After 42 years, two victims expose the church's cover-up

Two victims have demonstrated that, under Australian law, it is never too late to bring a church sex-offender to justice. In the Melbourne County Court in the State of Victoria on 8 March 2011, a former Catholic religious brother was finally jailed for indecently assaulting two vulnerable boys in their beds in a boarding school 42 years ago.

The offender, Peter Paul van Ruth, was sentenced to 28 months jail, with a minimum of 16 months behind bars before becoming elegible for parole.

The offences occurred in 1969 while van Ruth (then aged 22) worked (as Brother Van Ruth) at Salesian College "Rupertswood" (a secondary school) in Sunbury, near Melbourne. He was 64 when jailed.

This school was operated by the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order. "Rupertswood" then was a boys-only school, with boarders as well as day students. The boarders included many from distant communities.

Van Ruth, who is known by his middle name (Paul), was born on 5 July 1946. He was charged with indecent assaults against two boys, both aged 12. These were not necessarily the only boys who were touched by Brother Paul Van Ruth. These were the two who have spoken with the police.

Peter Paul Van Ruth pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent assault upon two male children. One of the charges involved the digital penetration of the child.

A Broken Rites representative was present in court.

The court proceedings

Peter Paul Van Ruth (residing in Adelaide, South Australia) appeared before a magistrate in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 23 July 2010. There, the defence lawyer applied to have the sentencing done by the magistrate's court, rather than by a judge in the County court (the latter court can impose a more severe sentence). However, the magistrate refused this application, and ordered Van Ruth to appear in the County Court for sentencing by a judge.

At the County Court on 21 February 2011, Judge Jane Campton heard submissions from the prosecutor and a defence lawyer about the circumstances of the offending and also about what sort of sentence the court should impose.

The court was told that Peter Paul Van Ruth came from a "strict" Catholic family background. At age 12, his family sent him to be a boarder at Salesian College in Chadstone, Melbourne. There, the Salesians fancied him as a future Salesian brother or priest. Thus, at age 14, he became an "aspirant" for a "religious vocation". Thus, during his years as a boarder there, he absorbed the Salesian culture. Next, at 18, he became a novice at the Salesian seminary in Oakleigh, Melbourne. There, he donned clerical garb and became "Brother" Paul Van Ruth.

In 1969, aged 22, the Salesians appointed him to teach at "Rupertswood" College, at Sunbury (in Melbourne's outer north-west), where he was put in charge of a dormitory containing about 30 or 40 beds for incoming young boarders. His duties included supervising the boys at bed-time — and this is when Van Ruth committed his sexual offences.

  • Victim No. 1 was upset about being separated from his family and was crying in bed. On several occasions, after "lights-out", Van Ruth got into bed with the boy and touched him sexually. On one occasion, Van Ruth put his finger into the boy's anus, the court was told. Two of the court charges related to this victim, although the incidents happened on more than two occasions.
  • Victim No. 2 was upset after learning that his grandmother had died. After "lights-out", Van Ruth got into this boy's bed and touched him indecently.

Each victim felt powerless to complain to Van Ruth's fellow-Salesians in the school administration. Eventually, the parents of Victim No. 1 learned about the abuse and they complained to the Salesians.

The Salesians' way of solving the Van Ruth problem was to transfer him to a Salesian community in South Australia. There, they immediately arranged for him to leave the Salesian order, enabling him to join the South Australian state education department in 1970 as Mister Van Ruth, using the teachers' qualification that he had gained from the Salesians. Thus, he became a teacher in government primary schools — and the Salesians had "solved" their Van Ruth problem.

In 1978, Mr Van Ruth was accepted back into the Catholic education system (still in South Australia), becoming a principal or deputy principal in several church schools.

In 1993 the Catholic Education Office seconded Mr Van Ruth to the South Australian government schools registration board.

Meanwhile, three decades after the 1969 abuse, Van Ruth's victims were still feeling aggrieved by the way in which Van Ruth had been inflicted on them and by the way in which their lives had been disrupted. In 2006, Victim No. 1 from "Rupertswood" consulted the Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (SOCA) squad. After being interviewed by a specialist police officer, he signed an official police statement about the abuse.

