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In the mid and late 1960s, Father James Patrick Jennings was listed as a priest at St Vincent's College — a Catholic boarding school for boys in Bendigo, 150 kilometres north of Melbourne. Father Jennings was then a member of the Vincentian religious order (this order is also called the Congregation of the Mission).
More than 40 years later, in May 2012, Jennings was charged in the Bendigo Magistrates Court with a series of child-sex offences, allegedly committed against boys at the school in the 1960s.
James Jennings, aged 79 when charged in court, faces multiple charges of gross indecency and indecent assault on a male child aged under 16. The charges relate to three complainants, all students at this Bendigo school in the 1960s.
Magistrate Jennifer Tregent heard evidence concerning the three complainants.
The court also heard from Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Morris, head of the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) at Bendigo Police. Senior Sergeant Morris received some information from a New South Wales police unit (Strike Force Belle), which was established to investigate allegations of sexual assaults on students at St Stanislaus College in Bathurst in central-west NSW. The Bathurst school was run by the same order of priests as St Vincent's in Bendigo.
The court was told that James Jennings left the priesthood many years ago and he now lives in Tasmania.
On 8 May 2012, after a two-day preliminary hearing, the Bendigo magistrate ordered James Patrick Jennings to stand trial in a higher court on these charges. The magistrate listed the case for a later date in the Melbourne County Court, where initially a judge would have a brief "directions hearing" (to determine when and how the subsequent hearings would be held).
Jennings' bail was extended pending the Melbourne County Court proceedings.
Meanwhile, the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team at Bendigo (telephone 03 5448 1420) is continuing its inquiries.
St Vincent's College was set up in Bendigo in 1955 and was run by the Vincentian Fathers. In 1977, it was taken over by the Marist Brothers. In 1983 this school then became part of Catholic College Bendigo.