to heaven".

Victim 2 was "PAUL" (a cousin of Brian), in 1980, then aged 6 (two incidents). Paul stated: "I didn’t question what he was doing because he is a priest, a figurehead of the Catholic Church."

Victim 3 was "MARY" (a cousin of Brian and Paul), in 1982-3, then aged 9 (one incident). After the assault began, the girl managed to flee.

The church knew

The children's parents became aware of these incidents. E.g., Brian said his abuse was revealed about 1988. The children's parents complained to Daniel's superiors but not to the police. Therefore, the church retained Daniel in the ministry.

Daniel spent the late 1980s as a military chaplain, residing at the Camberwell presbytery (in Melbourne's east) under supervision but in 1990 he was dispatched to be in charge of the remote Healesville parish, 64 km from Melbourne — i.e., out of sight and unsupervised.

Victim 4 was "JIM" (a cousin of Victims 1-3). Jim's family sent him to stay with Daniel at the Healesville presbytery during school holidays in 1990 when he was aged 12. Daniel "massaged" Jim sexually and threatened him not to tell anyone. Jim stated: "I was scared because I was away from home and I had no car or means of getting home."

Jim's gullible family forced the boy to stay with Daniel again every year for more holidays — and for more assaults (nine charges). This culminated in Daniel performing oral sex on Jim at age 16 in January 1994. Then Jim got a part-time job and made himself too busy for his family to force him back to Daniel again.

At Healesville, Daniel "trained" about 30 altar boys. One of these was Victim 5, "SAUL". During 1990-4, from age 10 to 14, Saul idolised Daniel and wanted to become a priest. Saul's "training" included sexual assaults by Father Daniel, and the prosecution charged Daniel with the final assault which occurred in November 1994, when Saul was 14. As usual, Daniel always ordered Saul to remain silent. During this period, Daniel hypocritically performed the baptism ceremony of Saul's baby sister.

In December 1994, Daniel assaulted Victim 6 ("GREG"), a young Healesville adult. Daniel had befriended Greg's family for two years, and Greg used to go to Daniel for Confession. Then, one night, Daniel enticed Greg to the presbytery for a drink and started to maul Greg sexually.

Greg fled and told his parents, who quickly complained to the diocesan authorities. The diocese admitted they already knew that Daniel was an offender but they had not removed him. That is, the diocese had knowingly and negligently had left Daniel in parish ministry, enabling him to assault Greg and Saul.

Following the Greg revelation, Daniel knew the game was up. He wrote to the diocese, resigning from his parish as from Christmas 1994, citing "bad health".

At this time, a parishioner ("Polly", who is the mother of Victim 5, Saul), was doing some typing for Father Daniel. Polly typed the resignation letter but she did not know that Daniel was a child-abuser or that her son was a victim. She presumed that Daniel's departure was because of financial misappropriation, not bad health. (The parish finances, tightly controlled by Daniel, languished while Daniel was there but they improved after he left.)

Before leaving, Daniel did some final transactions in the parish bank accounts, then vanished. The diocese propagated the "bad health" story and neglected to inform his former parishes that he had been a risk to their children.

Daniel finally rented a flat in Upwey (in Melbourne's east). The defence said the diocese was still paying Daniel a rent allowance for this in mid-2000. That is, the diocese continued supporting a sex offender, even after he initially pleaded guilty in April 1999.

About 1997, the "devout" grandmother of Victims 1-4 died, thereby removing the victims' reluctance about going to the police. Victim 4 (Jim) made a police statement, and detectives soon gathered more evidence. In 1998, detectives arranged for Jim to phone Daniel. In a tape recording of the conversation, played in court, Daniel admitted that he had done "silly things".

Detectives raided Daniel's flat and found pornographic materials. The mother of one victim said it was well known, when Daniel moved from Camberwell to Healesville in 1990, that he had a porn collection but Daniel's superiors did not care.

Meanwhile, after 1994, Victim 5 (Saul) developed into a troubled teenager. This distressed and puzzled his parents until, in April 1999, he disclosed Daniel’s sexual abuse. Saul later made a police statement.

