Background article: Father Farrell's crimes and the church's cover-up

  • By a Broken Rites researcher (article updated 19 September 2016)

This Broken Rites article is the most comprehensive account available about how Catholic Church leaders remained silent for 30 years about Father John Joseph Farrell's sex-crimes against children. In 1993, Broken Rites began researching the Farrell cover-up. In 2012, our research helped to make a "Four Corners" television program about the Farrell cover-up, thus bringing this cover-up to nationwide attention. And this has helped to encourage the Federal Government to establish its national child-abuse Royal Commission. Gradually, Broken Rites (but not the church officials) encouraged some of Farrell's victims to talk with child-protection police, resulting in the jailing of Farrell (now aged 63) in 2016. Broken Rites is proud to have exposed this cover-up.

Church document

According to a church document, Catholic Church officials knew that Father John Joseph Farrell had been committing sex-crimes against children in New South Wales but the church officials preferred to conceal these crimes, so as to protect the church's image.

According to this document (written by senior priest Father Wayne Peters, acting for the church authorities), Father John Farrell admitted to the church authorities in 1992 that, during the previous ten years, he had committed sexual offences against altar boys. These boys were 10 and 11 years old at the time of the offences. The church document quoted Father Farrell as admitting that he began doing these things to the boys in his very first parish in the early 1980s.

According to this 1992 document, the church authorities feared that "one or some of the boys involved may bring criminal charges against [John Farrell] with subsequent grave harm to the priesthood and the Church."

That is, according to this document, the church's priority was to protect the church's public image, rather than to protect the children. Indeed, the document made no mention of the welfare of the children. Thus, the church authorities did not help Father Farrell's former altar boys to consult the state's child-protection police about Farrell's actions Thus, the church's public image was protected — until the church's cover-up of "Father F" was revealed in an ABC "Four Corners" program in July 2012. This program prompted the NSW Police to start investigating Farrell, resulting in his jailing in 2016.

Some background

Father John Joseph Farrell spent his priestly career in New South Wales. The Catholic Church in New South Wales is divided into eleven dioceses, with each diocese being responsible for recruiting its priests and assigning them to various parishes or other postings. Farrell belonged to the Armidale diocese (comprising two dozen parishes) in north-western New South Wales, extending along the New England Highway to the Queensland border.

One of Father Farrell's first parishes (from November 1981 to about April 1984) was the town of Moree, where he assisted the Parish Priest, Monsignor Frank Ryan. Monsignor Ryan was descended from Irish immigrants; Ryan's mother (born as Elizabeth Farrell) was a member of the large Farrell clan in northern New South Wales.

Father Farrell's first full year in Moree was 1982 — and this is when the church's 30-year silence began. (Moree is 600 kilometres north-west of Sydney.)

Ten years later, in 1993, the newly-established Broken Rites victim support group began its Australia-wide research on church sexual-abuse. Broken Rites received a phone call from a former altar boy of Father Farrell at Moree, reporting certain things that allegedly happened to him and other altar boys (aged about ten and eleven) in this parish in 1982-1983.

Soon, Broken Rites had similar phone chats with other Moree families, who said that, by 1983, they had spoken to Father Farrell's immediate superior (Monsignor Frank Ryan, the senior priest in charge of the parish), expressing their concern.

Thirty years later, in 2012, some of these families spoke to the producers of the Australian television public-affairs program Four Corners. In an interview aired on 2 July 2012, one of the Moree parents (Patrick) told Four Corners that his son (Michael) was indecently assaulted on the genitals by Father Farrell in 1983. Immediately after the abuse occurred, Michael (an altar boy) told his father about it. Patrick said in the Four Corners interview:

  • "I immediately went to the presbytery, spoke to Monsignor Frank Ryan, who was the Parish Priest, told him what had happened and how I felt that it'd be best if he [Father Farrell] was kept away from our children and so that it didn't happen again.

That is, the church received this complaint in 1983. The Four Corners program displayed a typewritten letter, from Monsignor Ryan to this parent, admitting that the church authorities knew in 1983 about the Father Farrell complaints. Monsignor Ryan wrote in the letter:

  • "I made discreet inquiries and liaised with families known to have children involved in the matters that were brought to our attention."

