A former Christian Brother is brought to justice - again

Broken Rites
May 21, 2015

After committing sexual crimes against boys, Christian Brother Stephen Francis Farrell left his religious order. He then taught in other Catholic schools as "Mister" Farrell and he married three times. But, by December 2013, three of his earlier pupils had got him convicted for his crimes. In one of the court hearings (in 1997), Farrell was supported in court by Jesuit priest Michael McGirr (this made Farrell's victims feel that they were being abused again). In May 2015, several of Farrell's victims gave evidence at a public hearing of Australia's national child-abuse Royal Commission.

In the early 1970s, St Alipius Catholic boys' primary school in Ballarat (105 kilometres west of Melbourne) had four classes: for grades 3, 4, 5, and 6. In the early 1970s, four Christian Brothers there were committing sexual crimes against their pupils. In addition, the school chaplain, Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale, was doing likewise.

Brother Stephen Farrell, then aged in his early twenties, taught at St Alipius school in 1973-74.

Brother Farrell left St Alipius School at the end of 1974. He then ceased being "Brother" Farrell but, for several years, he continued to work as a lay teacher in other Catholic schools and even served as principal at a Melbourne school.

  • In 1997, two of Farrell's victims from 1973-74 spoke (separately) to detectives of the Victoria Police, who then charged Farrell in the Ballarat Magistrates Court.  Jesuit Father Michael McGirr, who conducted the wedding service for Farrell's third marriage, gave character evidence in court for Farrell during the pre-sentence proceedings. Farrell was convicted, with a suspended jail sentence. (Since then, Michael McGirr has left the Jesuit Order.)
  • In 2013, after another of Farrell's victims (from 1974) spoke to detectives, Farrell was convicted regarding this additional victim. This time, Farrell was given a custodial sentence.
Court case #1, in 1997

In the Ballarat Magistrates Court on 17 January 1997, Farrell (then aged 45) pleaded guilty to nine counts of indecently assaulting two boys (aged nine and ten) at St Alipius.

The prosecution said that Brother Farrell sexually abused the ten-year-old boy five times, beginning in early 1973. Farrell was then about 21 years old.

The abuse occurred in several locations: in the school's sick bay when the boy was being treated for an injury; at the boy's home; and while camping at a seaside town.

The sexual abuse of the younger boy began in 1974 when the victim was in Grade 5. The locations were: in a sporting storage room where Farrell had taken the victim during class; on a school trip; and in a classroom after school.

The court was told that Farrell was recruited to train as a Christian Brother at 15 years of age.

Farrell's defence lawyer said that Brother Farrell was not the only offender in the Christian Brothers. The lawyer said: "We now know this sort of behaviour was rampant in the Brothers for many years." He said that Farrell had waited for 25 years "for the knock on the door" from police and had felt like he was waiting for a train.

The defence lawyer said that Brother Farrell had come from a "very good Catholic family" and his parents had been "pillars of the church". Farrell's mother had dreamed of having a member of the family join the Christian Brothers. The lawyer said that in the 1970s, the Brothers were respected. [That is, in the 1970s,  the above-mentioned  "rampant abuse" within the Christian Brothers was concealed from the police and from the public].

The magistrate, Mr Ian von Einem, sentenced Farrell to two years' jail, suspended for two years.

After leaving the Christian Brothers, Farrell married three times. Jesuit Father Michael McGirr, who conducted Farrell's third wedding, gave character evidence in court for Farrell at the January 1997 hearing.

Court case #2, in 2013

In the same court in December 2013, Stephen Farrell (aged 62) pleaded guilty to a fresh charge of indecent assault on a 10-year-old boy at St Alipius parish school in 1974.

Ballarat Magistrates Court was told that  Stephen Francis Farrell was 22 years old when he assaulted the boy.

The court was told that Farrell was teaching the victim during an art class in late 1974 when the victim spilt paint on his pants. According to the prosecution, Farrell told the victim to go straight to the sick bay and take his pants off. Shortly after this, Farrell also went to the sick bay and indecently assaulted the boy.

According to the prosecution, the boy "completely froze" before running home and telling his mother of the assault. The court was told that the victim's mother later discussed the assault with Brother Paul Nangle, former headmaster of St Patrick's College, Ballarat. But the police were not notified. [St Patrick's College is a prominent boarding school, where the Brothers from St Alipius had their living quarters.]

This victim said, in a victim impact statement, that the day he was assaulted was the "worst and scariest" day of his life.

Sentencing Farrell on 19 December 2013, Magistrate Michelle Hodgson said that Farrell had exploited his position of power to sexually abuse a 10-year-old boy in his care. The community must know that the courts denounce such behaviour, she said.

"Slowly but surely we have come to realise many of these sexual predators are people who have taken advantage of positions of power," Ms Hodgson said. "We forget, in a more secular 2013, the power the church wielded over families."

She said the effect of such offending on victims was "profound".

Ms Hodgson sentenced Farrell to three months jail (not suspended). She ordered that Farrell be placed on the sex offenders register for life.

Farrell then incidated that he would appeal against the custodial jail sentence. The court granted him bail until the matter goes to Victoria's Appeal Court during 2014.


Apart from Stephen Francis Farrell, the other paedophile teachers who were committing crimes at the St Alipius school in the 1970s were: Brother Robert Charles Best (jailed in the 1990s), Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan (jailed in the 1990s); and Brother Gerald Leo Fitzgerald (he died on 23 August 1987, while Australia's Catholic priests and brothers seemed to be immune from police action).

The St Alipius school chaplain, while these crimes were being committed in the early 1970s, was Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale (jailed in the 1990s).

The Christian Brother Stephen Farrell at St Alipius in Victoria must not be confused with a MARIST Brother of the same name in New  South Wales.


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