The ‘shuffle’ of paedophile priests without punishment

Stuff [Wellington, New Zealand]

July 7, 2022

By Steve Kilgallon

[The Secret History: Uncovering Marist sex abuse

The Marist Brothers and Fathers have educated prime ministers, judges, cardinals and All Blacks at their Catholic high schools. But their record of sexual abuse is horrific.

The Marist Brothers and Fathers have educated prime ministers, judges, cardinals and All Blacks at their prestigious Catholic high schools. But their record of sexual abuse is horrific. Worse still was their handling of the abuse when it was exposed. In this series, The Secret History, Steve Kilgallon investigates the power, abuse and cover-ups at the heart of two highly-influential and wealthy religious groups.

This is Part 3. The remaining chapters will be published in the coming weeks.]

Warning: This story may be upsetting to some.

When Rupene Amato sat with his schoolfriends at lunchtime one day in the early 1980s, they began discussing what happened when they were called for individual ‘sex education’ lessons with the new priest. They all realised it was wrong – and agreed to tell their parents.

But Rupene, then 11, was too frightened to tell his mum and dad, worried he would get a hiding for speaking up. Other children did talk. Within a few days, the priest, a Marist Father, had left town. Rupene never saw him again.

“There was no explanation given as to why he left,” he recalled to the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care, which is investigating sexual abuse in the church. “Nobody from school or the church talked to us about it. He was there one day, and gone the next.”

They call it the ‘geographic cure’ or the ‘shuffle’. The Catholic Church worldwide had a way to deal with sex offenders: to move them. It’s their universal playbook, says Catholic sexual abuse expert Father Tom Doyle. “It was used everywhere,” he says. “It was the default.”

The Marist Brothers and Fathers had a huge influence on New Zealand society as the largest provider of a Catholic education (about 9% of Kiwis are Catholic-educated) – which also gave abusers among them great access to children. The church’s own statistics, widely acknowledged as a significant undercount, say 12% of Brothers and 6% of Fathers were abusers.

Both groups regularly moved their members around New Zealand to fulfil their teaching duties. At their peak, the Brothers supplied 287 teachers to schools nationwide.

In 1978, two of those men were Kevin Peter Healy – known as Brother Gordon – and Michael George Beaumont, who were both posted to St Joseph’s College for Boys (now Chanel College), in the Wairarapa town of Masterton.

Michael Beaumont and Kevin Healy abused, were moved, and abused again.

The Thompson* family was the cornerstone of the nearby St Patrick’s parish.

Anna Thompson’s* parents served on the school board and parish council, and her father helped repair the school and worked for the bishop. They ran prayer groups at home. “My life was church, school and home: every one of those areas involved the clergy,” says Anna. “We weren’t just Sunday Catholics, it was our way of life.”

It was at those home prayer groups where seven-year-old Anna was assaulted. Beaumont abused her during a prayer session after dinner, where the family said the rosary – a Catholic prayer cycle which takes at least half an hour to complete. Beaumont sat next to her, and as the others closed their eyes in prayer, he molested her. She was petrified and ran from the room afterwards.

Healy, meanwhile, came into her bedroom insisting on a goodnight kiss, then gave her a prolonged tongue-kiss; it was, she said, “revolting… I felt disgusted”.

Her father Barry* recalled seeing Beaumont’s hand on his daughter’s leg and both men visiting her room and feeling “uncomfortable”. He knew both Healy and Beaumont had reputations within the Masterton Catholic community.

In a statement he gave years later to police, Barry Thompson* said he’d spoken to other prayer-group parents who were concerned at Beaumont’s “over-familiarity … with other children, and especially young girls. We discussed it and concluded that he had a problem in ‘that’ area”.

They asked Beaumont to resign from the group and the youth choir, and seek help. “We never used words like paedophilia in those days, but that is the problem we were referring to when talking to him.”

Healy, meanwhile, was known as “touchy feely and creepy… it was common knowledge Brother Gordon liked the boys at that time”.

Anna, likewise, recalls her mother’s response when she told her about Healy’s assault: “Oh, I thought he was one for the boys”.

She says parents knew of an incident involving Healy on a school camp, an assault witnessed by Thompson’s brother (offending which Healy later admitted).

“The conversations were quite open about Kevin Healy being a bloody perve and a creep,” Anna says. “All the parents knew about Kevin Healy raping and feeling up boys.”