Court proceedings

In April 1999, Daniel was formally charged in the Melbourne Magistrates Court regarding Victims 1-4. He pleaded guilty. However, while waiting to be sentenced by a County Court judge, Daniel changed his plea to "not guilty".

This necessitated a jury trial, held in April 2000. During jury selection [when Broken Rites was present in court], Daniel vetoed the inclusion of a woman who was a school-children's crossing supervisor and another woman who was a personal care attendant in a nursing home.

The prosecution submitted that the earlier "guilty" plea was an admission of guilt.

The jury (6 males, 6 females) convicted Daniel on all 16 counts for Victims 1-4. Daniel then opted to plead guilty regarding Victims 5 and 6.

Daniel requested a lenient sentence and submitted a "character" reference from Bishop Hilton Deakin, the auxiliary bishop in charge of Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

Sentencing Daniel concerning all six victims on July 14, Judge Kimm described Daniel as an "utter disgrace" who had grossly breached his position of trust and lacked remorse. He said Daniel's status and authority as a Catholic priest assisted him in the commission of the crimes. He said all the victims had been emotionally damaged by the crimes.

Outside the court, Victim 5 ("Saul", aged 20) gave radio-news interviews (arranged by Broken Rites), which were networked throughout Victoria. Saul blamed the Catholic Church for the damage done to his teenage development.

The above report is compiled from notes taken in court by Broken Rites. This article is the most comprehensive report on the Daniel Case. The case was also reported, although briefly, in the Melbourne Age and Herald Sun on 15 July 2000.

A parishioner's view

After David Daniel went to jail, What did the church authorities do to help the families of the Healesville parish? Well, not much, apparently.

A parishioner told Broken Rites in 2007:

"After David Daniel went to jail, the Melbourne archdiocese was slow to offer help to the affected families. Some parish activists urged the church authorities to call a general meeting of the parish's families. The church authorities eventually (and grudgingly) called a meeting but the meeting was deliberately not widely advertised or discussed. The meeting was not talked about from the pulpit. The meeting was merely mentioned in a small footnote on the parish bulletin as a meeting specifically for those who had been 'affected'.

"Thus, other families whose children had been consistently at risk to David Daniel (and some whose sons eventually did disclose to them) did not think the meeting was for them.

"The meeting was attended by four families, plus several other people.

"A woman from the Melbourne Catholic education office attended the meeting on behalf of the archdiocese. She told the meeting that the David Daniel matter has happened and that everybody should get on with their lives. She offered to arrange counselling for those present but she was not interested in the fact that many others needed to be informed.

"I believe that the meeting should have provided information to all families, who had been exposed to David Daniel, because it is common for young victims to remain silent about their abuse or to deny abuse when they are first questioned about it.

"The parish hushed up everything. No one reached out to the families of other possible victims, and some families just stopped coming to church.

"Some former students at the Healesville parish school were often taken from their classroom by David Daniel to serve on the altar or 'do jobs' — and some of these young people now have personal problems, such as substance abuse and anger issues. We can't know who has been harmed by David Daniel and who hasn't but their parents have been given nothing to help them understand or respond.

"Much more needs to be done to ensure that the pastoral response to clergy abuse in parishes is improved or else the abuse might continue under a different, subsequent offender."


Broken Rites checked through annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directory to compile this list of Father Daniel's parishes from 1977 onwards:

  • Late 1970s: Assistant at Sacred Heart parish, Newport.
  • Early 1980s: Assistant at St Finbar's parish, Brighton East; and later at St Andrew's parish, Werribee.
  • Mid 1980s: Assistant at Holy Family parish, Mount Waverley (from July 1983).
  • Late 1980s: Served as a chaplain for the Royal Australian Air Force, while residing (and assisting), under supervision, at Our Lady of Victories parish, Camberwell.
  • 1990: Was promoted to be the Parish Priest in charge of St Brigid's parish, Healesville; he suddenly resigned in late December 1994.

Some directories in the 1980s give his full name as David John Daniel.

The police investigation was conducted by the Sexual Crimes Squad, Melbourne. This unit can be contacted through Crimestoppers, telephone 1800 333 000.