Fr Gerard Fitzgerald survived a police investigation

 Broken Rites Australia is researching Father Gerard Fitzgerald, who spent 51 years as a priest in the Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese before retiring in 2006. In one of his early parishes (Coburg in 1964), he was the subject of a police investigtion.

Gerard Fitzgerald was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 30 January 1932. He worked in the postal service until age nineteen, when he entered Ireland's Mount Melleray Seminary, staffed by Cistercian Monks. After two years there, he was sponsored by the Melbourne archdiocese to complete his priesthood studies at All Hallows College, Dublin.

After being ordained in Dublin, he arrived in Melbourne on 17 December 1955. His earliest Melbourne parishes were Moreland, West Preston, Castlemaine and (in 1964) Coburg.

Trouble at Coburg parish

Broken Rites has interviewed a former police officer who once held a high rank in the Victoria Police. During our interview (about various matters), this officer described a police investigation which he witnessed in the Coburg parish in 1964. The officer told Broken Rites:

  • "As a young uniformed policeman in Coburg in 1964, I remember an investigation into Father Gerard Fitzgerald, about molesting very young children at the Coburg parish school. The molestations were quite serious. But the children were from migrant families and it was difficult for the police to obtain the co-operation of these families. Therefore, Fitzgerald was never charged.

    "During the police investigation, conducted by two detectives, there were high-level discussions between the Catholic Church and the Police Department. The two detectives were angry about Fitzgerald being allowed to get off. They believe that he was saved by a cover-up."

Fitzgerald, who had been at Coburg for only one year, was transferred to the Frankston parish, where he was listed in the 1965 edition of the Australian Catholic Directory.

Trouble at orphanage

Father Gerry Fitzgerald's next posting (in the late 1960s) was to the Holy Family parish at Bell Park parish (in Geelong, which is within the Melbourne diocese). Here, as well as working in the parish, the assistant priest would also act as a chaplain at St Catherine's girls orphanage, which was located in that area. The orphanage had a flat for the chaplain's use.

A former resident of St Catherine's orphanage ("Mary", born in 1951) told Broken Rites in 1994:

  • "I was a ward of the state and I was housed at St Catherine's orphanage between 1963 and 1988, aged 11 to 17.

    "Father Fitzgerald was very fresh with the girls, always hugging or grabbing someone. One of my duties was to clean the chaplain's flat, so I was coming and going from the flat at various odd times. On about half a dozen occasions, I witnessed Fr Fitzgerald entering the flat with one or other of the girls. One time, when I entered the flat unexpectedly, I saw him in his underpants, taking a girl into the bedroom.

    "I once heard a girl saying to a friend: 'Father Fitz loves me'. "

Later career

After Bell Park, Fr Gerry Fitzgerald was an assistant priest at East St Kilda and Newport. He was then promoted to be the Parish Priest (that is, in charge) at Laverton (St Martin de Porres parish) from 1973 to 1987 and finally at Caulfield South (Holy Cross parish), from January 1988 until he retired in mid-2006 — 42 years after the 1964 police investigation.

Article posted 8 June 2011.

Tags: