Allegations against former St Kevin's head of junior school referred to police by child safety authorities
By Louise Milligan
Australian Broadcast Corporation
March 02, 2020
|Peter Finnigan (far right) was previously the assistant dean of faith and mission at St Kevin's College. |
|Peter Finnigan is the Dean of Junior School (Years 7-9) at Mazenod College in Melbourne.|
|Mazenod College is one of Victoria's leading Catholic boys' secondary schools.|
Child safety authorities have made numerous referrals to Victoria Police over allegations about teachers following a Four Corners investigation into Melbourne's prestigious boys' school, St Kevin's College.
St Kevin's new acting principal, John Crowley, Victoria's Commissioner for Children and Young People (CCYP) and the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) have been given information containing potential concerns of conduct about several teachers which has then been passed on to police for investigation.
Four Corners understands that at least four referrals by the CCYP to Victoria Police relate to Peter Finnigan, who had been a very senior member of staff at St Kevin's and other prominent Catholic boys' schools around Australia.
St Kevin's has been in the spotlight since a Four Corners investigation in mid-February revealed how the school did not support a student victim through a child sex offence trial.
Five teachers have left St Kevin's College since the story aired including the headmaster and his deputy following criticism of the school's handling of complaints.
Victoria's Regulations and Safety Authority is also investigating St Kevin's response to complaints after the State's Education Minister, James Merlino, raised concerns.
Mr Finnigan, a former Christian Brother, was head of the St Kevin's junior school until 2011 and then taught at the senior campus.
He left in 2014 to become assistant principal at Brisbane's St Joseph's Gregory Terrace.
Mr Finnigan is now dean of the junior school at another prominent Melbourne Catholic boys' school, Mazenod College in Mulgrave, in the city's south-east.
St Kevin's College notified Mazenod's principal, Tony Coghlan, about the concerns on February 20.
Mr Finnigan went on leave the following day pending the results of an independent investigation commissioned by the school.
"As Mazenod College is the teacher's current employer, it is our responsibility to report the allegations arising from his previous school to the CCYP," Mr Coghlan said.
"It's our legal responsibility, but it's also the right thing to do," he said.
Mr Coghlan declined to comment on the details of any current investigations, but reassured parents that "the safety and wellbeing of students in our care is paramount."
"The college has been working diligently with the other school to ensure a thorough and fair investigation."
In a statement to Four Corners, Victoria Police said they had received several reports of incidents.
"The reports, and any other information received by police, will now be assessed.
"While this process is underway it would be inappropriate to comment further."
Finnigan gave evidence at Cardinal Pell's trial
Mr Finnigan became publicly known when he gave evidence in the trial of Catholic Cardinal George Pell, as he was the St Patrick's Cathedral choir marshal at the time when two teenage choirboys were abused by Pell.
After his evidence, in which the court heard he was a strict disciplinarian and would have known if the two boys had gone missing after mass, Mr Finnigan walked past the prisoner's dock and shook Pell's hand.
County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd expressed his disappointment to the defence team that this had taken place and said, "It's not a good look, and the jury would have noticed."
Chief Judge Kidd then told the court that witnesses were no longer permitted to walk past the dock where Pell was sitting.
'We cannot be complacent': Victoria's Children Commissioner
Victoria's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Liana Buchanan, said she could not discuss particular cases, but said that concerns raised about any potential conduct must be fully investigated.
"I commend the courage of those who have taken the confronting decision to speak out," Ms Buchanan said.
"We cannot be complacent and we cannot assume organisations are always prioritising children's safety over their own reputations," she said.
Most states now have very strict mandatory reporting laws for staff in schools.
Anyone found to have not disclosed to authorities when they have a reasonable belief about child safety risks can be criminally prosecuted in Victoria.