That is, Monsignor Ryan knew of other victims (for example, according to Michael's dad Patrick, one of these was an abused boy who was a friend of Michael).

As well as being in charge of the Moree parish, Monsignor Ryan was the Vicar-General (that is, the bishop's deputy) for the whole of the Armidale diocese. The bishop, Most Reverend Henry ("Harry") Kennedy, was located in the town of Armidale.

Parents have told Broken Rites that, in 1983 and 1984, Bishop Henry Kennedy and Monsignor Ryan showed no surprise about these complaints regarding Father Farrell (and they showed no concern about the welfare of the altar boys).

The church discouraged these families from lodging a complaint with the police. Two of the mothers had jobs in local Catholic schools and neither of these mothers wanted to jeopardize this employment. And some parents helped priests to serve Communion at the altar and did not want to fall out with the clergy.

Thus, the church protected Father Farrell from any police investigation in 1983 and 1984. The church merely transferred him to another parish (as we will explain later in this article).

Father Farrell admitted the offences, says a church document

So what was Father Farrell doing to some of his altar boys in his first parish in 1981-1984? Father Wayne Peters, a senior priest representing the Armidale diocese, wrote some answers in a church document in 1992. This document, which is a report of an interview with Father Farrell, was quoted in a courtroom during an unrelated court case in Sydney in 2004. The court document was revealed by the Four Corners program on 2 July 2012. In the document, Father Peters alleged:

  • "He [Father Farrell] admitted that there had been five boys around the age of ten and eleven that he had sexually interfered with in varying degrees in the years approximately 1982 to 1984 while he was the assistant priest at Moree."

The letter quotes Father Farrell as saying that, in the case of Boy One and Boy Two, he made "advances" which both these boys resisted.

In the case of Boy Three, Father Farrell admitted "that he fondled the boy's genitals" during a car trip to Narrabri, an outlying town in the Armidale diocese. [There will be more about Boy Three, Damian Jurd, later in this Broken Rites article.]

Regarding Boy Four and Boy Five, Father Peters alleged:

  • "The situations of boys four and five were the occasion of more serious admissions on the part of [Father Farrell]. He admitted that over a period of approximately twelve months he fondled the genitals of each of these [two] boys and, to quote, 'sucked off their dicks'. As far as [Father Farrell] can remember, this was done on about a monthly basis over a period of twelve months."

[Broken Rites understands that, according to the New South Wales criminal laws, it is possible that any adult could be charged by police with a crime called "indecent assault" for allegedly doing such things to a child, especially as it was allegedly done while the child was in the custody of a person of authority, such as a clergyman.]

It is significant that Bishop Henry Kennedy and Monsignor Frank Ryan seemed to ignore the concerns expressed by parents in 1982-84. And these leaders did not bother to find out what harm was suffered by the altar boys and how this harm also affected the boys' families.

The perpetrators of the cover-up in 1982-84

Father Farrell's early protectors — Bishop Henry (or "Harry") Kennedy and Monsignor Frank Ryan — were significant figures in the Australian church.

  • Bishop Henry Kennedy, as a young priest, had been the private secretary to Cardinal Norman Gilroy in Sydney, and had eventually become vice-chancellor of the archdiocese of Sydney. After being an auxiliary bishop in Brisbane, he became bishop of the Armidale diocese in 1971, aged 56 (when John Joseph Farrell was aged about 18).
  • Monsignor Francis Patrick Ryan was born in the Armidale diocese. He was a pupil at De La Salle College in Armidale city, and later served as the school's chaplain. He became one of Australia's youngest monsignors (the rank immediately below a bishop). He served as the Armidale diocese's vicar-general (that is, the bishop's deputy) throughout Bishop Kennedy's reign. As well as being vicar-general, Monsignor Frank Ryan simultaneously worked in parishes (for example, St Francis Xavier parish at Moree). As Monsignor Ryan's family was related to Farrell's family, Ryan became a significant figure in helping to launch Farrell's priestly career.

