The Church concealed Father Michael Aulsebrook's child-abuse crimes, a court is told

By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 27 January 2018

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 crimes in Victorian schools but, despite knowing this, the leadership retained him in the priesthood and even promoted him to be in charge of another school — in South Australia. A Victorian victim finally got Aulsebrook jailed in 2011 for indecently assaulting this victim. This prompted more of his victims to speak to Victoria Police detectives, and therefore Aulsebrook was jailed again in 2016. 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 listed 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 are in the Sano Taskforce of the Victoria Police sexual crime squad, based in Spencer Street, Melbourne.

More Broken Rites articles

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