Barry Thompson approached the parish priest, Father Pettit (the brother of a convicted paedophile Marist Brother, Claudius Pettit) and asked him to inform the school principal, Carl Tapp, who was also a senior Marist Brother.

Beaumont and Healy swiftly left town. “I assumed the matter would be addressed by the appropriate bodies and life went on,” wrote Barry Thompson.

It’s unclear if any formal action was taken in either case; the Marist Brothers have declined to discuss individual cases with Stuff.

But Healy had actually been promoted: in 1979 he was appointed headteacher and form two master of Marist Intermediate in Miramar, Wellington.

“So a year later, they’ve just moved him [Healy] over the hill, so he can carry on his merry way,” says Graham Rush*.

Graham, then aged 11, was in Healy’s form class. Graham was from a tough background, with a violent alcoholic father who frequently beat him.

“Kevin Healy must have picked up pretty quickly on the dysfunctionality,” he thinks. “He made a beeline for me. He picked me out. It [abuse] became an everyday occurrence.”

The episode which looms most vividly in Graham’s memory came after a compulsory swimming lesson. Graham hadn’t wanted to swim that day – he was covered in bruises from another beating and couldn’t face the embarrassment of his classmates seeing his body. Another Brother forced him to swim.

Afterwards, he says, “I was in the changing room, togs on, I was in tears, all my mates had seen me,” and Healy arrived, and told him to stay behind.

Healy, he says, would also turn up at home to see his mother, and Graham and his older brother would plead for her not to allow him in the house.

“She didn’t know what to believe. And I suppose in a way she didn’t say anything to try to keep the peace in the household.”

The abuse continued into Graham’s form two year. Midway through that year, he’d had enough. He’d told his mother, a Catholic social worker and his Police Youth Aid worker, but none believed him: “They [the Brothers] were next to God, and I was off the rails… I started rebelling.”

Healy’s response was to tell a child psychologist that Graham should be removed from the family home and placed at the notorious Epuni Boys’ Home, since exposed as a deeply violent and abusive institution. Graham says he’s seen the notation in his files, having requested to view them last year. He’s convinced it was to cover Healy’s tracks.

After Epuni, he was placed as a boarder at the same school where Healy had taught when he abused Anna Thompson*.

“I then put my middle finger up to society. It led to a life where, looking back, I had a lot of fun, but I was always in trouble with the police and in bad relationships.”

Desperate to break the cycle and end his skirmishes with the law, Graham took non-violence courses, had psychological counselling and forgave his father in an effort to change and be a good parent to his two sons.

But not until seeing a Stuff story three years ago about Healy’s offending did he finally realise what was wrong.

“I saw that picture and I remembered his gold watch with the elastic gold strap, and how hairy the back of his hands were. I had put up a mental block about all of that stuff, and I think that was the reason I kept self-destructing. I had stopped drinking and taking drugs and this just hit me like a ton of shit and this was the missing bit for me. I’m lucky I saw that picture… otherwise I would still be in that hole.”

Graham is angry that Healy was simply moved. “They knew about him. They knew what he was doing in the Wairarapa. And they just threw him over the hill to Wellington. And wherever else he went, you can guarantee he would have been offending against some kids.

“They just got moved on, take you out of that community and go wreck another, and there’s no accountability.”

Healy, now aged 82 and no longer a Marist Brother, was convicted last year on two representative charges of indecently assaulting boys under 16 (one of them Graham), and one charge of indecently assaulting a boy, during his three years at Marist Miramar. He served six months’ home detention.

In 2020, Healy was also convicted of five charges of indecent assault on four boys and one girl – Anna Thompson* – during his time in the Wairarapa, ordered to serve nine months’ home detention and be placed on the sex offenders’ register. He had earlier argued he should not have to face a trial because of his age. He has declined previous requests for comment.

Michael Beaumont also kept teaching after his hasty exit from Masterton.

In 1988, he was at Marcellin College in Auckland, where he was accused of molesting a girl on a school camp. The girls’ parents complained to the school principal, Br Roger Dowling, whom they said first told them that as it happened on a camp it was not his responsibility, and later said he found the situation difficult to deal with.

The girls’ parents were eventually promised Beaumont would leave, but he remained at the school the following year, so they removed their daughter. They subsequently complained to the Marist Brothers.

