Father Peter Chalk, the Priest Who Got Away and How the Church Helped Him

Broken Rites
September 22, 2010

Broken Rites Australia is researching Father Peter Chalk, who has left Australia (and the priesthood) to start a new life in Japan, using a new surname.

Father Peter Chalk 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. For example, for many years, the MSC order's Australian province has conducted activities in Japan.

Broken Rites has checked Father Peter Chalk's movements in the annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directory. In the 1970s, Father Peter Chalk was listed as residing (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, Father Peter Chalk conducted a youth group, which included young teenagers.

About 1980, Father Peter Chalk was listed as 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 indicates that Peter Chalk was currently pursuing "Japanese Studies".

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

Off to Japan

But his name was deleted from the 1983 directory. Evidently, at some stage around this time, the MSC order arranged for Chalk to transfer to its overseas operations in Japan, where he acted in a senior role.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, some persons who had encountered Father Peter Chalk in Australia in the 1970s (either as a member of a parish youth group or as a young trainee for the priesthood) spoke to Chalk's superiors and colleagues about those encounters.

For example, one former youth-club member (named P) says that in the 1970s, when he was aged 12 onwards, he encountered Father Peter Chalk in youth activities. He says that in 1987, when he was in his mid-twenties, 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 P's report on to MSC superiors, including Father James Fallon. Fallon was then one of the most senior priests in the MSC order's Australian province; and he is believed to have been a friend of Chalk.

However, MSC superiors took no action, and Chalk was allowed to continue as a member of the MSC order.

In 1994, after years of inaction by the MSC order, the above-mentioned P (then aged about 30) contacted the police in Melbourne and made a sworn, signed statement about his encounters with Chalk. The Melbourne police then began making inquiries.

A senior priest from the MSC order came to P's house to discuss Chalk. The police had P wired for sound and they recorded the conversation.

Change of surname

In 1995, Chalk left the MSC order.

Chalk then stayed on in Japan as a lay person, establishing a new career for himself teaching English to Japanese high-school students.

Chalk changed his surname to a Japanese one.

In addition, he gained Japanese citizenship.

A consequence of this was that, if Chalk re-entered Australia using a Japanese identity, Australian police would not notice.

Since 1995, if anyone asked the MSC order about Peter Chalk, the order has claimed that it "does not know where Chalk is now or what he is doing".

Chalk's new identity suited the MSC order because, if more reports surfaced about Chalk's Melbourne activities in the 1970s, the order could claim to be no longer responsible for him.

Because Chalk was now apparently hard to find, the Melbourne police investigation in the 1990s did not proceed further.

In the late 1990s, acting separately, four Melbourne males (who said they encountered Father Chalk in the 1970s) submitted statements about their Chalk experiences to the Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese's commissioner on sexual abuse, Mr Peter O'Callaghan, QC. After investigating, Mr O'Callaghan ruled that these statements were indeed substantiated. The archdiocese gave a settlement (plus a written apology) to each of these four persons.

Hello "Peter Shiraishi"

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

This information 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, followed by other articles in subsequent days.

Paradoxically, in 2010, the MSC order has a close connection with the Catholic Church's Australia-wide management of the church's sex-abuse problems. The current head of the MSC order in Australia, Father Timothy Brennan (located in Sydney), is the co-chair of the 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.

On 22 September 2010 the website of The Australian newspaper displayed a three-minute video of an interview, which The Australian's Tokyo correspondent conducted with Peter Chalk at the front door of his house in Emerald Town, near Atami, Japan. The video was posted here.

[with video]

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