A former Catholic schoolboy speaks out

By a Broken Rites researcher

The leaders of a Catholic religious order, the Salesians of Don Bosco, have made an out-of-court settlement with a former schoolboy who alleged that he was sexually abused by a priest (Father John Ayers) while he was a pupil at a prominent Australian Catholic school.

The ex-student, "Roy", has told Broken Rites that he encountered Father Ayers while boarding at Salesian College ("Rupertswood"), in Sunbury, near Melbourne, between 1965 and 1967, when Roy was aged 12 to 13.

In return for receiving his out-of-court settlement, Roy signed a deed of release for the Salesians, preventing him from suing the Salesians in the civil courts for damages.

The deed of release shows Fr John Ayers' name as well as Roy's name.

Broken Rites has a copy of the settlement deed.

The priest's career

The Salesians are said to be one of the largest Catholic organization of Catholic priests and brothers in the world. Their founder, "Saint" John Bosco, founded the order in Italy in 1859, to cater for disadvantaged children.

Father Jack Ayers, an Australian, joined the Salesian order in the early 1950s.

A Salesian document says that Fr John Ayers helped to open Salesian College at Chadstone (in Melbourne's south-east) in 1957, which had a staff of nine Salesians. In the early 1960s he was teaching at Salesian College in Brooklyn Park, Adelaide, South Australia. Later in the 1960s, the above mentioned student, "Roy", encountered Ayers at "Rupertswood" College, Melbourne.

In the 1970s, he was working at Boys Town, a Salesian home for disadvantaged boys, at Engadine, near Sydney.

In the 1988 edition of the annual Australian Catholic Directory, he was at Salesian College (a high school) in Brooklyn Park, South Australia.

In the 1990s, the Salesians transferred Ayers to their operations in the Pacific. One advantage of this move was that it put Ayers out of the reach of Australian police.

At one stage, Fr Jack Ayers was located at the Moamoa Theological College in Samoa, along with another Australian priest, Fr Frank Klep.

In the mid-2010 edition of the Catholic Directory, Rev. John Ayers was still listed as being "currently overseas" presumably in Samoa, although the Salesians are also active in other parts of the Pacific).

Father John Ayers' surname, which rhymes with "apples and pears", has sometimes been mis-spelt as John "Ayres".

"Rupertswood" school

The school where "Roy" encountered Fr Jack Ayers in the 1960s is situated in based at an old mansion, called "Rupertswood". It was then a boys-only school, with boarders as well as day pupils. (Girls were admitted from 1992.)

Roy says that the dormitories at Rupertswood were occupied by about 100 junior boys, partitioned at both ends by curtains behind which a Salesian Brother slept to maintain order. There were about 19 priests, brothers and lay brothers.

"It was a terrifying place for me," Roy says. "I have horrible memories of the main building, dark staircases, where the priests lived. If you found yourself on the second floor, you were in trouble."

Roy says that sexual abuse forced him to run away several times. He knew that could not tell anybody about the abuse, because Catholic priests had an image of being celibate and chaste and therefore (he thought) nobody would believe him. But the Salesians told his mother that he was an insolent boy.

In 2000, Roy decided to confront his past. He tackled the Salesian headquarters about the sexual abuse. The Salesians granted him his out-of-court settlement, thereby helping to protect the brand-name of Ruperstood as a "good" Catholic school.

Civil settlement

According to the settlement deed, [Roy] "alleges that over a period of time between 1965 and 1967, whilst a student at Salesian College, Rupertswood, Sunbury, he was unlawfully sexually and/or physically assaulted by Fr Jack Ayers. [Roy] further alleges that, as a result of the assaults, he sustained loss, damage and injuries and may require counselling or therapy in the future. Such loss, damage and injuries being caused or contributed to by the negligence and/or the breach of duty of the Salesians."

According to the deed, the Salesians deny liability but (the deed says) "in order to avoid the cost, expense and inconvenience of litigation, the parties to this deed have agreed to settle the claim."

Police investigation

In 2011, the Victoria Police sex-crime squad was gathering evidence about Ayers' Victorian crimes but, by then, the elderly priest was living in a nursing home in Samoa, making it too difficult for police to bring him to court in Australia. Ayers he died in Samoa in 2012, aged 83.

Article posted 30 January 2011