Catholic religious Brothers accept sex-offenders as members


The Catholic religious order of Christian Brothers in Australia has admitted that when Brothers are found to have committed a child-sex offence, they are not expelled from the Order. Sexually-abusive Brothers know, in advance, that they will be protected.

It was Broken Rites that first documented this Christian Brothers policy for the attention of the Australian public. A Broken Rites researcher was present in the Melbourne County Court in July 1996, taking notes, when Brother Edward Dowlan was jailed for indecently assaulting boys in Victorian Catholic schools. During final pre-sentence submissions by the defence, a senior member of the Christian Brothers leadership (Brother Peter William Dowling, not to be confused with the prisoner Edward Dowlan) told the court that the Christian Brothers “have no policy of excluding a convicted person” from the Order. Therefore, he said, Ted Dowlan would continue to be a member of the Christian Brothers, despite his conviction, “and we will continue to support him.”

After the jailing of Edward Dowlan, Broken Rites showed our notes to a Melbourne journalist. The journalist asked the Christian Brothers’ provincial superior for Victoria and Tasmania (Brother Michael Godfrey) to comment. Next day, the newspaper quoted Godfrey as confirming that Dowlan would not be expelled from the Order, but he would be offered work in “new ministries” of the Christian Brothers.

The court was told that Christian Brothers are now less involved in school-teaching. Most Christian Brothers now belong to “outreach” ministries, working with hospital patients, prisoners, Aborigines, young people in trouble, the disabled and missions in Third World countries.

Christian Brother Damien Anthony Walsh, then aged 42, told the court (while giving pre-sentence “character” evidence for Dowlan) that, in future, the role of the Christian Brothers would not be in teaching or in school administration but in other roles such as counselling. Damien Walsh said that he himself was a project co-ordinator for the Australian AIDS Fund. In court, Walsh did not, at first, identify himself as a Christian Brother but, when questioned by the court, he agreed that he is one.

Another defence witness, Brother Leonard Vincent Francis, who was retired and aged 69 at the time of the Dowlan case, gave an example of his own changing role. Brother Francis told the court that, as a Christian Brother, he taught for 38 years in Australia and New Guinea but then spent years working in a “pastoral care” team at St Vincent’s hospital, Melbourne.

Brother Peter Dowling told the court that in 1996 the Victoria-Tasmania province of the Christian Brothers comprised 190 Brothers (some of whom were working in Fiji and Africa). He said the Christian Brothers were planning “the amalgamation of some of our ministries with other religious orders”.

Brother Michael Godfrey told the media that the Christian Brothers would also retain another member, Brother Robert Charles Best, who was convicted in the same court (and in the same month) as Brother Dowlan for child-sex offences. (At one time, Dowlan and Best even worked together in the same school.)

Dowlan and Best are merely two of a number of criminal prosecutions involving Christian Brothers in Australia in recent years. In addition to convictions, the Christian Brothers administration has made out-of-court civil settlements to a number of other victims who did not want to go to the police. Therefore, all in all, a disturbing number of Christian Brothers have been the subject of child-abuse complaints.


The case of Brother Ted Dowlan, child-abuser

In the 1996 court case, Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan was charged with indecently assaulting young boys while he was a teacher in Victorian Catholic schools between 1971 and 1982. He eventually pleaded guilty.

Edward Vernon Dowlan was born on 4 January 1950. He grew up in Williamstown and Heidelberg (Melbourne suburbs) and was educated by the Christian Brothers at Parade College, East Melbourne. In late 1966 (in Year 11 at school), aged 16, he decided to become a Christian Brother – the court was told that this was his mother’s idea. So, instead of doing Year 12 in a secondary school, he did it in a Christian Brothers “juniorate” and became a member of the Victoria-Tasmania province of the Christian Brothers. (There are three other Christian Brothers provinces in Australia: New South Wales; Queensland; and Western/South Australia.)

After doing further religious education plus teacher training, Brother Ted Dowlan taught at St Alipius primary school (East Ballarat) in 1971, St Thomas More College in Forest Hills (Melbourne) in 1972, St Patrick’s College (Ballarat) in 1973-74), Warrnambool Christian Brothers College (later re-named Emmanuel College) in 1975-76, St Brendan’s in Devonport (Tasmania) in the late 1970s, Chanel College in Geelong in 1980, St Augustine’s boys’ orphanage in Geelong in 1981, Cathedral College (East Melbourne) in 1982-85, St Mary’s Technical School in Geelong in 1987-9 and Geelong Catholic Regional College in 1990-3.