Father Farrell's background

Born on 4 July 1953, John Joseph Farrell was the youngest of seven children. He grew up in the town of Armidale. His secondary school was Armidale's De La Salle College, operated by the De La Salle religious Brothers. This school had a tradition of grooming some boys for a career as a priest or a religious brother.

For years, young John Farrell served as an altar boy at the Armidale Cathedral (the Cathedral of St Mary and St Joseph). Thus, he grew up knowing three successive Armidale bishops: Bishop Edward Doody who was based at Armidale until John Farrell was 15; Bishop James Freeman who was based at Armidale briefly during John Farrell's mid-teens (Freeman later became cardinal archbishop of Sydney); and Bishop Henry Kennedy (who took over in 1971, when Farrell was 18).

Farrell seems to have spent his childhood and teenage years "hanging around" churches, being groomed by priests and bishops. It would be interesting if, at some time in the distant future, Farrell were to tell the public something about the grooming process which he experienced.

In 1974, when he was aged 21, John Farrell was endorsed by Bishop Henry Kennedy to go to Sydney to study for the priesthood. The early years were to be spent in a seminary at Springwood and the later years in another seminary at Manly. After commencing at Springwood, Farrell took a year off but returned to continue his training.

During his seminary years (in the late 1970s), Farrell still kept his connection and allegiance to northern New South Wales. He was being trained specifically for the Armidale diocese and normally he would be expected to spend his career in the various towns of this region.

Farrell was ordained as a deacon on 28 November 1980 and as a priest on 28 September 1981. He was appointed as an assistant priest in the parish of Moree (called the St Francis Xavier parish), beginning on 11 November 1981.

Farrell was not the only young man from Armidale who was recruited into the priesthood for this diocese. An earlier example is Father Gerard Joseph Hanna (born 22 Dec 1941, 12 years older than Farrell). Hanna became in charge of parishes, where Father Father was an assistant priest. (More about Hanna later in this article.)

Father Farrell in 1984-87

In April 1984, after Farrell had been involved with the altar boys in the Moree parish for more than two years, Bishop Henry Kennedy was forced to take action to protect the interests of the Catholic Church. Father Farrell was abruptly removed from the Moree parish and was sent on what was euphemistically described as "sick leave".

Farrell then spent a short period visiting the presbytery of another priest, Father Rex Brown, at Tweed Heads in the Lismore diocese on the New South Wales north coast. Father Rex Brown, who was a child-sex offender, had access to a residential shelter in Tweed Heads for homeless boys. Rex Brown is the subject of a separate article on the Broken Rites website. (Broken Rites is doing further research about John Farrell's visit to Tweed Heads.)

About the end of July 1984, Father Farrell returned to the Armidale diocese. Despite the previous complaints about Father F, Bishop Henry Kennedy kept him as a priest and appointed him to St Nicholas’s parish in Tamworth (the largest town in the Armidale diocese). There, he worked under the parish priest-in-charge, Father Gerard Hanna.

In Tamworth, various priests and laypersons knew that that Farrell was a danger to children. For example, according to a church report (compiled for the church in 2012-13 by Antony Whitlam QC), there are two letters in the diocesan records protesting to Bishop J Kennedy about F's proposed appointment to Tamworth. Whitlam reported:

  • "One [letter] was from Harry O'Halloran, a prominent Catholic layman and solicitor. He pointed out the close community ties between Tamworth and Moree and said that F's recent conduct in Moree was known to parishioners in Tamworth. . .
  • "The other letter was from Fr [Bernard] Flood expressing his serious disquiet that 'the earlier incidents [at Moree] are likely to re-occur [in Tamworth]'."

Despite these warnings, the church continued to allow Father Farrell to have priestly access to children in 1984-87 while he was based at St Nicholas's parish, Tamworth.

