Catholic Church appointed a child-abuser as its spokesman in Queensland

By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 17 November 2015

High-profile Brisbane Catholic priest Father Paul McLachlan — the television face of the Catholic Church in Queensland for many years — was jailed in October 2000 for child-sex crimes. This prompted more victims to come forward, and in July 2001 he was given an increased jail sentence. In 2015, McLachlan (now aged 82) has been charged with additional offences, committed against another child forty years ago. The 2015 charges are mentioned near the end of this article.

Research by Broken Rites indicates that Paul McLachlan was ordained in Brisbane about 1962. His parishes included Stafford in the early 1960s, followed by Valley and Beaudesert in the mid-1960s, Bardon in the late 1960s and early 1970s and Mitchelton in the early 1970s.

McLachlan admitted in court in 2000 that some of his sexual offences occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s. By 1974, he had been removed from parishes (where he had access to families and children). He was transferred to administrative work — as director of the Catholic Media Office in Brisbane. He became the host of a religious TV program.

Despite being removed from parish work, McLachlan still had access to vulnerable people, from the fact of still being a priest. Instead of living in a parish presbytery, McLachlan was given a home unit in a church-convent complex at Wooloowin in Brisbane, where he acted as part-time "chaplain" for the Mercy Centre (a home for psychologically and intellectually disabled women). He also "assisted" in "pastoral work" in the Lutwyche-Woolawin area.

About 1990, he was relieved of his duties as media director but he continued doing suburban "pastoral work".

The first trial

In 1999, McLachlan was charged with 27 child-sex offences. He pleaded not guilty but a magistrate committed him to stand trial on 18 of these charges, involving five boys aged between 10 and 15. The charges included 15 counts of indecent treatment of boys, two of sodomy and one of indecent assault, allegedly committed over a five-year period between 1972 and 1975.

In October 2000, the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions presented McLachlan (then aged 67) for trial on offences allegedly committed against one of the boys. A Brisbane District Court jury found McLachlan guilty of five counts of indecent dealing and two counts of sodomy against a boy, then 13, in 1975. These offences occurred in McLachlan's church-convent unit during one afternoon.

The trial heard that the boy and his 15-year-old brother were entrusted into the care of McLachlan for the day by their parents after another brother had died. McLachlan had previously known the boys when McLachlan was in parish work before 1975

McLachlan took the brothers to a recording studio and then for swimming and lunch. They then went to McLauchlan's unit which was attached to the chapel and, at his instigation, played a game of chance with dice which resulted in all of them being naked.

After mutual masturbation, he lined the brothers up in front of him, forcing them in turn to try and sodomise each other, but when that did not work he sodomised the younger one. He again sodomised him on the bed later in the afternoon.

The victim, aged 38 at the time of the trial in 2000, said he had not complained until 1998 because of shame and the fear that nobody would believe him over a respected priest. He said McLachlan took away his childhood, his religion, his family, his self-esteem and destroyed his sanity and his marriage.

The other brother, aged 40 in 2000, who also gave evidence, said McLachlan had told him not to say anything. At the time, he said, priests had been regarded as 'close to God', and you did what you were told.

At the trial, the prosecution did not lay charges against McLachlan in respect of the second boy.

Judge Brazabon told McLachlan: "You've brought shame on yourself and disgrace upon your church."

Judge Brazabon sentenced McLachlan to 3 years 8 months jail.

More victims: Guilty plea

The publicity about McLachlan's October 2000 conviction prompted more of his victims to seek justice. In July 2001 in the Brisbane District Court, McLachlan, then aged 68, pleaded guilty to nine charges of indecent treatment of boys under 14 and one of indecent assault from 1965 to 1974 while he was a parish priest. The court was told McLachlan used his position of trust to intimidate his victims.

McLachlan had offered a boy the paid job of altar boy at weddings. He told another boy that if he complained he would "go to hell" and "God would punish his family".

In one case McLachlan had used the guise of "sex education" to molest a boy. Another boy was punished by nuns when he refused to do chores for McLachlan.

"He was a predator who molested his victims while all the time masquerading as a man of God," the prosecutor said.

Judge Julie Dick sentenced McLachlan to 18 months' jail on top of the three years and eight months he was already serving.

Charged again in 2015

On 16 November 2015, Brisbane Magistrates Court was told that Paul McLachlan (now 82) has been charged by police in 2015 with offences committed against another boy forty years ago.

The charges include four counts of indecently dealing with a boy under 17, two charges of unlawful indecent assault and one count of procuring indecent practices between males.

McLachlan did not appear at this hearing, because of medical issues. He is able to apply for bail. The case will come up again in court on another date.

This complainant contacted the police after being prompted by the proceedings of Australia's national Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

[Paul McLachlan's name has sometimes been mis-spelt as Paul McLauchlan, Paul McLaughlan and Paul McLaughlin.]