The court was told that the police investigation began after several alleged victims, from different schools, contacted the police sexual offences and child abuse unit (now known as SOCA) in 1993. The SOCA unit soon found more alleged victims.

Guilty plea

Dowlan originally faced 64 charges, including two of buggery, against 23 boys. At first, his lawyers indicated that the defence would contest all these charges fiercely.

Later, after many days of legal argument in the courts, the prosecution and defence reached a compromise. In a plea bargain, the prosecution withdrew many charges, including the more serious charges of buggery. Finally, Dowlan pleaded guilty on 16 counts of indecent assault, including two involving digital penetration, against 11 boys aged from 9 to 13, including two boys at St Alipius, three at St Thomas More, four at St Patrick’s and two at Cathedral college.

According to court documents, Dowlan indecently assaulted the boys in classrooms, sports rooms, showers and the boys’ family homes. Typically, Dowlan would upset a boy (either physically or verbally), perhaps make him cry and would then cuddle and molest him.

He invasively handled the boys’ genitals and sometimes inserted his finger into a boy’s anus.

Many of Dowlan’s offences occurred at the back of the classroom, where other pupils where asked not to look back. Other offences occurred in empty classrooms where Dowlan would ask the boys to discuss family problems.

The prosecution alleged in court that, as a Christian Brother in a Catholic school, Dowlan had the power to intimidate a child into going to the place where the abuse would occur – e.g., at the rear of a crowded classroom during a lesson. He was able to do this under the guise of discipline. The victim was in a state of subservience and was unable later to make a complaint (or unable to get his complaint accepted). Sometimes, in a classroom, there would be 20 to 30 witnesses to the offence but these witnesses (the prosecution alleged) were also under Dowlan’s control. Therefore, as a Catholic religious Brother, Dowlan was confident about not getting into trouble, the prosecution said

Four paedophiles in one school

The first school in Brother Edward Dowlan’s criminal charges was St Alipius primary school (pronounced Saint Al-LEEP-ee-us) in East Ballarat in 1971, when Dowlan was aged 21. Dowlan was there at the same time as Brother Robert Best, who also was convicted in 1996.

Indeed, in 1971 the school’s entire male personnel were child-sex offenders. The school had only four classrooms. Brother Best taught Grade 6, Brother Edward Dowlan taught Grade 5, a woman teacher taught Grade 4, another pedophile Brother (named Fitzgerald, now deceased) taught Grade 3, and the school’s visiting chaplain was the pedophile priest Father Gerald Ridsdale (jailed in 1994). A later teacher, Christian Brother Stephen Francis Farrell, was also a pedophile. All these men, except Fitzgerald, were later convicted of sex crimes.

The prosecution alleged that three St Alipius boys were each sexually abused by the same three offenders – Brother Ted Dowlan, Brother Robert Charles Best and Brother Gerald Francis Ridsdale.

Offences covered up

Because of Dowlan’s guilty plea, his victims were not required to give evidence in the County Court. Details of Dowlan’s offences were given in court documents, including a “statement of agreed facts” submitted jointly by the prosecution and the defence.

Court documents indicated that the Christian Brothers administration knew about Brother Dowlan’s offences early in his career but the Order continued to give him access to children.

One victim, “Max”, testified to police that Dowlan was molesting him at St Thomas More College in 1972. He said Dowlan was removed from the school early in 1973 after a complaint by another parent, and the boys were told that he had gone on a “religious retreat”. Later in 1973, Dowlan was posted to St Patrick’s boarding school, Ballarat.

At St Patrick’s, Dowlan was assigned to be a dormitory master and had a bedroom near the dormitory. In 1974, the court was told, Dowlan indecently assaulted a 13 year-old-boy, “Peter”, in a St Patrick’s dormitory in the middle of the night. Peter immediately phoned his parents who arrived at the school at 6 am. Peter said a very senior Brother (who was named in court) pacified the parents and covered up for Dowlan. Peter’s parents moved him to a new school.

“Roger” (assaulted at St Patrick’s College in 1973) testified to police that his parents wanted to press criminal charges against Dowlan, but a priest talked them out of it. And a Ballarat mother stated that her sons told Dowlan’s colleagues at St Patrick’s in 1974 about him being a child abuser.

Despite knowing about Dowlan’s activities, the Christian Brothers continued to give Dowlan access to children and even sent him to work at a boys’ orphanage (St Augustine’s in Geelong in 1981), where the homeless inmates were particularly vulnerable and defenceless. In court, there was also a mention of Dowlan having been sent briefly to another orphanage (St Vincent’s boys’ home in South Melbourne), possibly about 1981. At St Vincent’s, he had a physical clash with one inmate, and Dowlan was injured in the eye.

