Melbourne priest stood down over historical child sex abuse claim

The Age [Melbourne, Australia]

December 14, 2022

By Marta Pascual Juanola

A priest has been stood down after he was accused of sexually abusing a student while he was principal at a Catholic all-boys school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs in the mid-1990s.

Father Hugh Brown is alleged to have abused the student at Whitefriars Catholic College For Boys in Donvale when he headed the school between 1989 and 1996.

Father Hugh Brown was the principal of Whitefriars College from 1989 to 1996.

Brown denied the allegation, telling The Age he was not aware of the details or the identity of the former student.

“In my personal and professional life I have never abused any person and that especially applies to any minors in my care as a principal,” he said.

“I feel extremely bewildered by the situation and am profoundly saddened for all victims of child abuse.”

Current school principal Mark Murphy said Brown, who belongs to the Carmelite religious order, had been suspended from the school board, where he held the role of provincial delegate.

The college emailed parents and staff on Sunday to inform them of “a serious matter involving a former principal” and encouraging them to contact police if they had concerns about their children’s wellbeing.

“This is a very serious accusation against Father Brown, which he denies emphatically,” the email says. “Any allegation of harm to a child is profoundly distressing and both the college and the Carmelite Provincial Council are co-operating fully with authorities in relation to this matter.”

In a statement, the order confirmed it had stood Brown down from his parish roles at St Joseph’s Port Melbourne and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middle Park while investigations into the allegations were ongoing.

Brown was planning to retire from both parishes in January.

“The Carmelites acknowledge the significant distress and impact of childhood sexual abuse, as well as the complexities of investigating allegations of historical abuse,” the statement read.

“Out of respect for the welfare and privacy of both the accuser and accused, the Carmelites will be making no further comment until the relevant investigations have been completed.”

The school said it had agreed to provide police with any relevant documents from Brown’s tenure.

A police spokeswoman confirmed officers from the Box Hill sexual offences and child abuse team were investigating the allegations, but declined to comment further on the case.

“The incident remains under investigation and as such, [it] wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further at this time,” she said.