Suicide #2: The church left an ex-altar boy, Daniel Powell, to take his own life in Sydney

By a Broken Rites researcher (article update 9 September 2016)

The Catholic Church authorities have accepted a complaint from a former altar boy, Daniel Powell, that he was sexually abused in a Sydney parish at the age of 12 by a Catholic priest, Father John Joseph Farrell (sometimes referred to as "Father F"). Daniel, who was aged 25 at the time of the settlement (in 2005), received a relatively small amount of compensation from the church. But he was still severely damaged by the abuse (and by the church's cover-up). Daniel Powell ended up dying by suicide in 2007, aged 28.

Daniel William Powell was born on 28 May 1979. He met Father John Joseph Farrell as a 12-year-old altar boy in Merrylands parish, western Sydney, in late 1991. According to Daniel, Father Farrell initiated the boy in secretive behaviour involving alcohol and drug abuse, culminating in sexual abuse.

When Daniel reached the age of 18, he confronted Farrell in 1998, angrily complaining that the priest's sexual abuse had disrupted Daniel's adolescence. Farrell, who was no longer working in parishes in 1998, offered money to Daniel if Daniel did not take his sex-abuse allegations to the police. Daniel regarded the money from Father Farrell as compensation for the breach of priestly trust that had allegedly disrupted the boy's life.

[At the age of 18, Daniel was not aware that the best way to claim compensation for clergy sex-abuse is for a solicitor to serve a letter of demand on the church authorities. That is, victims should not approach the priest personally.]

After making some payments to Daniel, Farrell complained to the police in late 1998 that Daniel had tried to "extort" this money from him. Police then charged Daniel. In the Parramatta District Court in western Sydney in June 2004 , Daniel Powell pleaded not guilty to charges of "demanding with menaces".

Verdict: Daniel not guilty

After hearing Daniel's side of the story, the jury found Daniel not guilty on all the extortion charges.

Because the priest had come to the court in the role of victim in the "demanding with menaces" charges, the judge ruled that the priest's surname could be referred to (outside the courtroom) only by the initial letter, "F". Thus, after his court case was finished, this priest has often been referred to, for legal reasons, as "Father F". Therefore, this Broken Rites article will use the label "Father F".

This Broken Rites article is based on evidence and documents presented in the Parramatta District Court hearings. Broken Rites possesses a copy of the court transcript.

How Broken Rites helped

While Daniel was being charged with "extorting" money from Father F, he contacted Broken Rites, asking for any information that was available about Father F's background. By then, Broken Rites had already been researching the earlier activities of Father F in northern New South Wales. Broken Rites gave information to Daniel, which Daniel passed on to his solicitor for use in preparing Daniel's defence. The Broken Rites research helped Daniel to defeat the "extortion" charges.

The priest's background

Father F told the court that he was no longer working in parishes in 2004. He said the church had not given him any parishes since mid-1992, although technically (he said) he was still a priest in 2004 — a priest whose rights of ministry had been withdrawn.

Father F told the court that he was ordained by the Catholic Church in September 1981 to serve as a priest in northern New South Wales (in a network of parishes known as the Armidale diocese). During cross-examination, he agreed that in February 1988 he appeared before a magistrate in a local court in northern New South Wales, charged with having sexually assaulted a 12-year-old boy (from the Moree parish) named Damian Jurd, but this magistrate released Father F without requiring him to face a trial.

In 1989, Father F said, he was transferred on loan from the Armidale diocese to the Parramatta diocese (covering several dozen parishes to the west of Sydney), where he worked first in one parish (Kenthurst) and then, from 1990, in another parish (Merrylands). At Merrylands, he met Daniel Powell (an altar boy, then aged 12) in late 1991.

The court was told that Daniel was a disturbed and vulnerable boy because his father had committed suicide (by hanging himself from a tree in the backyard) when Daniel was aged nine. Some pupils at Daniel's Catholic school taunted Daniel about the suicide, the court was told.

Father F befriended Daniel and his family and became a father figure for Daniel, the court was told.

During questioning by Daniel's lawyer, Father F said Daniel would visit him at his presbytery at night. If anybody else was at the presbytery at this time, Daniel would be smuggled in, quietly.

Father F agreed that he supplied Daniel with alcohol and cigars at the presbytery.

Father F said he and Daniel also stayed overnight at another presbytery (in south-west Sydney, in the Wollongong diocese), where they shared a bedroom, when Father F was doing weekend Masses for an absent priest.

