A senior Christian Brother was jailed for child-sex offences

By a Broken Rites researcher (article updated 4 January 2011)

The Australian Christian Brothers have been forced to acknowledge that one of their former leaders, Brother Damien John O'Dempsey, was a serial sex-offender, abusing children who were under his care and supervision in Catholic schools.

  • In 2010, the Christian Brothers administration gave a formal apology to yet another of Brother O'Dempsey's victims. This victim (whom we shall call "Tim") encountered O'Dempsey in the early 1980s, and the sexual abuse devastated the boy's life.
  • Earlier, the Christian Brothers had accepted a similar complaint from another of O'Dempsey's victims, "Brian".

Brother Damien O'Dempsey spent his working life in the Queensland province of the Christian Brothers, as a teacher and headmaster at various Catholic schools in that state. This gave him considerable power over vulnerable pupils.

In the early 1990s, according to the 1994 edition of the annual Australian Catholic Directory, Br Damien O'Dempsey was the secretary of the Christian Brothers' Queensland province, located at the province's headquarters in Indooroopilly, Brisbane. In this position, he had oversight over Christian Brothers throughout the Queensland province. Thus, if anybody phoned the Christian Brothers Queensland administration to complain about sexual abuse by another Brother, the call might be taken by Brother O'Dempsey.

Protected by the church

Brother O'Dempsey had many victims but his status in the church protected him from exposure. His victims knew that they must not say anything negative about a Christian Brother.

Only two of O'Dempsey's victims eventually spoke to the police — and this was only after each of the boys had grown up. By then, they were still being harmed by the sexual abuse and also by the secrecy and hypocrisy.

Jailed in 1994

The first victim who talked to police was "Brian" (born in 1972), who encountered O'Dempsey in 1987 when the boy was 15. The case reached court in 1994 when Brian was 22.

In Brisbane District Court on 16 December 1994, O'Dempsey (then aged 46) pleaded guilty to six counts of indecently dealing with the child. The charges related to St Mary's Christian Brothers College, Toowoomba, in southern Queensland, in 1987 when O'Dempsey was the principal there.

The detective who prepared the information for the prosecution was Glenn Ponting, of the child abuse investigation unit in Roma Street, Brisbane.

Prosecutor Ross Martin told the court that Brother O'Dempsey touched the boy's genitals in his office, in a school classroom and in the student's bedroom, telling him that it was a way of relieving stress.

Judge John Robertson sentenced O'Dempsey to 18 months jail (with parole after four months).

The conviction was reported in the Brisbane Courier Mail, 17 December 1994 (this article also appeared in the Perth West Australian, same date).

Applause

After his release from jail, O'Dempsey was retained as a member of the Christian Brothers, continuing to live in a Christian Brothers house.

A Christian Brother from another Australian state told Broken Rites later: "Soon after he left jail, Damien O'Dempsey attended a Christian Brothers' function. When he entered the room, the hundred or so Brothers present greeted Brother Damien with cheers and a standing ovation. These Brothers were defending their own self-image as much as they were encouraging Brother Damien."

1998 court case

In November 1998, Damien O'Dempsey was summoned to a magistrates' court again, facing 22 charges (19 counts of indecent dealing and three counts of having carnal knowledge (sexual intercourse) involving a boy ("Tim") at Ignatius Park College in Townsville (in northern Queensland) in 1981-84 when Tim was aged between 13 and 16.

Tim's father had died, and Brother O'Dempsey befriended the boy while the family was in a vulnerable state. O’Dempsey showed sympathy to Tim’s mother in her plight as a widowed mother with a child to educate and with slender means. He offered to look after Tim, saying that he would give the boy additional tuition. The mother trusted this Christian Brother.

O'Dempsey began touching the boy indecently while in the school pool. Sexual incidents continued over a two-year period. The abuse included intercourse.

O'Dempsey's breach of trust disrupted Tim's adolescent development. Like other church victims, he remained silent for many years. Entering adulthood, he would fall into what he termed "black rages" and he did not know why.

Tim's mother did not know about Brother O'Dempsey's sexual abuse. Nor did the police, who discovered Tim's story only by accident.

In the mid-1990s, detectives were contacting various ex-students from the school's old class lists, seeking information about another Christian Brother, not O'Dempsey. Tim, when contacted by the detectives, could provide no information about this other Brother, but he mentioned what O'Dempsey had done to him. This triggered a new investigation into O'Dempsey, resulting in the 1998 court case involving the offences against Tim.

By then, Tim was nearly 30 and he was finding life difficult.

After considering the evidence, Magistrate Brian Williams ordered O'Dempsey to stand trial before a judge. This order (called a committal) was reported in the Brisbane Courier Mail, 24 November 1998, page 2.

The trial was scheduled for the Brisbane District Court in for 1999. However, Tim's mental health was deteriorating and he withdrew from the trial, which therefore had to be abandoned.

Brother O'Dempsey continued to enjoy the support of his colleagues, although the Order did not appoint him to any further teaching positions.

Apology

In 2010, the Christian Brothers headquarters finally agreed to settle with Tim and they gave him a written apology for the harm that he had suffered. Earlier, they had signed a settlement with Brian.

Other boys

Brother Damien John O'Dempsey (not to be confused with another Christian Brother in Queensland with the same surname) also worked at other Catholic schools in Queensland.

In the late 1970s Brother Damien O'Dempsey taught at the Christian Brothers college in Gregory Terrace, Brisbane, where he took a close interest in boys.

He also took an interest in boys who atended other schools. After the father of one boy ("Basil") died, Brother Damien O'Dempsey took this 13-year-old boy away on weekend trips. Later, Basil's mother became alarmed by a deterioration in the boy's behaviour, so she banned any more trips with O'Dempsey. Basil suffered a disturbed adolescence and, at age 18, he took his own life.

FOOTNOTE

This religious order — the "Congregation of Christian Brothers" — was founded by Edmund Rice in Ireland in 1802 and was introduced to Australia in 1868. In some countries, this order is known as the "Irish Christian Brothers" but in Australia the word "Irish" is dropped.