A Christian Brother molested students in public in their classroom

Broken Rites
May 21, 2015

A Christian Brother, Peter John Toomey, had a habit of indecently assaulting students at a Melbourne Catholic secondary school in the presence of other students, a court has been told. Toomey also taught in other schools including in Ballarat, in regional Victoria. In May 2015, Brother Toomey was mentioned by a Ballarat victim at a public hearing of Australia's national child-abuse Royal Commission 2015.

Peter Toomey joined the Victoria-Tasmania province of the Christian Brothers order (the St Patrick's province) about 1967, when he was aged 18. In 1972, aged 23, he was teaching a variety of subjects in Years 7 and 8 at Trinity Regional College in Brunswick, in Melbourne's inner north.

In 1998, an ex-student of this school ("Boris", born in 1960) was having a personal crisis at the age of 38. In discussions with his parents, he revealed how he had been sexually abused by Brother Toomey at the Brunswick school in 1972-3, when he was aged 12. Boris's father then phoned Broken Rites, asking how to obtain justice. Broken Rites explained that this was a matter for the Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child-abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT).  Broken Rites provided the phone number of the SOCIT unit.

Boris told the SOCIT unit that he was not Toomey’s only victim. Police managed to locate ten of Toomey’s former students, who provided written statements. These were not necessarily Toomey’s only victims — they were merely those who were interviewed by police. The case was investigated by Detective Tony Mousa of the Brunswick Criminal Investigation Unit, Melbourne.

In November 2005, Brother Peter John Toomey, then aged 56, appeared in the Melbourne County Court, charged with indecently assaulting ten pupils, aged 11 and 12, at the Brunswick school in 1972 and 1973. Toomey pleaded guilty to ten incidents — one incident per student.

What Toomey did

The court was told that Toomey would order each victim to sit on his knee while he touched the boy's body indecently. [This constitutes the crime of "indecent assault" of a child.]

Crown prosecutor Marc Sargent said Toomey said Toomey used the strap to punish students, and one victim described how he was made to read a book while his genitals were fondled through his trousers, and then (he said) he received the strap on both hands for not concentrating.

A statement from one victim described Toomey as "a cruel figure" who would strap the boys "for almost anything".

A statement from another victim, who was ordered to sit on Toomey's lap on seven occasions, described the boy's years at the school as "four years of hell".

The court was told that Brother Toomey would also watch his pupils change for swimming and sports classes. Two victims recalled his students being made to line up naked and they were then inspected on the basis their bodies were "being checked for mud".

Mr Sargent said Toomey was a trained teacher entrusted to teach boys of very tender years. He said that Toomey's offending was a "gross breach of trust".

Sentencing of Toomey

On 6 December 2005, Toomey appeared in court again for sentencing.

Judge Meryl Sexton said the offences happened during an era (1972-73) when the boys feared corporal punishment if they reported the abuse.

"Each of the victims knew what was happening to the others as they were called up to your desk and were simply grateful that this time it wasn't them," Judge Sexton said.

"These are serious offences committed against the most vulnerable sector of our society — our children."

Judge Sexton told the court that Toomey continued the sex assaults, even after one of boys reported the abuse.

The judge said the abuse had had a devastating impact on Toomey's victims.

Toomey jailed

Judge Sexton sentenced Toomey to 27 months' jail, with 21 months suspended for three years. However, the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions successfully appealed, on behalf of the victims, against the leniency of this sentence. The Court of Appeal increased the sentence to 4 years 3 months jail, with parole after 2 years 6 months.

In accordance with an order made by Judge Sexton, Toomey's name has been placed on the sex offenders' registry. Judge Sexton also ordered Toomey to provide a saliva sample to police for the DNA registry.

Toomey's schools

Trinity Regional College, the subject of the 2005 court case, was located at 33 Saxon Street, Brunswick. In the 1970s it was a boys-only school for Years 7 to 10. This campus later became the Trinity Maronite Catholic College (now a co-educational school).

After being at Trinity Regional College, Brother Peter Toomey moved on to other Christian Brothers schools. It is believed that, in the late 1970s, he was at Cathedral College in East Melbourne.

In the 1980s he was at St Patrick's College, Ballarat, where, he was one of the boarding-house supervisors, having access to boys outside regular school hours

In the early 1990s, a Christian Brothers mailing list said that a Brother Toomey (from the Victoria-Tasmania province) was currently located in a Christian Brothers agricultural school (then called Keaney College, but later re-named the Catholic Agricultural College) at Bindoon in Western Australia. The Bindoon school had boarding facilities.

When Peter Toomey appeared in the Melbourne County Court in November 2005, his lawyer told the court that Toomey recently had been working at a Christian Brothers-run aged-care facility. At the time of his court appearance, Toomey was living at a Christian Brothers address in Brunswick, Melbourne.

Toomey was released from the Ararat Jail (in western Victoria) in 2008. He then went to live at a Christian Brothers address in Melbourne.

After his release from jail, Toomey was still a Christian Brother.

Melbourne lawyers have lodged claims against the Christian Brothers on behalf of a number of Toomey victims, seeking financial settlements for the damage done to the victims' lives.

Peter Toomey was not the only Christian Brother, trained in Victoria in the late 1960s, who ended up with a conviction for child-sex crimes. Another was Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan (known as Brother Ted Dowlan) who was jailed in 1996 for multiple child-sex offences committed in Catholic schools in the 1970s. The Dowlan story is told in an article on this website entitled "The church hid the crimes of Brother Ted Dowlan".


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