Reverend Gerard Hanna, who was Father Farrell's superior at the Tamworth parish, is a significant figure in the Farrell story. Hanna, like Farrell, grew up in the town of Armidale and attended school there. Hanna, who came from a high-profile Armidale business family, was ordained as a priest in 1968 and served in the Moree parish in the late 1970s (before Father Farrell arrived there). Later, after being at the Tamworth parish, Hanna served as the vicar-general (that is, chief administrator) of the Armidale diocese) and was given the title of "Monsignor" Hanna. In 2002 he became the bishop of Wagga Wagga (covering the Riverina region in southern New South Wales). Therefore, Hanna is now one of the leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia. He must know a great deal about the story of John Joseph Farrell.

Tamworth was not Farrell's final parish. The church allowed him to continue working in other parishes until 1991, thereby giving him priestly access to more children. By the end of 1991, it was ten years since he had begun working as a priest.

John Farrell and George Pell

Farrell's role in the church brought him into contact a wide range of church people throughout New South Wales and beyond. Writing about his career, Farrell has stated in a church document (referring to around the year 1991):

"Bishop George Pell, who was an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, was in Armidale for a few days and I gave him a guided tour of Armidale. He came to our [my parents'] home and had dinner with my parents. They enjoyed his company. He later became Archbishop of Melbourne and was later translated to Sydney and became a cardinal."

[This claim is in a document examined by Australia's child-abuse Royal Commission in 2016 — Case Study #44, document number NPF.097.001.2356_R.pdf in the exhibits.]

The story of one altar boy, Damian Jurd

Meanwhile, in 1984-87, one of Farrell's former altar boys in 1983-84 (Damian James Jurd, born on 7 March 1972) was having troubles of his own. By mid-1984 (aged 12) Damian ceased being an altar boy and refused to go to church any more. His behaviour deteriorated at home and at school. Damian's parents could not figure out what was troubling the boy.

Eventually, in 1987, Damian ended up on the streets of Sydney, homeless and in distress, aged 15. He was interviewed by child-protection workers and by a children's psychiatrist. While asking Damian about his past, these experts discovered that Damian had allegedly been sexually abused by Father Farrell while he was in this priest's custody in 1983, when he was aged eleven.

Damian's Catholic family had presumed that the child would be safe while in the custody of a Catholic priest. Damian felt unable to tell his "very Catholic" family about what allegedly happened during his weekend with this Catholic priest.

The child-protection experts agreed that the alleged sexual abuse (plus the alleged breach of trust and the accompanying Catholic Church cover-up) had disrupted Damian's adolescence, resulting in severe personal damage.

The church shuns the police

Until mid-1987, the church authorities had successfully protected Farrell from coming to the notice of the police. However, the Sydney child-protection experts referred the Farrell matter to Juvenile Services detectives in the New South Wales Police Service in Sydney.

When these Sydney detectives began their investigation, they notified the police in Tamworth, where Farrell was now ministering (at Tamworth's St Nicholas parish). However, the Tamworth police did not show much enthusiasm for this case. A Tamworth police officer (a Catholic who was acquainted with Farrell) was heard commenting that Father Farrell's accuser "must be telling lies". Because of this inadequate police response in Tamworth, the Sydney detectives decided not to rely on the Tamworth police.

The Sydney detectives visited Moree and contacted some of Farrell's former altar boys and their families but these families were reluctant to help the police. A note written by Bishop Kevin Manning (dated 9 October 1991 and quoted by a church-appointed barrister, Antony Whitlam QC) refers to "the silencing of witnesses in Moree by Monsignor Ryan."

Therefore, the detectives were hamstrung. They could proceed on behalf of only one of the alleged victims — Damian Jurd. The church's code of silence protected Farrell and the church's reputation and assets, but it created problems for Damian Jurd and other altar boys.

Police charges re a car-trip to Narrabri

On 11 August 1987, the detectives arrested Farrell in Tamworth and charged him with having committed sexual crimes on Damian Jurd. Damian's police statement alleged that these incidents occurred during a weekend car-trip from Moree to Narrabri (St Francis Xavier parish). Farrell and Damian stayed in Narrabri overnight, so that Farrell could conduct the weekend Mass for a priest who was away. Damian acted as the altar boy.

On the advice of the church's Catholic solicitor, Farrell refused to answer various questions (about the alleged incidents) which were put to him by the police.