“Jamie”, who was a 12-year-old pupil at Melbourne’s Cathedral College in 1982, told police about the day he was being confirmed into the Catholic Church. Brother Dowlan took a Crucifix to the boy’s home as a present. He indecently assaulted Jamie in the bedroom and then took him to the Confirmation ceremony.

In court, the defence admitted that, after a complaint in 1985, Dowlan was removed from teaching for a year to do a Diploma of Theology. He then returned to teaching at Geelong.

Brother Peter William Dowling, who was the Victoria-Tasmania deputy leader of the Christian Brothers in 1996, gave pre-sentence “character” evidence for the defence. As a school boy, Peter Dowling attended Melbourne’s Parade College one year ahead of Ted Dowlan. Peter Dowling told the court that, if there were sex-abuse complaints about Ted Dowlan in the 1970s, the Christian Brothers leadership at that time would certainly have known it. But, he said, the Brothers would have regarded the sex abuse as a “moral” (rather than criminal) problem. He said the offender would merely have to “promise not to do it again”. The victims were not given the consideration that they should have received, Peter Dowling admitted.

An expensive legal team

From the outset, the Christian Brothers management was determined to win the Dowlan case — and also the Brother Best case.

After police first summoned Dowlan to court, the Christian Brothers’ solicitors hired private investigators to do make inquiries about victims, the court was told. A female investigator telephoned and visited three of the Ballarat victims, questioning them about their proposed evidence. Police said this interference in the criminal justice system was “highly inappropriate”.

On 18 March 1994, one of Dowlan’s schools (St Patrick’s College, Ballarat) circulated a newsletter about Dowlan to parents, inviting any affected families to ring a “helpline” at the Christian Brothers headquarters in Melbourne.

This phone-in may have resulted in additional witnesses contacting the Christian Brothers (that is, the defence) instead of contacting the investigating authority, the police. Some callers may have assumed that, if they gave information to the Christian Brothers, they did not need to give it to the police. It is possible that some of the information received proved helpful for the Christian Brothers’ defence lawyers, which is perhaps not what the callers might have intended. This 1994 phone-in was a forerunner of what developed into the “Towards Healing” program for all Australian Catholic dioceses and religious orders.

At one of Dowlan’s early court appearances (in the Melbourne Magistrates Court in March 1994), his counsel foreshadowed a lengthy contest and commented to the magistrate: “Expense is not a problem, your worship.”

The Christian Brothers legal team tried many tactics to delay or frustrate or stop the proceedings. In March 1994, Dowlan requested (and was granted) a nine-months adjournment in the magistrate’s preliminary committal proceedings, so that he could have a trip to the United States to visit the St Luke “Institute” in Maryland (a Catholic accommodation-place for problem clergy). However, a victim alerted the U.S. Embassy in Canberra and, as a result, the U.S. rejected Dowlan’s visa application because he was facing criminal charges. Dowlan then stayed in Australia, still taking advantage of the nine-months adjournment. Dowlan’s request for such a long adjournment made it impossible for the committal hearing to be held before the end of 1994.

What was the objective of the trip to the St Luke Institute? The institute accommodates clergy who have problems with sexual abuse or psychiatric problems. Fifteen months later, when Dowlan’s jail term was about to be calculated, the prosecutor asked Christian Brothers deputy leader Peter Dowling (“character” witness for Dowlan) if the St Luke Institute program was partly a preparation for progression through a criminal court case. Peter Dowling told the court that a part of the St Luke program was to build up a person’s identity so that they could cope with what is happening to them.

Another advantage of a trip to the St Luke Institute is that, at the time of sentencing in court, a convicted offender can seek a lenient sentence by claiming that he has received “treatment” at the St Luke “Institute” and is therefore “unlikely to offend again.”

Dowlan’s preliminary (“committal”) hearing by a magistrate was held in the Melbourne Magistrates Court in May 1995. This was a closed courtroom, with only lawyers, police and each witness present. After an eight-days hearing, the magistrate agreed that there was sufficient evidence to seek a conviction in a higher court. The magistrate ordered Dowlan to appear before a judge at the Melbourne County Court in late 1995. Dowlan’s legal team, however, managed to have the County Court case adjourned for months.

On 4 March 1996, County Court Judge Elizabeth Curtain finally began hearing pre-trial submissions from Dowlan’s defence team about what procedures should be followed in the case. These were the first of many days that were spent in legal argument. Then, on 13 March 1996, Dowlan secured a three-month adjournment on the “ground” that a Channel Nine “Sixty Minutes” program on 3 March 1996 had featured an item about priests in Ireland who broke their vows of chastity and who, in some instances, fathered children. In fact, however, the “Sixty Minutes” item was not about Christian Brothers and was not about Australia.

In June 1996, the County Court resumed hearing legal argument about aspects of the Dowlan charges. Simultaneously, in another courtroom, another judge started hearing the case against Brother Robert Best.

To help Dowlan and Best, the Christian Brothers took legal action to suppress three advertised television programs in Victoria: a “Four Corners” program on ABC TV on 27 May 1996 (about clergy child-abuse in Australia); a film, “The Boys of St Vincent”, on Channel Ten (about clergy child abuse in Canada); and a “Today Tonight” item on Channel Seven (about child abuse by the Catholic order of Salesian priests in Victoria).

Finally, on 17 June 1996, Dowlan entered his plea of guilty, and then Judge Curtain began hearing submissions (including “character” evidence from defence witnesses) about what penalty should be applied for Dowlan’s crimes.

Although Dowlan’s victims were not required to give evidence in the County Court, several attended as observers. On some days, when there was a lull in the Dowlan proceedings, Dowlan’s victims would adjourn to a nearby courtroom to observe the Brother Best case – and vice versa.

Broken Rites researchers were present in County Court every day throughout the Dowlan and Best proceedings, taking notes as part of our research.

Lawyers estimated that, by July 1996, the Christian Brothers Order had spent about $400,000 in defending Dowlan and Best. The costs included: 56 days in court; two Queen’s Counsel; a team of barristers and solicitors; legal office staff; private investigators; and psychiatrists, psychologists and other paid experts who gave character evidence on behalf of the offenders. {Later, more money was spent on appeals.)

No apology

During pre-sentence submissions (and also at the sentencing), Judge Elizabeth Curtain said that Dowlan had failed to show any remorse or regret for his crimes and he was not offering any apology. She said there was little evidence that Dowlan was concerned about the adverse impact of his crimes upon his victims. She said this attitude caused doubt about Dowlan’s prospect of rehabilitation.

Judge Curtain said that, although Dowlan was being sentenced on only 16 selected incidents, these incidents must be seen in the context of a constant practice of gross misconduct.

Victims had submitted written impact statements to the court, explaining how Dowlan’s abuse (and the church’s cover-up) had disrupted their adolescent development, causing problems that persisted into their adult years. Some victims never went near a Catholic Church again or would make sure their own children kept away from Catholic clergy. The judge quoted one victim who wrote that “the Catholic Church has aided the commission of the offences” by covering them up.

Dowlan, then aged 46, was sentenced to nine years and eight months jail (with a non-parole period of six years). After appeal, the maxiumum sentence was reduced to 6.5 years jail (with parole possible after four years).

The Dowlan and Best cases finished almost simultaneously in late July 1996. Until both cases were finished, the County Court had forbidden the media to report (or even mention) the court proceedings, because the Best case involved jury trials.

When the media-suppression order was lifted, Broken Rites had arranged for the victims’ stories (without their real names) to be featured – in the Melbourne “Herald Sun” (July 24-25, 1996) and in other Australian newspapers on July 25. Thus, the Christian Brothers cover-up was exposed.

Dowlan has finished his jail term now – and the Christian Brothers are developing their “new ministries” for hospital patients, prisoners, Aborigines, young people in trouble, the disabled and missions in Third World countries.

What sort of credibility will the Christian Brothers “new ministries” have?


3 thoughts on “Catholic religious Brothers accept sex-offenders as members

  1. learning more about this subject has increased my awareness and my anger towards the church because it “helped” the priests against the victoms. The victoms were in need of help same as the priests (obviously more so).


  2. I was at catholic regional college and brother dowlan was my home room teacher and maths teacher for year 7 in the year he was caught.
    he never touched us girls but he wood deliberatly knock our pens on the floor and while picking them up he looked up our dresses.
    i was left alone with him at his house one day and im just so glad im a female, otherwise who knows wot wood have hapnd.


  3. I remember most of the pedo brothers at my school who suddenly went on journeys away – their favourite line was “eyes front” when ever I turned around. I knew that each time i turned they had to stop. Other boys thought I was just a little fag but I dont know how many times I got in the way of their abusers, knowing Id get a beating from the boys, the brothers and then my dad. The brothers that arent named still screw with my head! Wish i knew what happened to some of the boys who were really messed up


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