A Catholic Brother pleads guilty

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


By a Broken Rites researcher

  • Article updated 8 July 2013

In court on 21 June 2013 Brother Brother Martin Harmata, who is a member of the Catholic order of Patrician Brothers, pleaded guilty to sexual offences against boys at a Catholic school in western Sydney.

Brother Harmata taught for 30 years at Patrician Brothers College in Blacktown, western Sydney. But, as often happens in church-abuse cases, many years passed before some of Harmata's crimes finally came to the attention of the police.

In 2012, detectives from the New South Wales sex crime squad interviewed one of Brother Harmata's victims, followed by a second victim, concerning incidents that had occurred more than two decades earlier when these victims were boys at the school.

When the detectives were initiating court proceedings against Harmata in late 2012, the question arose about whether Brother Harmata could be granted a media-suppression order, which would prevent the public (and any other victims) from learning Harmata's name and the name of the school. However, the court refrained from granting such an order. Thus the people of Sydney were allowed to learn the details of this case as it unfolded in the courts. (However, the names of sex-abuse victims are always automatically suppressed.)

The detectives then interviewed a third victim.

Eventually, in Sydney's Parramatta District Court on 21 June 2013, Brother Martin Harmata, aged 59, pleaded guilty to eight child-sex offences committed against three boys who were under his authority during the late 1980s. And this information was reported in the media.

Brother Martin Harmata taught science and mathematics at Patrician Brothers college Blacktown for 30 years and he had access to thousands of students during that time.

A keen outdoorsman, he befriended many families in the local area, convincing parents to let him take their sons away on school camps.

Brother Harmata left the school in 2012 after one of his victims confronted him in the playground. (However, Harmata continues to be accepted by the Patrician Brothers as a member.)

Because of Harmata's guilty plea, the June 2013 hearing was relatively brief. Harmata was released on bail pending the next step in the court process.

A chauffeur-driven car picked up Brother Harmata outside the court and took him back to a Patrician Brothers location.

Harmata will return to court on a later date for pre-sentence proceedings, during which the District Court can hear submissions from both sides — the prosecutor and Brother Harmata's lawyer — about what sort of sentence should be imposed. After considering these submissions, the judge will determine the sentence.

How the case began

In October 2011 the Sex Crime Squad of the New South Wales Police established a specialist team of detectives (called Strike Force Avia) to investigate incidents alleged to have occurred at Patrician Brothers Blacktown and a Catholic primary school at Lalor Park (near Blacktown) in the 1980s. Both schools are within the Parramatta Catholic diocese, which covers western Sydney.

On 12 November 2012, detectives from Strike Force Avia arrested Harmata at The Entrance, a beachside town north of Sydney, where the Patrician Brothers have residential accommodation. The case came up for mention in Wyong Local Court on the following day. According to police documents at that time, the charges (as of November 2012) were for six offences relating to two boys who were aged 12 to 13 at the time. The charges included the indecent assault of a person under his authority and committing an indecent act towards a person under his authority.

By early 2013, the detectives had gathered more information. At Harmata's next court appearance in June 2013, the number of victims in the case had increased to three (and the number of incidents increased to eight).

Investigation continues

Police are urging any victims of sexual abuse at Patrician Brothers Blacktown (or any other school) to have a confidential chat with a detective from the Sex Crimes Squad. Even if a particular complainant does not wish to lay charges, the information from this person can enable the detectives to help other victims to obtain justice.

A statement by NSW Police on 22 February 2013 said:

    "State Crime Command's Sex Crimes Squad is comprised of experienced detectives dedicated to investigating crimes of a sexual nature, regardless of the passage of time. Any person who has been a victim of sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the incident occurred, is encouraged to make a report at their local police station.

    "Anyone with information about sexual abuse should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page:
    https://www1.police.nsw.gov.au/
    Information you provide will be treated in the strictest of confidence. We remind people they should not report crime information via our Facebook and Twitter pages."

Video footage

With media outlets allowed now to fully report the Harmata case, two television channels aired video footage of Brother Martin Harmata leaving the court on 21 June 2013 after his guilty plea.

You can view a Seven Network News video here.

Or an ABC News video here.

The Patrician Brothers

In Australia the Patrician Brothers have operated mostly in New South Wales. According to the 2011 edition of the Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia, the Patrician Brothers still own property at six addresses in New South Wales — at Blacktown, Bradbury, Casula, Fairfield, Ryde and The Entrance. In the 2004 directory, the Patrician Brothers were also located on Thursday Island, off the northern coast of Queensland. In the 1988 directory they were also located at Narellan NSW and Wahroonga NSW.

The Patrician Brothers have been active in Third World countries, including Papua New Guinea, India, Pakistan and Kenya — beyond the reach of Australian police and beyond the reach of Broken Rites Australia.

In approximately 2005, the Catholic Church authorities appointed a senior member of the Patrician order, Brother Philip Mulhall (born as Francis Mulhall), as executive officer of the church's National Committee for Professional Standards. The NCPS superintends the church's Australia-wide "Towards Healing" process which claims to "help" the church's sex-abuse victims.

A court case about another Patrician Brother, Thomas Grealy (alias "Brother Augustine"), can be seen here.