On the evening of 11 August 1987, the arrest of Father Farrell was reported on the news bulletin of a north-west NSW commercial television service. The news item said that the charges relate to sexual abuse allegedly committed against a 12-year-old boy (not named) in the early 1980s.

Damien Jurd's court case

Supported by the church leadership, Farrell indicated that he would plead "not guilty" in court. Farrell's defence team was well resourced. It was headed by a leading Sydney barrister, Mr Chester Porter QC, who had conducted the defence for prominent criminals in Sydney courts.

According to church documents (examined by Antony Whitlam QC), the church paid for Mr Porter to do the Farrell case.

(Where did the church obtain this money for the QC's fees? Did any of it come from money that parents had put into the collection plate at Mass on Sundays?)

A preliminary hearing (called a "committal" hearing, to decide whether the case should be passed on to a judge and jury) was held in a closed courtroom at Narrabri Local Court on 18 February 1988. The magistrate who was listed to hear the case was Raymond George Alexander Blissett. who happened to be (surprise, surprise) personally acquainted with Father Farrell.

(Why did Magistrate Blissett not step aside from hearing the case?)

When Damian's family heard the name of this magistrate, they felt pessimistic about the outcome, because Ray Blissett was a parishioner in the Catholic Church (at "Our Lady Help of Christians" parish in Tamworth South.

In court, after Damian gave his evidence, the church's celebrity barrister cross-examined Damian about his evidence. According to another priest (Father Harry Leis), Chester Porter QC "made mince-meat" of Damian in the witness box. (This is quoted by Antony Whitlam QC in his report for the church in 2012.)

On the other hand, Farrell called no evidence and reserved his defence. (This sometimes happens in a preliminary hearing, when a defendant may decide to retain his/her side of the story until telling it to a judge and jury at a subsequent trial).

At the end of these preliminary proceedings, Magistrate Blissett refused to refer the case to a judge and jury. Explaining his refusal, he said that he preferred to believe "a Catholic priest" (who had pleaded not guilty and who had "no previous convictions"), rather than a troubled 15-year-old boy. This was despite the fact that Farrell had not given evidence and therefore the magistrate had not examined Farrell's side of the story.

Why did the Catholic magistrate choose to believe "a Catholic priest" when this priest had not given evidence to the court.

Accordingly, Magistrate Blissett discharged Farrell, who then walked free from the court, continuing to enjoy the status of "a Catholic priest" with "no convictions", while Damian (having been damaged "like mince-meat") left the court feeling very hurt.

Magistrate Blissett prohibited the media from reporting the court case. Thus, the "good" reputation of the church (as of 1988) was protected.

When the Armidale Catholic diocese engaged Antony Whitlam QC in 2012 to write a report for the church about the Father F matter, Mr Whitlam reported that the reasons of Magistrate Blissett in discharging 'F' in 1988 were "plainly unsatisfactory and provide no support for his [the magistrate's] stated conclusion" and "reflect a flawed approach to the exercise of his jurisdiction to discharge."  Mr Whitlam wrote: "it is difficult to see how a decision was made not to continue the prosecution of 'F' on an ex officio indictment."

The damage control continues

After the Damian Jurd court case, the church authorities arranged for Father Farrell to take a few weekend Masses in Tamworth, so that he would "be seen as vindicated". But after Easter 1988, Farrell was given "leave" from parish work. He was allowed to live in Bishop Henry Kennedy's house in Armidale, where (he said) he would spend his time doing some university studies.

Although Father Farell was never again appointed to a parish position in the Armidale diocese, the church authorities allowed him to work in another diocese (as explained later in this article).

Complaint by a female, 1988

In the late 1980s, while Father Farrell was without a parish, a complaint emerged about him having committed a sexual offence against a 15-year-old girl.

Antony Whitlam QC says, in a report compiled for the church in 2012:

  • "In early 1988, Fr [Wayne] Peters received from another priest in Armidale a report of 'F' sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl. The matter was handled [by the church] in accordance with the [church's] 'Towards Healing' protocols, notwithstanding that there was no allegation relevant to F's priestly status. The criminal charges that resulted were apparently dismissed by a magistrate on 4 February 1999 after a two-day hearing in Armidale." (Whitlam report, paragraph 118.)

