|Priest Pleads Not Guilty to Sex Charges
By Jacqueline Van Aanholt
Northern Daily Leader
September 16, 2008
FATHER Peter Dwyer, Armidale's 65-year-old Catholic parish priest, lodged not guilty pleas to four sexual offence charges in the Bathurst Local Court yesterday.
Fr Dwyer is one of three former St Stanislaus, Bathurst, staff members alleged to have been part of a pedophile ring at the NSW Catholic boarding school in Bathurst.
Fr Dwyer, former priest Brian Spillane and Brother John Gaven lodged not guilty pleas to a total of 128 child sex charges dating from the 1970s and the 1980s via their barrister, Greg Walsh.
Fr Dwyer was arrested in Armidale on Wednesday, September 4.
It was alleged he had engaged in sexual intercourse with pupils aged between 10 and 16 and acts of gross indecency while working at the school. He has denied the charges and recently told the Armidale Express he would fight to clear his name.
Father Dwyer was the fourth person arrested by police from Strike Force Belle, conducted by police from the Chiffley Local Area Command.
The Task Force was established to investigate historical sexual assault offences which are alleged to have occurred at St Stanislaus.
Mr Walsh told yesterday's hearing his three clients were the victims of a "witch hunt"and said his clients "strenuously asserted" their innocence.
"It's a witch hunt," Mr Walsh told reporters outside court.
"I'm gravely concerned that their opportunity to get a fair trial has been grossly affected."
Mr Walsh said the claims had ballooned into "mass hysteria and moral panic".
"These men are innocent," he said. "The allegations are bizarre and they have arisen in very suspicious circumstances."
Mr Walsh said the defence had been hampered because the police had not provided them with their evidence and they were not allowed to approach
Magistrate Tom Hodges yesterday issued an order that the defence lawyers be able to interview witnesses.
He also varied the bail conditions of each of the accused, allowing them to report to police just once a week.
The charges against Fr Dwyer, Spillane and Gaven stem from allegations of sexual abuse made by men who were students at the school during the 1970s and 1980s.
The men claimed they were sexually molested and forced to commit sex acts upon one another during hypnotic late-night prayer and chanting sessions.
Director of Public Prosecutions solicitor Elizabeth Walker told the Bathurst Local Court she expected the case to expand to include another 40 complaints against Fr Spillane alone.
One of the complainants, who has made claims against all three men, told the court yesterday he had witnessed the abuse of up to 60 fellow students.
Now aged in his 30s, the man said he was expelled from the school after first making the complaint in 1986, when he was in Year 7. He said the not guilty pleas were unsurprising and merely a continuation of a culture of denial in the Catholic Church.
"It's just typical.
"The church has been maintaining that response for 100 years," he told reporters.
The court gave the Director of Public Prosecutions until October 27 to compile a brief of evidence of up to 100 submissions.
Mr Spillane, 65, from Narwee in Sydney's south-west, was the only one of the accused men who attended Bathurst Local Court yesterday.
Fr Dwyer moved to Armidale to take on the role of parish priest in 2007.
Prior to his arrival in Armidale Fr Dwyer was the director of the first year program at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush where he was in charge of training prospective priests.
He was originally a student at St Stanislaus' school and later joined the college as a teacher before becoming principal of the school in 1980.
Fr Dwyer was taken out of public ministry by the Catholic Bishop of Armidale the Most Rev Luc Matthys when news of the charges surfaced.
Bishop Matthys said Fr Dwyer would remain out of public ministry until the proceedings against him had been resolved.
The matter will return to Bathurst Local Court on November 10.
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