Stuff contacted Dowling, now in a retirement home, who denied that version of events. “There was a class picnic and a stupid incident on Michael’s part was blown up, the staff member with him said there was no case, but he took it upon himself to pull out of the school. He chose to leave… there’s a difference between doing something and having it proved. There was nothing proved. His staying at Marcellin wasn’t sensible.”

Dowling said he was never told of Beaumont’s previous offending: “No not at all. You are the first one who has.”

In 2018, Beaumont was charged for the assaults on Anna Thompson* and two 12-year-old girls, also in the 1970s. When he was arrested at his home in Onehunga, Auckland, police found violent paedophilic fantasy writing on a USB stick.

At the time, he was working part-time for the Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand (TCI) and part-time for the Auckland Catholic diocese. Among his duties was answering calls to a family violence helpline. TCI staff were invited to pray for Beaumont on the eve of his trial, someone present at that meeting told Stuff.

Beaumont was convicted and sentenced to a year’s home detention. He now lives with his wife in south Auckland. Attempts to contact him for comment were unsuccessful.

It’s not unusual that two abusers such as Beaumont and Healy were together in one small town at once. Stuff has several other examples of the continued centrifugal movement of priests and brothers creating paedophile clusters.

In a justice honours degree thesis, Queensland University of Technology academic Sally Mujytens explored the possibility that paedophile “dark networks” operated within the Victorian Catholic Church, creating an organised, self-protecting network which worked together, facilitated by a ‘grey’ network of non-abusive but enabling clergy.

It’s clear some offenders changed location more frequently than other priests and brothers.

Between 1932 and 1960, Brother Fabian O’Driscoll – who died in 2006 – relocated ten times. O’Driscoll has since faced multiple credible abuse allegations.

One of his survivors is Christopher Longhurst, the leader of the New Zealand chapter of SNAP (Support Network of those Abused by Priests), who was abused by O’Driscoll, aged 11, at Napier’s Sacred Heart College in 1980.

“Why was he being transferred so quickly?” asks Longhurst. “I suspect it is because they did know.”

Longhurst, who was given just $15,000 for the horrific abuse he endured, believes five complaints have been laid posthumously against O’Driscoll, and he knows of a dozen abused by him. Stuff has talked to two more abused by O’Driscoll in Whanganui, during his posting there from 1960 to 1965.

Whanganui was a hotbed of paedophilia at that time. O’Driscoll taught at the city’s Marist Brothers primary alongside Brothers Claudius Pettit and Ivan ‘Brother Benedict’ Bulled.

The principal of the neighbouring high school, St Augustine’s (now Cullinane College) was Marist Father Phil Roberts. All four are dead but have credible allegations against them (Pettit was also convicted). “My classmates didn’t deserve that,” says Jim Clifford*, who was abused by O’Driscoll at the age of 12, while his brother, Gordon*, was abused by Bulled.

The Catholic Church failed in an attempt at the Royal Commission to have Roberts’ and Bulled’s names suppressed in relation to Jim’s evidence.

Is it coincidence or planning that drew these men together in the same place and then rapidly moved those who faced allegations?

The Marist groups say the movement of these offenders was incidental, part of a regular rotation of priests and brothers driven by mundane reasons such as health and family needs and teaching requirements.

In a statement, Marist Fathers leader Tim Duckworth, who declined to be interviewed, said: “Records … do not support that the moves of those named were because complaints of sexual abuse against them had come to light.”

Duckworth said promises to reform by offenders were “highly unlikely to be followed through” and said he didn’t believe that recidivism was well understood in the past.

“In these situations a geographical cure never works. Today if a member of the Society has a complaint of sexual abuse upheld against him, he is no longer permitted to continue in ministry.”

Marist Brothers delegate Peter Horide said there was no evidence that, since 1990, any Brother had been moved to avoid the consequences of abuse or allegations.

Before that date he said records weren’t good enough to confirm reasons for a Brother’s movement. “If we were to learn that it was known that a Brother was a predatory abuser and that he was moved by his religious superiors because of a complaint and that he was put in a position to cause further harm, this would be a hugely devastating, awful and appalling revelation.”

He wouldn’t comment specifically about Healy and Beaumont. “There’s no evidence, that’s all I am saying,” he said, when pressed.

This is part three. The remaining parts will be published over the coming weeks.

  • All names with * are pseudonyms.