|After 20 Years, Former Priest Abuser Peter Chalk Is Revealed
September 17, 2010
FOR more than 15 years, former Catholic priest Peter Chalk had been living a quiet life in a secluded Japanese village in the shadows of Mount Fuji.
Although fluent in Japanese, Chalk largely kept to himself, dividing his time between the local high school, where he taught English, and his rambling country house at the bottom of a forested gully on the outskirts of the tiny village of Emerald Town.
But the Australian calling himself Peter Shiraishi was hiding a dark secret from his time as a priest in Melbourne during the 1970s. When the former Missionaries of the Sacred Heart father opened the door to his house on Tuesday, he was confronted with a raft of child sex allegations from his previous life - claims the Catholic Church had helped ensure lay dormant for many years.
The Weekend Australian can today lift the lid on an international cover-up of alleged child abuse involving the church's influential Missionaries of the Sacred Heart order in Victoria in the 1980s and 90s. The investigation has found that members of the order covered up Chalk's alleged abuse of at least a dozen children of parishioners and members of a Catholic youth group in Melbourne. By the time the first complaint was made in 1987, Chalk had been allowed to relocate overseas to act in senior roles in the order's international operations.
The order failed to bring him back to Australia to face his victims, leaving some so distressed they contemplated suicide.
By 1995, Chalk had left the priesthood, and established himself as a teacher in the Japanese school system and obtained Japanese citizenship.
Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Australia, complicating any efforts by Australian authorities to bring him back to face justice.
The revelations, which come at a time when Pope Benedict XVI is under fire over the church's handling of such abuse in Britain, have infuriated his Australian victims. They have demanded an inquiry into the case and claim the church is still not dealing appropriately with cases of abuse.
An unrepentant Chalk this week denied the abuse allegations but admitted he might have indulged in some "crude behaviour or language" when he was a parish priest.
He said he would not be coming to Australia to face any investigation. "I would doubt that the police from Australia would even come here," he said. "Would they, to interview a Japanese citizen?"
Chalk launched an extraordinary attack on his Australian accusers.
"My recollection of the young Australians at the time - and things may be different now - but, going back 30 years or 35 years, the young people themselves were actually doing their best . . . to get people like myself . . . to actually help them obtain information. I would say, in other words, that the so-called victims in many cases were themselves out to get the maximum information, maximum amount of fun in these so-called crude areas.
"There certainly seems to be some kind of a desire, especially in English-speaking countries, to make a big issue of these things. What the exact motivation of people is I don't really know."
Chalk said children as young as 14 should be considered as adults.
"Depending on the individual, perhaps from 14 or so onwards, many of these people should be considered . . . maybe not adult but certainly not under age."
One of his Australian victims yesterday described his comments as highly inflammatory.
Victorian drycleaner Peter Murphy, who was one of the first to blow the whistle on Chalk when the priest was working in the parishes of Warrandyte and Park Orchards in Melbourne's east in the mid-1970s, said: "That's disgusting, that's just beyond belief."
Murphy, who says he was abused over several years from the age of 12, has alleged the attacks began one day when he was home sick in Warrandyte. Chalk came to check on him and allegedly abused him in his bedroom.
Murphy has also alleged that Chalk took boys to drive-in movies, provided them with pornographic magazines and alcohol, and abused them or masturbated in front of them.
He recalled a final attack in about June 1977 during a group camping expedition at The Launching Place on Melbourne's outskirts, when Chalk allegedly tried to get into his sleeping bag. He said he managed to fight the priest off by rolling out of the shelter and spent the night distraught, out in the rain, as another boy was allegedly abused in his place.
Murphy said he approached the then new parish priest, Father Fred Van Gestel, in late 1987.
Chalk was by then a leading light in the church in Japan.
Van Gestel, who has since left the priesthood, confirmed this week he had received complaints about the abuse and described the church's mishandling of them as "one of the great regrets" of his life.
Van Gestel said he immediately raised the abuse allegations with his supervisors, specifically Father Jim Fallon, who at the time was second in charge of the order. Nothing was done.
The Weekend Australian has obtained a copy of a letter Fallon sent to Van Gestel, urging him to leave the complaints in his hands and refrain from alerting those higher in the church.
"Fred, I see no need for Jim Littleton (the then head of the order) to be informed of this matter at this stage," Fallon wrote. "I will take responsibility of seeing it through. If something eventuates whereby you believe higher authority needs to be involved, let me be that higher authority."
Fallon has since died.
Van Gestel said he believed Fallon was a friend of Chalk and that the only action he took was to shift him to other duties in Japan.
Chalk's background in Japanese studies and his strong grasp of the language allowed him to fit easily into Japanese society after he fled Australia.
Van Gestel said he believed there had been 18 victims.
Murphy said that as a result of the cover-up he had waited years for any action from the church.
In 1993 he finally approached Victoria Police, who mounted an investigation and assembled a significant file on Chalk.
The Weekend Australian spoke this week to several victims who confirmed Murphy's account and expressed similar outrage. They, like Murphy, said they would not have closure until Chalk came back and faced the allegations.
Former detective Norm Free, who worked on the case, confirmed that substantial work had gone into the investigation in the 1990s, including hiring the police helicopter to photograph a Catholic property where abuse allegedly occurred.
However, he said police did not seek to extradite Chalk. At one point they believed he might try to re-enter the country to visit his sick mother and were preparing to pounce but the visit never eventuated.
Van Gestel agreed the church had still not properly dealt with the complaints.
"Until they start living out the principles of Jesus in this matter, they are never dealing with it," he said. "There's a lot of victims who haven't got closure. I know one victim who was suicidal."
The current head of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Father Tim Brennan, said yesterday: "It may well be that matters could have been handled in a more appropriate way in the past."
He confirmed there had been "complaints from a number of individuals and families" involving alleged misconduct by Chalk and said those families had been offered counselling and support.
Brennan said the then provincial of the order, Father Brian Gallagher, had directed Chalk to return to Australia. His failure to respond to that direction had resulted in him resigning from the order and leaving the priesthood.
A teacher at Katoh Gakuen High School said yesterday: "Mr Shiraishi" had taught at the school for 15 years until his retirement in March. He said he was shocked to hear the claims against him and there had been no complaints against him during his time at the school.
"That is totally unimaginable," he said. "I have never heard of any complaints or negative rumours about Mr Shiraishi. He was a really quiet, sedate and earnest teacher while he was here.
"He was a good teacher with a wonderful personality, no flaws at all. There was nothing notable or suspicious from his acts at school.
"I just cannot believe it."
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