A priest gets more jail time after yet another victim speaks to the police

By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 8 November 2019

The Australia-wide Salesian religious order operates Catholic schools in several Australian states, and it is notorious for tolerating sexually-abusive priests and brothers on its teaching staff, often transferring them from school to school around Australia and overseas. For example, the Salesian leadership knew that Father Michael Aulsebrook committed child-sex crimes in Victoria but, despite knowing this, the leadership retained him in the priesthood and promoted him to a higher position — in South Australia. Eventually, a Victorian victim got Aulsebrook jailed. This prompted more of Aulsebook's victims to speak (separately) to Victoria Police detectives, and therefore in 2019 Aulsebrook has received additional Victorian jail sentences.

This Broken Rites article begins with some background about Aulsebrook's earlier convictions, in 2011 and 2018. The latest conviction, on 21October 2019, is dealt with later in this article.

And at the end of this article, there are links to Broken Rites articles about some other sexually-abusive Salesian priests and brothers.

The 2011 court case

Michael Scott Aulsebrook appeared in the Melbourne County Court on 22 August 2011 (when he was aged 55) for sentencing after he pleaded guilty to multiple incidents of indecent assault, committed against a 12-year-old boy.

The court was told that this was not the only boy who lodged a complaint about Aulsebrook. A separate complaint in 1993 by another boy had been settled by the church, in private, out-of-court.

Aulsebrook's lawyer conceded that Aulsebrook's offending was not isolated, the court was told.

Representatives of the church gave character evidence for Aulsebrook and were in court at the sentencing to show their support for him (rather than supporting the victim).

The court was told that, when Michael Aulsebrook joined the Catholic religious order of Salesian priests and brothers, he was at first a brother (Brother Aulsebrook) but later (even after the church authorities knew that he was a danger to children) he was ordained as a priest (Father Aulsebrook).

The offences, for which he was sentenced, happened during a period of several months in 1983 when Brother Aulsebrook was in charge of Year 7 and 8 students at Salesian College, "Rupertswood" (a boarding school in Sunbury, north-west of Melbourne).

When sentencing Aulsebrook, Judge Tim Wood told the court some details about the offences. He said Aulsebrook met this victim on the boy's first day at the school, when the child's mother told her son that if he had any problems he should take them to "Brother Michael".

In the next few months, Aulsebrook groomed the boy, buying him treats from the school tuck shop and spending lunch and recess breaks with him, Judge Wood said.

The first assault occurred when the boy and three classmates were ordered to stand outside Aulsebrook's room over a disciplinary matter, the judge said.

After dealing with the classmates, Aulsebrook invited this boy to sit on his knee and attempted to handle him indecently until the boy hastily left the room in fright.

The next day he told the boy everything was all right, later telling him that their meetings were secret and that he shouldn't tell anyone.

Classmates interrupted the abuse on more than one occasion when they came looking for the victim. He was frightened and told his mates that he had been in trouble.

Judge Wood said that, sometimes, after lights out in the school dormitory, the boy would be lured to Aulsebrook's bedroom, where he would be directed to sit on Aulsebrook's knee. Then, as they listened to the radio or watched television, Aulsebrook would handle the boy's genitals.

Judge Wood said Aulsebrook would give a secret signal when he wanted the boy to join him in Aulsebrook's bedroom, which adjoined the dormitory.

On two occasions he also attempted to kiss the boy and on others he lay on top of him after removing his victim's pants.

In his sentencing remarks, the judge said that Aulsebrook admitted that another complaint of sexual abuse had been made against him by another boy in 1993 and Aulsebrook received "counseling" from the Salesian order but no criminal prosecution occurred. The court was told that, after Aulesbrook had a period away from teaching, the Salesians then appointed him to St Mark's College in Port Pirie, South Australia, where he served as school principal until 2003.

In the years after the assaults in Victoria, Aulsebrook maintained contact with the Victorian victim's family and even attended the victim's wedding where he blessed the couple's wedding rings.

Judge Wood said Aulsebrook would also meet the man and his wife socially until the complaint was made against him.

The judge said the victim had a nervous breakdown in 2000 and said he had been molested but his family did not believe him at first. He eventually reported it to the church, and the Salesian Order then gave him a payout to "settle" that matter.

Meanwhile, Aulsebrook resigned from the priesthood and worked as a public servant in Canberra.

While sentencing Aulsebrook, Judge Wood said that there were several aggravating features of his case, including a gross breach of trust, his exploitation and lack of insight.

Aulsebrook, who had pleaded guilty to assaulting the boy on five occasions from May to August in 1983, was sentenced in relation to three "representative" charges.

On 22 August 2011, Judge Wood sentenced Aulsebrook to a total of two years' jail with 15 months suspended, meaning that he would serve nine months behind bars.

The 2016 court case

Aulsebrook, who is no longer in the priesthood, was jailed again in the same Melbourne court on 21 June 2016 (aged 60) regarding three more victims.

