Father Vincent Kiss and his life of crime

By a Broken Rites researcher

An Australian Catholic priest, Father Vincent Kiss, has admitted that he committed sexual crimes on boys while he was working as the Director of Youth for his diocese. He plied the boys with alcohol, drove them around in fast cars and took them on holidays, where he sexually abused them. Later he became prominent in Australian social circles. Broken Rites is doing further research about Vincent Kiss and his priestly mates.

In Sydney District Court on 13 September 2002, Vincent Kieran Kiss (then aged 70) was sentenced to ten and a half years in jail (eligible for parole after seven years) for sex crimes against four teenage boys. He pleaded guilty to three charges of buggery and ten of indecent assault. The guilty plea meant that victims were not required to give evidence in court.

A late entrant to the priesthood, Kiss was ordained for the Wagga Wagga diocese in southern New South Wales. He began his parish work at North Albury (Sacred Heart parish) in 1965 when he was 33. He was appointed as the Director of Youth for the Wagga Wagga diocese. The four victims in his sex-assault charges were members of the Young Christian Students Association.

The indecent assaults took place at YCS camps and meetings. The first of the 13 charges relate to 1966, when the boy was 13. The others occurred over the next seven years when the other boys were aged between 14 and 16. The buggery offences occurred in 1969 and 1971.

The assaults occurred in a steam room after athletics training, during altar boy practice, and on holidays in Sydney and Surfers Paradise. One assault occurred in a boy's family home, another before a boy sat for his school certificate exam.

These four were not necessarily Kiss's only child-sex victims — these are merely the ones who eventually (in the 1990s) contacted the police.

Theft from charities

It is unclear how much the Wagga Wagga diocese authorities knew about Kiss's criminal activity at the time but in the 1970s he was allowed to move to the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, although officially he still belonged to the Wagga Wagga diocese. He worked as a priest in Vanuatu with the approval of the Vanuatu and Wagga Wagga dioceses.

In the 1980s, the Wagga Wagga diocese "seconded" Kiss to work as the manager of a charitable fund that was associated with the ANZ Executors and Trustees Company in Melbourne. In the 1988 Catholic Directory, he was listed as living at 301 Cecil Street, South Melbourne, "on loan from the Wagga Wagga diocese".

As manager, Kiss had discretion to distribute up to $100,000 to various charities. But he also diverted $2.5 million from four of those charities (the Fitzroy Community Youth Centre, Lions International, International Social Services and the Open Family Foundation) into a non-existent charity, the Vanuatu Development Project — a Westpac bank account of which he was the sole signatory and beneficiary.

Kiss was often seen at exclusive functions with Melbourne socialites and was a prominent supporter of the Carlton Football Club. Socialite Sheila Scotter said Kiss was "an utterly charming man" while arts patron Jeanne Pratt once described him as "like Jesus Christ ... He is not priestly, he is saintly."

In the Victorian County court in August 1993, Kiss pleaded guilty to stealing $1.8 million. The court heard how between 1984 and 1990 he devised a scheme to cheat the ANZ Executors and Trustees Company's charitable fund (plus four Victorian charities) to finance "an orgy of spending". Kiss ate in the best restaurants, had a well-stocked wine cellar, travelled frequently and owned several homes, including property in the Philippines. He was planning to retire to "Casa Bianca", a villa with pool and tennis court at Pagsanjan, south of Manila, when arrested on the Victorian theft charges. It is believed that visitors to Kiss's "Casa Bianca" included one who is now a very prominent Australian Catholic Church leader.

Child-abuse complaints

In 1995 and 1996, when he was in jail for theft, Kiss' name was linked with an alleged network of paedophiles operating out of Pagsanjan. In 1994, the first of the four NSW sex-abuse complainants contacted the police and three others soon followed. (A number of Kiss complainants have also contacted Broken Rites.)

Kiss was still listed in the annual official Australian Catholic Directory until 1998, care of the bishop's office, Wagga Wagga. Kiss was released from jail in Victoria in July 1999 after serving six years for the theft conviction.

In August 2002, Kiss at first pleaded not guilty to the sex charges. He sought a permanent stay (stoppage) of charges on grounds of the slowness of preparing and completing the prosecution case in 1999-2001 and the effect this had had on his health.

But Judge Penelope Hock said the community interest had to be weighed. She refused the stay and Kiss changed his plea to guilty.

The court was told that in 1979 Kiss had also been convicted in Vanuatu of four offences of gross indecency and was deported.

Breach of trust

In sentencing, Judge Hock said Kiss's conduct had been a "gross breach of trust and exploitation" and he corrupted the boys "at a crucial time of their development".

The judge said: "His conduct was appalling for any adult male, but was rendered more so as a teacher and spiritual adviser to boys of his faith in mind and body. He abused both.

"I have no doubt that the offender was allowed to take these boys on overnight visits because of the inherent trust their parents and, indeed, the community placed in men holding such positions in the church at that time."

Judge Hock said that it seemed in the years up until at least 1995, Kiss appeared untroubled by his offences and confident they would never come to light.

[The full story of Vincent Kiss, including his association with persons now prominent in Australian Catholicism, is yet to be told but Broken Rites is working on it.]