The matter was later investigated by Detective Senior Constable Nathan Toey, of the Victoria Police criminal investigations unit (CIU) at Broadmeadows (situated in the region of "Rupertswood" College). During the investigation, Detective Toey met Victim No. 2.

Police then located Paul Van Ruth in South Australia. At first, Van Ruth explained his actions by telling police that he had been starting a "sex education" program for the boys.

In fact, however, Van Ruth did not have proper qualifications to give "sex education". In court, his lawyer said that that Salesians had put Brother Van Ruth in charge of these boys without having proper safeguards in place for the protection of the children.

Because Van Ruth pleaded guilty at an early stage, the court proceedings were relatively brief. The victims were not required to give evidence in court, although they were sitting (separately) at the back of the courtroom as observers.


In sentencing Van Ruth to jail on 8 March 2011, Judge Jane Campton said a suspended sentence would be inadequate.

"Your abuse of both boys involved a substantial breach of trust," she said.

The judge ordered that Van Ruth is to be a registered sex offender for life.

Impact statement

During the pre-sentence proceedings, the prosecutor requested an immediate jail sentence for Peter Paul Van Ruth. The prosecutor said that, in addition to making the usual police statement (describing Van Ruth's behaviour), each of the victims had written an impact statement telling the judge how Van Ruth's abuse had affected the victim's life. The prosecution submitted these two impact statements in court to assist the judge in deciding what sentence to impose on Van Ruth.

Here is the impact statement that was submitted in court by Victim No. 1. Broken Rites will refer to this victim as "Alphonse" (not his real name). Alphonse wrote:

  • "I was a very shy, naive boy of 12-plus years when I was placed in Salesian College. "Rupertswood", a boarding school, by my parents who made huge sacrifices to do so and (as I was to find out later on in life) so did my sisters, when my mother once said: "The girls went without out a lot so we could send you to boarding school."

    "I can remember my mother and father researching different schools, so they could make the best choice for me, to better my secondary education and have an environment conducive to learning, making new friends, and as a young boy develop the correct social skills required to carry me on later in life.

    "1 found it hard and difficult to make friends when I first went to boarding school, having come from a close loving family environment (having my mother, father and two sisters who were always around) to being all alone, 1 was particularly close to my younger sister as there was only 12 months between our ages.

    "This however was to be shattered ... by betrayal by those I was supposed to be able to trust unquestionably.

    "Not a day goes by when my mind does not cast itself back to those nights when, as a small boy, I lay in bed frozen stiff like a board, eyes affixed to the person in black patrolling the dormitory after lights out, believing he was concerned about his young charges, until one night, as I lay crying, he came to my bed to comfort me, or so I thought, laying full length beside me with his left arm over my head whispering in my ear asking, "Why are you crying, are you missing your mum and dad", asking about them, and what siblings I had, if I had ever been away from home before. This continued and, with the soft words, came the kisses, licking in my ear and the touching, me laying there (petrified, .unable to move) by someone who I believed was there to care for me.

    "I was confused and frightened, not understanding what was happening, then one morning after one of his nightly visits, the boy in the bed close to me viscously called me a "poofter", asking, "Why didn't you send him away?" This was a label I was to carry for my whole time at Salesian College.

    "I became fodder for other boys who alienated me, adding to my humiliation and embarrassment, and this made my following years at school intolerable. I said nothing, as I was so ashamed. I endured the bullying and taunting.

    "I sought out havens to remove myself from the general population at school...

    I would lie in my bed, stiff as a board, not daring to move, watching and pretending to be asleep, hoping the black shadow would pass, seeking his next victim, him thinking I was asleep, hoping I would be spared his attention but this was not to be The visits became more frequent, often he would lie on the side of my bed sometimes trying to push me over sideways so as he had enough room to lay beside me. His kissing increased, then he started putting his hand in under my blankets often lifting himself to loosen the blankets he was lying on as I used to have them all tucked in tight, The person I though was supposed to help, and protect me when needed had in fact become my predator.