Daniel's lawyer asked Father F about sexual acts that he had allegedly performed on Daniel (including oral sex, masturbation and, on one occasion, thrusting a finger painfully into Daniel's anus). Father F declined to answer on the ground that it might incriminate him.

In reply to Daniel's lawyer, Father F agreed that he attended a meeting, held at the Sydney Cathedral presbytery on 3 September 1991, with Reverend Brian Lucas, Reverend John Usher and Reverend Wayne Peters.

The cross-examination continued (on page 176 of the transcript):

QUESTION: I suggest to you that at that meeting you made certain admissions to those priests that you had had oral sex with young boys. What do you say about that?
ANSWER: Yes.

QUESTION: And that's the reason why they [the Armidale diocese] won't let you carry out your duties as a priest, isn't it?
ANSWER: That's part of it, yes…

QUESTION: That, of course, breaks your promise of chastity, doesn't it?
ANSWER: Actually what you are talking about is the promise I took of celibacy, which is not getting married, but if you are saying it was wrong and sinful to engage in wrong practices the answer is yes, and I am deeply sorry for what happened.

Father F said his posting in the parishes in western Sydney ended on 1 July 1992 and he was not given any more parish postings anywhere. He then returned to his home town, Armidale, in northern New South Wales, where his parents lived, and took up university studies.

Before leaving western Sydney, Father F said, he gave his contact details in northern NSW to Daniel Powell, inviting the boy to contact him again some time.

Meanwhile, Daniel was experiencing behavioural difficulties. By age 14, as well as drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, he was smoking marijuana and playing truant from school, the court was told. His relationship with his mother deteriorated and he left home, descending into a spiral of alcohol and drug abuse.

Finally, in early 1998, aged 18, Daniel made the first of several phone calls to "F" in northern New South Wales. In these calls, Daniel eventually confronted "F" and told him about how the priest's influence had allegedly disrupted the boy's life. "F" offered to pay money to Daniel if Daniel did not report his sex-abuse allegations to the police.

"F" told Daniel in 1998 that a court case was to be avoided. "F" said that the Damian Jurd court case in northern New South Wales in 1988 "attracted a large amount of media attention and the experience had a devastating impact on me."

"F" also told Daniel that the 1988 court case did not do Damian Jurd any good because the 1988 magistrate stopped Damian's case from going any further.

"F" and Daniel Powell discussed a sum of compensation to be paid, and  "F" began paying some instalments into Daniel's bank account (drawing money, he said, from the account of Mr F's elderly father).

The court was told that, during these payments,  "F" consulted someone whom he knows in the police force and arranged to make a police statement, alleging that Daniel was trying to extort money from him. "F" and the police arranged a "sting" to trap Daniel one day when "F" was meeting Daniel at a McDonalds fast-food outlet to discuss the payments. After being trapped, Daniel was charged in Blacktown Local Court on 20 September 2002, and magistrate Pat O'Shane adjourned the matter to be heard at Parramatta.

[A news item about Daniel's initial court appearance, with Daniel's name, but not Father F's name, appeared in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, on 21 September 2002, written by court reporter Jaedene Hudson. It is not known who tipped off the media about Daniel's court charges.]

Daniel's story

During the week-long jury trial at Parramatta, Daniel's defence lawyer repeatedly raised Daniel's allegations that Father F had sexually abused him in western Sydney.

The jury also learned that in October 2003 Daniel (then aged 24) lodged a 24-page police statement, detailing the alleged sexual abuse of Daniel. This statement was read aloud to the jury, and the statement is therefore preserved in the transcript of Daniel's trial (and Broken Rites possesses a copy of these documents).

Daniel stated that, while he was in primary school, his parents had a business that folded. He stated: "There had been a great deal of pressure on my parents and they used to frequently argue..."

"On 5 April 1989 I returned home after an outing with my mother and sister to find my father dead, hanging from a tree in the backyard. The visions of his body and memories of this day will remain with me forever. The impact on my family was tremendous and for me, barely ten years old, the confusion, grief and trauma seemed insurmountable...

"My mother strove to keep us in the Catholic education system, hoping that with Christian care we could continue on to achieve well academically and learn wholesome morals with which to face the world."

Daniel stated that he had been an altar boy in previous parishes, and in late 1991 he resumed altar-boy duties at Father F's parish in Merrylands, which is how he first encountered Father F.

