Priest pleads guilty to indecent assault of a schoolgirl in northern Victoria

 A Catholic priest, Father Adelrick D'Cruz, pleaded guilty in the Victorian County Court on 22 May 2008 to having indecently assaulted a schoolgirl who came to his parish house for help.

The prosecution alleged that Father D'Cruz indecently assaulted the girl (let us call her "Bambi") in St Joseph's presbytery at Benalla in north-eastern Victoria 24 years previously, in 1984, when D'Cruz was aged in his mid-fifties.

Sentencing 78-year-old D'Cruz on 22 May 2008, Judge Frank Shelton ordered him to pay $500 to a charity, the St Vincent de Paul society. The judge also imposed a two-year good-behaviour bond on D'Cruz.

The background of Father D'Cruz

Adelrick D'Cruz, who is of Indian ancestry, was born on 4 April 1930. He studied for the priesthood in India and was ordained there in 1957. He has also spent time in Malaysia.

Father Adelrick D'Cruz eventually visited Australia, where he has relatives. He settled in Australia on a permanent basis in 1976. D'Cruz was then recruited by the Sandhurst diocese (which has headquarters at Bendigo) to work as a priest in parishes in northern Victoria. His work included parishes at Shepparton and Yarrawonga in the late 1970s, Benalla and Corryong in the 1980s and Cohuna in the 1990s.

D'Cruz left parish work (at Cohuna) in 1999, when he was 69, and later settled in Melbourne. At the time of his May 2008 conviction, he was still listed in the most recent edition of the Australian Catholic Directory (dated "June 2007 to June 2008") as a "supplementary priest" of the Sandhurst diocese. This indicated that, although no longer attached to a specific parish, he was available to the public as "Father D'Cruz". When charged, he was living in Clayton, in south-eastern Melbourne, and he was still well known as a priest in Melbourne's Anglo-Indian community.

How the D'Cruz case began

The D'Cruz case originally involved not a court case but a civil complaint to the Catholic Church's Professional Standards Office (the "Towards Healing" process). The original case involved not "Bambi" from Benalla but five other women who were not from Benalla. These five — including three from one family plus two of their cousins — had been acquainted with Father D'Cruz since their childhood. Father D'Cruz had been closely associated with the parents of the five girls. In 2005-2006, the Catholic Church's professional standards office in Victoria received a complaint that Father D'Cruz had touched the five girls in a sexual manner in the 1970s and '80s. When approached by representatives of the PSO, Father D'Cruz denied the touching and he refused a request from the women that he should apologise to them. The woman had said that an apology from D'Cruz would have settled the matter. Thus, the "Towards Healing" outcome left the five women dissatisfied.

One of the five women (let us call her "Zelda"), who lives near Melbourne, contacted the Victoria Police and spoke to the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (S.O.C.A.) unit. She alleged that D'Cruz sexually assaulted her on a number of occasions between 1969 and 1979, when she was aged from 8 to 17. She alleged that the childhood abuse had severely disrupted her later life.

Zelda's complaint was investigated by Detective Sergeant Marcus Boyd from the Cobram branch of the criminal investigation unit in northern Victoria. Police then served a summons on D'Cruz to appear in the Shepparton Magistrates Court in northern Victoria on 8 May 2007.

The "Zelda" charges comprised three counts of rape and ten charges of indecent assault between 1969 and 1971. The first charge alleged that D'Cruz assaulted Zelda, then aged 8, in Melbourne between 1969 and 1971. The remaining charges related to alleged offences in December 1978 and January 1979 at the Sacred Heart presbytery in Yarrawonga (northern Victoria) while Zelda (then aged 17) was visiting D'Cruz during the summer holidays.

Citing health grounds, D'Cruz did not appear in court for this May 2007 hearing and the matter was adjourned for a month. A report of the charges appeared in newspapers and in radio and television news bulletins throughout Victoria on the evening of 8 May 2007 and in the next day's Melbourne Herald Sun.

Following these media reports, another woman ("Bambi" from the Benalla district) contacted police, telling them that she encountered D'Cruz in 1984 in Benalla when she was 17. Bambi did not know Zelda or the other four girls from Zelda's extended family.

In July 2007 D'Cruz was charged in Shepparton Magistrates Court regarding offences against both Zelda and Bambi. D'Cruz contested the charges. A case conference was listed for later in 2007, to enable discussions between the prosecutors and the defence about how to proceed.

Finally, the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions decided to proceed with the "Bambi" charges, dropping the more serious "Zelda" charges. D'Cruz indicated that he would plead guilty to the "Bambi" charges.

The May 2008 hearing

When the "Bambi" matter came before the Victorian County Court at Shepparton on 22 May 2008, the prosecutor told Judge Frank Shelton that 17-year-old "Bambi" became stranded in Benalla after school, when she missed a bus to her home, which was located outside Benalla. Seeking help, she went to St Joseph's parish, which she presumed would be a safe place. D'Cruz, who had been conducting Mass, invited the girl to his presbytery where he showed her a photo album from the time he was her religious instructor at school. He persuaded her to sit on his knee, putting his arms around her body, and he subjected her to kissing on the mouth.

When the girl reached home that evening, she reported the incident to her mother but did not report it to police until after police laid sexual assault charges against Fr D'Cruz in May 2007 on behalf of the other woman ("Zelda").

Sentencing D'Cruz on the "Bambi" charges, Judge Shelton told him: "Your offence was a gross breach of trust and a complete negation of your position as an ordained Catholic priest, especially after you had just celebrated Mass.

"This girl had come to you to seek assistance. Instead she received your unsought advances."

Admission by the church

An article about the D'Cruz case appeared in the Melbourne Sunday Herald Sun on 1 June 2008, page 7. The paper quoted the bishop of Sandhurst, Bishop Joseph Grech, as confirming that the church had indeed received a civil complaint in 2005-2006 (through the church's "Towards Healing" process) that D'Cruz had allegedly touched the three sisters and their two female cousins (including "Zelda") during their childhood. Bishop Grech confirmed that the church had had a meeting with these women.

The Sunday Herald Sun said that Bishop Grech had apologised to the women in 2005-2006. The paper added: "But a meeting with the victims ended in acrimony when the bishop asked if they objected to D'Cruz saying mass at an aunt's 80th birthday. Bishop Grech said he was just trying to gauge their feelings.

"I was just asking how they felt about it," the bishop told the Herald Sun reporter.

After this meeting in 2005-2006, one of the five women ("Zelda") sparked off the criminal prosecution, which prompted another victim ("Bambi") to contact the police in 2007, resulting in a plea of guilty by Father D'Cruz in 2008.

Footnote

Adelrick D'Cruz is sometimes known, for short, as Ado D'Cruz. His surname may sometimes have been spelt as Adelrick De Cruz. One Australian media outlet mis-typed the name as Alderick D'Cruz. 

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