Alcohol, beatings and sex predators: Inside Sunbury’s Salesian mansion of pure evil

By Shannon Deery
Herald Sun
August 29, 2015

Rupertswood Mansion in Sunbury, where the Salesians committed their most despicable crimes.

Father Julian Fox has been jailed for child sex abuse.

Rapson as a younger man.

Former priest David Rapson.

JAMES was in year 9 when he was first called to the principal’s office.

It was the late 1980s and he was expecting “six of the best” — a favoured punishment of Father Julian Fox, whose weapon of choice was a pool cue.

Entering the office he saw an older priest sitting in an armchair, and felt a little safer. At least he wasn’t alone. But not even an audience could stop Fox.

He beat the boy then ordered him to drop his pants, sexually assaulting him.

As James left the office, he was stopped by the older priest who handed him a toy puzzle — a reward.

“Good boy,” he told him, patting him on the shoulder.

James is one of hundreds of boys abused by the very men who had been entrusted with his care.

The street kids Don Bosco took under his wing went on to become the first members of the Salesian Society in 1859, an organisation dedicated to caring for children.

The society’s charter has remained unchanged: to care for the physical, developmental and emotional needs of the child.

On his deathbed in 1888, Don Bosco’s final words to those keeping vigil were: “Tell my boys I shall be waiting for them in paradise.’’

But far from paradise, hundreds of kids have instead lived hell on earth.

James was abused at the Catholic order’s Ferntree Gully college, St Joseph’s.

But it was behind the walls of Sunbury mansion Rupertswood where the Salesians committed their most despicable crimes.

The birthplace of the Ashes, it was on the manicured grounds of the gothic mansion that Lady Janet Clarke burnt a bail and presented the first urn to English captain Ivo Bligh after a social match.

The mansion was bought by the Salesians in 1927, half a century after it was completed for Australia’s first baronet Sir William Clarke as a home able to accommodate royalty. It was used as a school and boarding house by the Catholic order until the 1990s.

In that time a sickening club of paedophiles roamed its grand halls and manned its dormitories. Men who protected each other, kept watch for each other and observed a strict code of silence, hiding behind their religious cloaks.

Many had been taught by the Salesians, then hand-picked to join the club.

The eerily similar methods employed to prey on children led some to believe the paedophiles swapped stories, compared notes and shared their secrets of abuse. Others claim they never knew of the goings-on at Rupertswood.

“Most students were aware something was not right but we were powerless to do anything,” one ex-pupil said.

“I remember when I started at the school my brother warned me of which priests to stay away from. I didn’t really understand why but I knew there were just some men I couldn’t be alone with,” another recalled.

For four decades from the 1960s to the 1990s the paedophiles targeted the most vulnerable. Troubled boys from broken homes, boys whose dads had died, boys whose desperate mums had reached out to the Salesians for help. Some had only just started at the school when they were first abused.

One said he was assaulted after two weeks during a “medical exam” performed by priest David Rapson.

“We were told not to laugh and if we did it would prove we liked males,” he said. “We were told it was a medical examination and we were told to pull our pants down.”

The man told police he feared if he did not comply with the priest’s demands he would be punished with physical violence.

Boys were plied with alcohol and cigarettes, beaten into submission, and attacked under the cover of night.

“I must have passed out or fallen asleep. When I woke up I was on the floor in the foetal position,” another victim said. “Father Rapson was on his hands and knees lying over me.” Rapson raped him before he was able to flee.

He said he was later attacked by a colleague of Rapson’s who had given him a lemonade that made him pass out while playing a computer game, just as Rapson had done. He said that after the abuse, the brother told him: “Get out of my sight, you disgust me.”

Another recalled: “At the age of 14, I had done something wrong, was taken out of the dormitory in the early evening, taken to the sports room under the stairs that led to the infirmary, was told to take my pants off, bent over a free standing BBQ and was belted six times with a cricket bat. I literally could not sit for days and was bruised for weeks.”

Some were abused for years, others ran away, or forced the priests to expel them so they would escape their torture.

To date at least five former staff members of Rupertswood have been jailed for sex crimes against children.

Allegations have been made publicly against three others and the Salesians have paid thousands of dollars to victims.

Rapson, a former vice- principal at Rupertswood, is considered to be among the worst of the paedophile priests, preying on boys for two decades.

His crimes were so appalling that Pope John Paul II made the extraordinary decision to defrock him in 2004, following a campaign by his former colleagues.

“God made us this way and it’s his fault,” the young Rapson told colleague Frank Klep who walked in on him molesting a student.

Klep, himself a former principal jailed for abusing 15 boys across two decades, responded: “You’ve really got to resist.”

Rapson told him simply: “You’re one to talk, you’re the same as me.”

Four of the five convicted Salesians became principals or vice-principals of the order’s schools around the country. The fifth became a principal at a government school after being booted out of the order.

But the Salesians provided comfortable boltholes, with suspected priests or brothers shuffled between interstate schools and outposts.

Former priest Michael Aulsebrook, who was jailed for a string of assaults, became principal at a Salesian college in South Australia after allegations against him here.

His twin sister, Margaret Harrod, a former Salesian nun, said the order knowingly covered up his crimes.

One former staff member told the Herald Sun he knew of at least one priest who was spirited away after being accused of molesting students.

“One priest vanished shortly after I arrived, some saying he left because he didn’t like the new administration,” he said. “I learnt a couple of years afterwards that he fled the country due to allegations.”

Father Julian Fox, who had studied under the Salesians in Tasmania before becoming vice-principal at Rupertswood in 1976, was moved to Fiji in 1999 just before allegations against him were made public.

From there he was sent to Rome to work at Salesian headquarters for more than a decade, despite requests for him to return to Australia to face justice.

He finally returned in 2013 after intervention from one of the Vatican’s highest offices, sources say. He is behind bars after being sentenced in the County Court yesterday over the sexual and physical abuse of five victims

Another alleged victim died in 2006, a broke heroin addict, forcing the end of a police investigation. The Salesians had paid him $36,000 in a confidential settlement.

“They may as well have got a gun and shot him. It would’ve been kinder,” said his mum of the Salesians.

She remembers how her son had twice run away during his 18 months at the school but would never say why. “Now I know why,” she said.

In his report to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations, Professor Patrick Parkinson said the Salesians were not only unrepentant, but defiant and untruthful.

“The lies they told, the cover-ups, were breathtaking,” Prof Parkinson said.

Sources say at least 25 new victims have recently made fresh abuse allegations. Some relate to previously convicted priests. Others relate to serving Salesians.

Police are understood to be investigating one member of the order who has been banned from working with children by his superiors.

In the meantime, victims hope the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will turn its attention to Rupertswood.

“The horrors that went on there are unimaginable, and a lot could be learned,” one former student said. “It can never, ever, happen again.”



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