The Catholic Church Helped Father Peter Chalk to Get Away from Australia to Japan

Broken Rites
September 20, 2010

Broken Rites Australia is researching Father Peter Chalk, who was a priest in a Catholic religious order called the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (or MSC). This order, which is sometimes known as the "Sacred Heart Fathers", operates some parishes and schools in Australia. The order provides opportunities for its Australian priests to travel overseas. At any one time, a significant proportion of the order's Australian priests are serving in Asia, especially Japan.

In the 1970s, Chalk lived with about seven other MSC priests in the "Sacred Heart Monastery", which the order then operated at Croydon in Melbourne's east. This monastery was involved in the training of priests for the MSC order. During the late 1970s, Chalk also ministered at a nearby parish (St Anne's), conducted by the MSC order, serving the suburbs of Park Orchards and Warrandyte. As part of his role in that parish, Chalk conducted a youth group.

About 1980, he was an assistant priest at another MSC parish St John the Apostle, Kippax, in Canberra. This parish has published a list of assistant priests who have served there. The list includes: "Peter Chalk (1980 - Japanese Studies)". This indicates that Chalk was then pursuing studies relating to Japan.

The 1981 Australian Catholic directory gave Chalk's address as the Yarra Theological Union (an ecclesiastical college) in Box Hill, Melbourne.

But his name was deleted from the 1983 directory. Evidently, at some stage, the MSC order arranged for Chalk to transfer to its overseas operations in Japan. The July 2010 edition of the annual Australian Catholic Directory says: "The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart are in 57 countries worldwide. The Australian Province includes Australia, Japan, Central Pacific and Papua New Guinea."

Broken Rites learned that Peter Chalk has established a new career for himself in Japan, teaching English. He gained Japanese citizenship.

Meanwhile, some persons who had encountered Father Peter Chalk in Australia (either as members of a parish youth group or as a young trainee for the priesthood) spoke to Chalk's superiors and colleagues about those encounters. But the MSC order quietly allowed these reports to gather dust.

For example, one former youth-club member (Mr P.M., born in 1963) says he encountered Father Chalk in the mid-1970s, aged 12 onwards, in youth-group activities. He says that in 1987, when he was 24, he reported his Chalk experiences to the new parish priest in charge of Melbourne's Park Orchards parish, Father Frederick Van Gestel.

Fred Van Gestel, who has since left the priesthood, passed this report on to his superiors, including Father James Fallon, who was then one of the most senior priests in the MSC order's Australian province. Father Jim Fallon then wrote a letter to Father Van Gestel, stating:

"Fred, I see no need for [the then head of the order] to be informed of this matter at this stage."

Eventually, Peter Chalk and the MSC order "officially" parted company. In the late 1990s, the MSC Australian headquarters stated that Chalk left the MSC order "in 1996" and that he then stayed on in Japan as a lay person.

Over the years, a number of people have contacted Broken Rites Australia, reporting encounters that they had with Chalk when they were young in Melbourne in the 1970s.

In recent years, the MSC order in Australia has claimed (unconvincingly) that it "does not know" what Chalk is doing now, or where, but some persons who encountered him when they were young Melbourne in the 1970s would like to know.

In July 2010, Broken Rites Australia received a tip that former Father Peter Chalk was now living (under the name Peter Shiraishi, or Shirashi) in Emerald Town, Nirayama, Japan.

This tip eventually enabled The Australian newspaper to track down Peter Chalk in Japan, and the newspaper published a long article about "Peter Shiraishi" on its front page in the Weekend Australian on 18 September 2010, together with a recent photograph of him.

In 2010, the current head of the MSC Australian province (which still includes Japan) is Father Timothy Brennan, located at Coogee in Sydney. It is interesting that in recent years, Fr Tim Brennan has been a co-chair of the Catholic Church's National Committee for Professional Standards the body which superintends the handling of church sex-abuse complaints in Australia.

It is strange that the MSC order claims not to know what Peter Chalk is doing now, or where. Broken Rites and The Australian newspaper were able to find out.

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