    "This abuse continued and with each visit he became bolder, from rubbing my chest, lowering his hand and fondling my penis all the time whispering in my ear does it feel good? I lay there, frozen, with my legs shut tight, not speaking a word, lost, and not knowing. His abuse became as I said, more bold. He would fumble trying to get his hand into my pyjamas, loosening the tie when possible, if not going in through the front opening. On one occasion he removed his hand from my genitals and grabbed my right thigh, trying to pull my legs apart, then replacing his hand in my anal region, continually pulling my right leg apart when I attempted to close them, circling with his fingers. Then on one night he pushed his finger into my bottom.

    "There was one occasion whilst he was lying on my bed, when another religious brother came in from the adjoining dormitory and walked past my bed stopping about two to three beds further up. The perpetrator ceased his interference and joined him for a short conversation, then they both left the dormitory.

    "I endured this abuse silently five or six times with the knowledge of other religious persons. Why? 1 couldn't understand. How hypocritical.

    "This abuse came to a halt on the night of July 14, I believe, when I was summoned to the Rector's office to be met by my parents. The Rector, in a very intimidating presence, asked me if anyone had touched me, I was scared and frightened and replied in the negative.

    "By the next morning, the perpetrator was gone. I was later to learn he was spirited away to another Salesian house overnight.

    "1 lived with this abuse silently for approximately 35 years trying to deal with it in my own way, too ashamed to say anything about it to anyone. Every time there was a report of child sexual abuse, I relived my nightmare over and over, not daring to broach the subject with my mother. I spoke to no one until one day at home, in the presence of my mother and our housekeeper listening to a radio interview on sexual abuse within the clergy (in particular a Salesian priest who had also been at "Rupertswood") I recall my mother saying something along the lines of "the victim must have encouraged it". I replied to her "you know that is not true, Mum. You know it went on because you know it happened to me, no matter how much you deny it..." My mother denied any knowledge of it and said to me: "Your father would have gone through them like a ton of bricks". My mother was in essence defending the person who had been charged, as she had done with denying any knowledge of my abuse. From that point on, the close loving relationship I had with my mother, which since my father's death some twenty years prior was exceptionally close, ceased. It was never really discussed with her again until about two years prior to her death she came to me and said that if I wanted to do anything about the abuse at the college, she would support me totally.

    "I found it extremely hard to accept the fact that my mother had chosen to believe the religious confrere over her own son and continue to carry this hurt to this day... PAGE 4:

    "I am also at pain to accept that my mother and father used to have these religious priests and brothers in our home socially (many of whom are now registered sexual offenders from a former Salesian Provincial down) whilst they were continuing to sexually abuse children in their care. It is as though I wasn't believed and she was supporting the religious who were beyond reproach. Each time there is an abuse case that is aired in the media, I relive it in every possible way, even with the on-going physiological help I am receiving. God knows, it is never ending.

    "I have nothing but contempt for these religious organizations for their harbouring of persons committing these horrendous offences against children, who think a confidential monetary settlement will suffice, to hush it up and keep it out of the media, and relieve them of any real obligation to bring those who are part of their community to proper justice.

    "Another issue I find exceptionally hard to deal with, is the fact that the Salesian order, through their Provincial (Frank Maloney, whose parents were acquaintances on my parents) after some 35 years of me living with this, apologized to me on the perpetrator's behalf and did not do the correct thing and refer this abuse case on to the Police, once again protecting him and themselves. How reprehensible. This was something I had to again instigate.

    "Sometimes I wonder if it is all worth it -- the ongoing turmoil my life has been placed in, the ifs, the buts, did I do something to deserve it, not being able to talk with others in my family, as it makes them so uncomfortable to even mention it they recoil and redirect the conversation, being once again left alone to deal with the aftermath in the best possible way I can -- alone.

    "I have been described as an exceptionally generous person by close friends. 1 often wonder if it is my way of keeping people around me loyal but then I think that would only make them shallow and that they are not. Who knows? Maybe one day I will learn to trust again without question.

    "As this chapter in my life draws to an end, I will never have total closure, only resolution, in that the person who created this hurt and insurmountable burden in my life is at last being held accountable. The ongoing burden will not cease. As has been in the past, it is something I will have to carry and deal with as best I can for the rest of my life," the victim's impact statement concluded.