  • He was charged with having raped a boy at Salesian College "Rupertswood" in Sunbury, Victoria. He pleaded not guilty to one count of rape but a jury found him guilty. The rape occurred in 1988 when Father Aulsebrook was the boarding co-ordinator. He lured the boy to his office one night with the offer of playing computer games, the court was told. The boy was given a soft drink spiked with a sedative. He woke to find himself lying on the floor and being raped. After raping him, Aulsebrook told the boy: "Get out of my sight. You disgust me". Judge Geoffrey Chettle said Aulsebrook's remark was calculated to transfer his own guilt onto the boy. This victim was also raped by another priest at the school, Father David Rapson, in a separate incident in that same year.
  • Aulsebrook pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting two other victims – a boy and a girl. In 1987, while staying with the boy's family, Aulsebrook molested the then seven-year-old and also attacked him eight years later. Also in 1995, he molested the girl – then aged seven or eight – while staying with her family. The boy and girl were both attacked while sleeping in their beds, the court was told.

The court was told that the three victims (the rape victim and the younger boy and girl) had all experienced problems into their adult lives, including depression, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, self-harm and substance abuse.

Judge Chettle said Aulsebrook's offending was the "serious serial exploitation of young victims in a predatory" manner. His rape of the boarding student was an inexcusable breach of trust, the judge said, for which he had shown "absolutely no remorse".

Judge Chettle sentenced Aulsebrook for eight and a half years' jail. Aulsebrook must spend five years and nine months in prison before he is eligible for parole.

Judge Chettle said he had to jail Aulsebrook in line with 1988 sentencing laws. Rape carried a maximum penalty of 10 years at the time, whereas now it carries a maximum 25 years.

The detectives who have investigated the Salesian priests and brothers in Melbourne are in the Sano Taskforce of the Victoria Police sexual crime squad, based in Spencer Street, Melbourne.

A re-trial in 2018

Aulsebook appealed against the 2016 conviction, and a re-trial was held in 2018. Aulsebrook was again found guilty by a jury.

At the end of the re-trial, Judge Trevor Wraight said that Aulsebrook had not shown remorse by pleading not guilty and appealing his conviction, forcing the victim to relive the crime.

"You were an adult in a position of authority. You were a teacher and a Catholic priest," he said.

"The victim was isolated and sedated. The offending was violent and would have been extremely frightening for a young boy in the circumstances."

Judge Wraight imposed a new sentence on Aulsebrook — a total of seven years and six months in prison for the rape and the indecent assaults, with a non-parole period of four years and nine months.

Another court case (and more jail) in 2019

On 8 October 2019, Michael Aulsebrook (then aged 63) pleaded guilty in the Melbourne County Court to indecently assaulting a boy aged 11 or 12 at a summer holiday camp he was managing when he was a Salesian Brother in the mid-1980s. The victim told police about the assault in 2016.

Prosecutor Nick Goodenough told the court that the child had been jumping on a trampoline at the summer camp in 1985 or 1986 when his shorts began chafing painfully and he told Aulsebrook about it.

Brother Aulsebrook told the child to go to a first aid office, where Aulsebrook asked him to remove his shorts and gave him a can of soft-drink before rubbing the boy's genitals and then digitally penetrating him. Aulsebrook also applied a cream on the boy and told him it would stop his rash, even though he didn’t have one. After he stopped, Aulsebrook complimented the boy about his genitals and patted him on the head. He told the boy not to tell anyone about the incident.

When Aulsebrook was interviewed by police in 2017, he didn't admit to the incident, Aulsebrook gave primarily "no-comment" answers, the prosecutor said.

But Aulsebrook’s lawyer Lucinda Thies told the court that Aulsebrook's eventual guilty plea shows that he has now acknowledged responsibility - "a public expression of his wrongdoing."

Ms Thies said that Aulsebrook has been targeted by the criminal justice system for the past decade, and he has served two jail sentences. She said Auslebrook left the Salesian order in 2004 and went on to work in the federal public service until he was sentenced in 2011. She said Aulsebrook has lost his connection to the church since his offending came to light and his family has ostracised him

On 21 October 2019, Aulsebrook appeared before Judge Gavan Meredith for sentencing. The judge said the abuse at the camp was a gross and egregious breach of trust that caused lifelong damage to this victim. The judge told Aulsebrook: "The fact you were a member of a religious order and camp director meant that you occupied a position of trust and influence over those in your care. The faithful expected you to foster and care for those in your charge, not place your own sexual needs above their welfare.’’

Judge Meredith sentenced Aulsebrook to additional time in jail (that is, added to the time he is currently serving in jail), and ordered that his non-parole period be increased by seven months.

A book by Aulsebrook's sister

Michael Aulsebrook's twin sister (Margaret Harrod) has written a book (entitled "Blood on the Rosary", published in 2018 by Simon and Schuster) about the family's Catholic background.

More Broken Rites articles

See articles by Broken Rites about some other members of the Salesian religious order: