Jury finds an ex-priest Not Guilty on fifty-year-old allegations


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In the Sydney District Court in 2010, a jury heard evidence from four men (now aged in their sixties) alleging that they were indecently touched by a Catholic priest (James Patrick Jennings) when they were pupils at a boarding school fifty years earlier — in 1960-61. The school was St Stanislaus College, Bathurst, in central-west New South Wales. This school was conducted by Catholic priests and brothers in the Vincentian order (also called the Congregation of the Mission).

The jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

Charged in 2009

James Patrick Jennings, who left the Catholic priesthood in the mid-1970s, appeared before a magistrate in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court on 26 May 2009, for preliminary proceedings, charged with indecent assault on boys at St Stanislaus College during 1960-1961.

When charged, Jennings was aged 76 and was living in the Wattle Grove district, south of Hobart, Tasmania.

The magistrate ordered James Patrick Jennings to face trial before a judge at the Sydney District Court.

Trial in 2010

In July 2010, James Patrick Jennings asked the judge (Robert Toner) to grant a permanent stay (that is, a permanent stoppage) in the case but the judge refused. Therefore the hearing went ahead.

Jennings (then aged 77) was tried on six charges of indecent assault stemming from allegations made by four former pupils, who were aged about 12 in 1961 Jennings pleaded not guilty to the whole six counts.

At the opening of the trial, the prosecutor told the court that Jennings (aged in his late twenties in 1961) would allegedly walk among the sleeping boys, aged about 12, in their dormitory. He would allegedly sit on some of the beds and handle the boys indecently under the blankets.

Crown prosecutor Jose Crespo said that Jennings' intention through his alleged actions was to "obtain some kind of sexual gratification".

Jennings' lawyer submitted to the court that the fifty-year time-lapse since the alleged incidents means that there is an absence of witnesses and therefore an absence of evidence in the case.

Four men, now aged more than 60, gave evidence in court, stating that Jennings had assaulted them when they were 12 to 13 years old.

A fellow student, who is not a complainant, gave evidence that on more than one occasion he saw Jennings enter the dormitory late at night and sit on the beds of two boys. The witness (now in his sixties) said that one of the boys confirmed to the witness that Jennings had touched him. The witness said: "He [the boy] was extremely upset and I recall it as if it was happening now... he was crying uncontrollably, he was overcome with emotion as to what had happened to him.

The witness said Jennings' younger brother also slept in the dormitory, shared by about 36 boys all from the same school year.

The witness said he reported the incident to the college principal, Father Joseph Keady. After this (according to the witness) he was picked on by teachers and priests and was regularly caned. After he told one staff member what he had seen, he was locked in the dormitory and caned as his classmates listened outside, counting the strokes.

Denial

Giving evidence to the court, James Patrick Jennings "absolutely" denied the allegations.

Jennings told the court that he does not remember the schoolboys he is accused of indecently assaulting and only once entered a dormitory after lights out.

Verdict

On 5 August 2010, the jury returned its verdict — that James Patrick Jennings was "Not Guilty" on all charges.

Background

When he was a boy, James Patrick Jennings was himself a pupil at St Stanislaus College. He later became a priest in the Vincentian order and returned to St Stanislaus to teach from 1959 to 1961, when he was in his late twenties. After this, Father Jennngs was listed at Southport on the Queensland Gold Coast (the "Guardian Angels" parish). In the mid and late 1960s, Father Jennings was listed at St Vincent's College, Bendigo, in central Victoria — a boarding school that was then operated by the Vincentians. After spending a decade and a half in Catholic schools and parishes, James Patrick Jennings left the priesthood in the mid-1970s.

Footnote

The St Stanislaus College principal who is mentioned in the above article was Father Joseph Matthew Keady. Originally from Coonamble, New South Wales, Joe Keady completed his secondary education as a boarder atSt Stanislaus College in 1942 and then trained to be a Vincentian priest, becoming ordained in 1949. He was on the staff of St Stanislaus College in 1950-1965 (including when Father James Patrick Jennings was teaching there). Keady was at St Stanislaus again in 1971-79. During both of those periods at the school, Keady spent several years as the principal. Keady was Director of Schools in the Bathurst Catholic diocese in 1979-2002. Joseph Keady died in Bathurst on 16 April 2005, aged 80 years.