Priest Paints Graphic Picture of Abuse

By Martin Daly
The Age [Australia]
July 8, 2004

A prominent Salesian Catholic priest, described as the patron saint of kids, has revealed the brutality inflicted on students at the order's Victorian college, Rupertswood, where priests and brothers allegedly assaulted boys over decades.

Father Chris Riley, who runs the Youth Off The Street network and has helped about 45,000 street kids, says a pedophile Salesian brother physically assaulted him when he was a student at the college and he saw fellow students being abused.

School officials say much has changed since Father Riley's school days, not least that the college now accepts girls. But in his account of Rupertswood, contained in the biography Mean Streets Kind Heart: The Father Chris Riley Story by journalist and author Sue Williams, he recalls a time when he knelt in the chapel in tears every day asking God for help.

Former students of Rupertswood, a 50-room Victorian mansion at Sunbury, 35 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, have given detailed accounts to The Age of a regime of violence against them by priests and brothers at the then motherhouse of the Salesians of Don Bosco. They say physical violence was the norm and sexual violence was not unusual.

In his biography, Father Riley says some of the Salesians at Rupertswood "were absolute maniacs" and their violent conduct caused him to have doubts about becoming a priest.

When he went to Rupertswood in 1970, aged 12, there were 500 students, half of whom were boarders. Newcomers were not welcomed.

However, he became close to a particular brother who, angered one day when Riley spoke up for another student, punched him in the face and knocked him to the ground.

The brother then began to manipulate the young Riley, refusing to speak with him at times, then apologising and being friendly. He also threatened to kill himself.

"The brother's erratic behaviour, in addition to Chris feeling so isolated among the other pupils, took a terrible toll on the teenager," Williams writes. "In retrospect, what Chris experienced was common manipulative pedophile behaviour."

The brother's erratic behaviour... took a terrible toll on the teenager. (It) was... manipulative pedophile behaviour.

- Sue WilliamsFather Riley, who was not sexually abused by the brother, said that he later discovered the man was a convicted pedophile.

In the book, he also recalls seeing about two dozen of the youngest students lined up outside the washroom as a group of brothers took turns to belt them on the backsides with a stick.

"He was incensed," Williams writes. "Chris faced up to the tormenters and shouted, 'You can't hit people, you're a Salesian. This isn't the Salesian way'."

Victims and their parents who complained about the abuse in the mid-1980s to the Salesians and to various Catholic archdiocese, including the Archdiocese of Melbourne, allege their complaints were ignored and that their abusers were sent overseas to escape the law.

Father Riley, three times nominated for Australian of the Year, started his mission to help street kids 30 years ago and now runs projects in Victoria, Queensland and NSW.

He is overseas and could not be contacted for comment yesterday. But in the book, he says the violence at Rupertswood was perpetrated by a minority and he grew to respect most of the teachers, brothers and priests.

The head of the Salesian Order in Australia, Father Ian Murdoch, has not answered questions from The Age about Rupertswood.

A number of Salesian priests and brothers who taught at Rupertswood, including Father Frank Klep, have been accused or convicted of sexually abusing students there and at other Salesian institutions. Klep recently returned to Melbourne from Samoa to face further abuse charges and is on remand.

Mean Streets Kind Heart: The Father Chris Riley Story by Sue Williams is published by HarperCollins.


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