Daniel stated: "[Father F] was welcomed into our home with open arms without question of motive, as it was common place for us to have contact with members of the church. His visits and the time we spent together would in most cases follow serving Mass with him, at the presbytery where he would also bring me after going to Rookwood Cemetery where he was teaching me to drive his car, a Holden Commodore."

Father F was a gun-owner and showed Daniel how to use guns, which the boy found exciting, Daniel stated.

Daniel's statement then alleges how Father F began touching him sexually while watching a movie at the presbytery. Daniel stated: "When this touching began, I became very confused and shocked by what he had done and I was disappointed that I must once again enjoy discomfort on my part to receive my companionship and outings..."

Daniel's statement then alleges that, in a series of subsequent meetings, Father F's actions developed into a pattern of masturbation and oral sex. On one occasion, Father F had worn a red condom, Daniel stated.

Once, when Daniel was getting out of the shower at the presbytery after a sex session, Father F "put his arm around me from behind and pushed one of his fingers into my anus."

Daniel went on: "I pulled straight away from him towards the bathroom door and said not to do that again, explaining that my anus was now very sore..." Daniel stated that later that night Father F offered him a nightcap, scotch whisky, "which he joked would numb my bum."

Daniel had to prevent his mother from finding out what Father F was doing to him. Father F would arrange to phone Daniel at a particular time to discuss their next meeting, so that Daniel would answer the phone without his family knowing. Daniel stated that this behaviour involved him in a pattern of deceptiveness, stealth and risk-taking. At the time, aged only 12, Daniel did not realize what this was doing to him psychologically.

Before Father F left western Sydney in mid-1992, he "wrote down his phone number and address [at his home town in northern New South Wales] and requested that I write to him and call him from time to time," Daniel stated.

Daniel's statement then described how his teenage development became disrupted. He stated:

"Towards the end of my relationship [with Father F], I discontinued my altar-service and distanced myself from the church. My interests and hobbies had also become both reckless and beyond my years.

"In 1993 I was expelled from [a Catholic high school] for constant truancy and poor attitude towards my education... Early in 1994, my attitude towards school worsened as did my risk-taking... I had begun to smoke marijuana with some older boys whom I had become friends with.

"My relationship with my mother had deteriorated... My drug and alcohol use had become almost habitual by the age of 14 and, although an asthmatic, I was often a regular cigarette smoker. At 15, I was told to leave home after a heated argument about my social circles and bad attitudes towards my mother and lack of respect for her rules and boundaries."

Daniel's statement outlined his phone calls to Mr F in 1998 and how he had expressed his anger at the priest for using Daniel's emotional vulnerability "to trick me into unwittingly let him treat me as some sort of an under-age prostitute".

Daniel stated: "He [Mr F] asked me what I wanted from him and what I intended to do in relation to the police...He then asked me if it was money I wanted...[Later in this conversation] he again posed the question of my accepting money as some sort of compensation."

Not guilty

As well as hearing Daniel's police statement about Father F, the jury also heard details about the police "sting" operation against Daniel that resulted in his arrest.

The jury found Daniel not guilty on all charges.

[The trial proceedings were written up in a NSW District Court transcript, number DCV 3090.]

Compensation payment

After the 2004 criminal court case, Daniel William Powell made a civil claim against the Armidale Catholic diocese for compensation for the damage allegedly done to his life by the diocese's priest, Father F.

The diocese fought Daniel fiercely but it finally agreed to pay him a much smaller amount provided that he signed away his right to take the full claim to a civil court. Daniel agreed to this and he signed the settlement in February 2005.

Daniel's death

Daniel Powell then tried to repair his life but he faced many difficulties. Finally, on 25 November 2007, aged 28. Daniel took his own life in the same way that his father did — by hanging himself from a tree.

One of Father Farrell's earlier altar boys, Damian James Jurd (of Moree northern New South Wales), also took his own life. At the end of 2000 Damian was particularly depressed and he was found unconscious in bed. Later, life support had to be withdrawn and Damian died on New Year's Day, 2001, aged 28. 

  • To see a separate Broken Rites article about Damian Jurd (in northern NSW), click HERE.
  • To see a longer article by Broken Rites, about the background of Father John Joseph Farrell, click HERE.
  • Broken Rites helped the ABC-TV "7.30" program with research to tell the story of Daniel Powell, which was broadcast on 9 July 2012. The program is based on an interview with Daniel's older sister Leonie. To watch this item (which goes for eight minutes), click HERE.