Church leaders knew about Father Murray Alexander Moffat's abuse of a child

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Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related
sex-abuse.


By a Broken Rites researcher

Australian Catholic Church authorities learned that Father Murray Alexander Moffat had sexually abused a 12-year-old girl but they allowed Moffat to continue in the priesthood for many years while the public did not know about the case, according to statements made in court. But eventually, at the age of 42, the victim went to the police, instead of merely to the church authorities. The police charged Moffat. In August 2010, he pleaded guilty in court and was jailed. Now that the church's secret is out, the public knowledge makes it difficult for the church to continue using Moffat in the ministry.

Father Murray Moffat had worked for 37 years in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, which covers the south-eastern corner of the state of Queensland.

The court proceedings were held in Ipswich (35 kilometres from the city of Brisbane).

Police charged Moffat with having had indecent dealings with the girl. The offences were alleged to have occurred on several occasions occurred between 1977 and 1981 in the Sacred Heart parish at Booval (a suburb of Ipswich), where Moffat was an assistant priest at the time.

Police stated that the girl was 12 years old when the alleged abuse started. At the time of the alleged offences, Father Moffat was aged between 32 and 36.

The prosecutor, Sarah Farnden, told the Ipswich District Court that Father Moffat, being a priest, was regularly allowed to spend time with the girl in her bedroom where he kissed and touched her.

The court was told that in 1995 the girl complained to the Brisbane Archdiocese of Brisbane about Moffatís abuse of her. However, she neglected to make a police statement. The archdiocese arranged for Moffat to go on a "retreat" and to be "assessed" by a church-appointed psychologist. Then, after a few months, the archdiocese allowed him to return to parish ministry.

Years later, with Moffat still working as a priest, the victim consulted the Queensland Police. The court was told that in 2009 the police arranged for the victim to contact Moffat, wearing a police recording device. In the taped conversation, Moffat admitted the abuse. But he blamed the victim, claiming that she encouraged him to do what he did.

"I made a mistake — you invited me," Moffat told his victim in the taped conversation. "I should've said no but I didn't. I thought you wanted me to do that."

According to the recording, Moffat apologised to the woman for any hurt the abuse caused her.

Sentenced

Murray Alexander Moffat pleaded guilty to three instances of indecent treatment of a child aged under 16.

He was sentenced to 18 months jail, with the first three months to be spent behind bars and the remainder suspended for three years.

How the court case began

On Thursday 18 June 2009, after an investigation lasting several months, Queensland police announced that they had charged "a Catholic priest" (no name) with the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl. The charge was reported in the media but the media did not name the priest, because (under Queensland law) the name cannot be published until after a magistrate has committed the defendant for trial. The police issued the priest with a summons to appear in court on a future date.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane said in a statement on 22 June 2009 that the charged priest (still not named) has now stood down from his current parish (not named) and is "on leave" from pastoral duties as a result of the allegations. The church statement said that the priest is still a priest of the archdiocese.

Meanwhile, in mid-2009 the parish priest at Birkdale (in Brisbane), Fr Murray Moffat, suddenly went on leave. The congregation did not know reasons for Fr Moffat's absence. All Masses in his Birkdale parish were taken over by the local assistant bishop

On 21 June 2009, a fellow priest (Father Frank O'Dea, from the Star of the Sea Parish, covering Cleveland, Ormiston, Raby Bay, Thornlands and Stradbroke Island) stated in the Star of the Sea Parish newsletter:

"It came to my notice that Father Murray Moffat resigned as parish priest of our neighboring parish of Birkdale on last weekend. I have known Murray from our time studying together in the seminary and during his thirty-seven years as a priest in Brisbane parishes. We played many cricket and football matches together. Murray is a good friend. I ask your prayers for him and also for the people of Birkdale in the tricky intervening time until the appointment of a new parish priest."

A week later, on 28 June 2009, Fr Frank O'Dea again said in his parish newsletter:

"Please keep in your prayers Fr Murray Moffat, a friend of mine over many years, in his sudden retirement. Also we pray for the people of Birkdale parish, in this tricky period, until the appointment of a new parish priest."

On 28 July 2009, Queensland media reported that "a priest" (still not named) appeared in Ipswich Magistrates Court, charged with two counts of indecent treatment of a 12-year-old girl. The case was then adjourned until early 2010.

On 16 February 2010, Fr Murray Moffat appeared in Ipswich Magistrates Court, where a magistrate ordered him to stand trial before a judge in a higher court, the Ipswich District Court. Moffat's defence lawyer did not oppose the charges being committed for trial. At this stage, Moffat was not required to indicate whether he intended to plead guilty or not guilty.

When the magistrate's committal procedure was completed on 16 February 2010, the media was finally free to identify the priest as Father Murray Alexander Moffat.

Guilty plea

When the case finally came up in the Ipswich District Court in August 2010, Moffat pleaded guilty and was thus convicted, making a jury trial unnecessary. The court then sentenced Moffat.

Parishes

Reverend Murray Moffat has worked in various parishes in the Brisbane diocese. Broken Rites has checked some of these parishes in the annual editions of the Directory of Australian Catholic Clergy. For example, in one edition of the directory in the 1970s, he was listed as an assistant priest in the "Our Lady of the Sacred Heart" parish at Darra (14 kilometres from Brisbane, on the Ipswich train line).

After 1981, his parishes were:

  • From 1981 to 1992 he was in charge of St Peter's Parish, Rochedale, Brisbane, until 1992 when he was succeeded at Rochedale by Father James Cosgrove (Fr Jim Cosgrove).

  • Next, he was in charge of St Catherine's parish, Wishart (in Brisbane's south-east), until 2004.

  • From 2005, Moffat was in charge of the Mary MacKillop parish, Birkdale, until he was charged by police in mid-2009.

Rev. Murray Moffat was listed (at Birkdale) in the annual editon of the Australian Catholic Directory, published in mid-2009. In the next edition, published in mid-2010, Fr Murray Moffat was no longer listed anywhere. By then, the church authorities were anticipating the outcome of the court proceedings, which finished in August 2010.

Public opinion

Father Murray Alexander Moffat is not the only defendant in this affair. The "court of public opinion" will reach an additional verdict — that, for many years, the church authorities were guilty of covering up a priest's breach of pastoral care.