In stating that "there was no allegation relevant to F's priestly status", Whitlam evidently means that the girl was not a parishioner.

In Sydney, 1989

By 1989, Father Farrell was living as a guest in a parish priest's house in a suburb of Sydney. According to a letter written by Farrell on 29 June 1989, he was living in the presbytery of the Carlingford parish (St Gerard Majella parish) in Sydney's north-western suburbs. Carlingford was within the new diocese of Broken Bay (which had been carved off from the Sydney archdiocese) and the priest in charge of the Carlingford parish was Father Finian Egan. Some Carlingford parishioners say that they remember Father Farrell being in this parish — they had presumed that Father Farrell was officially working in this parish as a relieving priest.

Three months later, on 3 October 1989 (according to church documents), Father Farrell wrote from this Carlingford address to Bishop Bede Heather (of the Parramatta diocese, covering Sydney's western suburbs) seeking to discuss "the possibility of going on loan for your diocese". Bishop Heather spoke to Armidale's Bishop Henry Kennedy about this on 9 October 1989, the church records state.

[Farrell's host at the Carlingford parish, Father Finian Egan, was sentenced to jail in December 2013 for sexually abusing children during his 50 years as a priest in the Sydney region.]

Transferred to the Parramatta diocese

In late 1989 it was arranged that Father Farrell would transfer (on loan) to minister in the Kenthurst parish in the Parramatta diocese, although officially he would still belong to the Armidale diocese.

The Parramatta diocese, formed in 1986 (with Bishop Bede Heather as its leader), comprised about four dozen parishes in Sydney's outer western suburbs. Parramatta proper is merely where the bishop and the cathedral are located.

Western Sydney is 500 kilometres away from Armidale.

Parishioners in the Armidale diocese were not told why Father Farrell was no longer allowed to work in the Armidale diocese, and his new parishioners at Kenthurst in the Parramatta diocese were not told why he was arriving there.

Thus, Father Farrell spent more than two years ministering in the Parramatta diocese:

  1. From late 1989 until late 1990, he was an assistant priest at Kenthurst (St Madeleine Sophie parish).
  2. Next (throughout 1991 until early 1992) he was an assistant priest in the Merrylands parish (St Margaret Mary parish). At this parish, Farrell encountered another altar boy, Daniel William Powell, who is mentioned later in this Broken Rites article.

Eventually, some parishioners in the Parramatta diocese became concerned about Farrell.

One parent spoke to Father Roderick Bray (who was in charge of St Margaret Mary parish in Merrylands), and threatened to "go public" about Father Farrell. Furthermore, someone in the Parramatta diocese heard about Farrell's problems in the Moree parish in northern New South Wales in 1982-84, and this information began to circulate in the Parramatta diocese.

In late 1991, while he was still on loan to the Parramatta diocese, the church authorities were finally forced to consider some damage-control regarding Farrell.

After Bishop Henry Kennedy retired in 1991 (aged 76), he was succeeded as bishop of Armidale by Bishop Kevin Manning, who conferred with other church officials in Sydney about how to manage the Farrell problem.

Crisis meeting in 1992

By mid-1992, Father Farrell had finished his term at the Merrylands parish and was seeking a new parish in the Parramatta diocese.

He was summoned to a meeting at the Sydney Cathedral presbytery, on On 3 September 1992, attended by three church officials:

  • Reverend Brian Lucas (then based at the Sydney Cathedral), who was involved in the administration of the Sydney archdiocese. (According to another church document, Lucas had been a student in the seminary at the same time as John Farrell and he had attended Farrell's ordination ceremony in Armidale.)
  • Reverend John Usher, of the Sydney archdiocese, chairperson of the Australian Catholic Welfare Commission.
  • Reverend Wayne Peters, a senior priest of the Armidale diocese, whose responsibilities then included the Armidale diocese Tribunal (Peters later became Armidale's vicar-general, the bishop's deputy).

Father Peters wrote a report to Armidale Bishop Kevin Manning (dated 11 September 1992), giving an account of this meeting. In the report, Peters says that Lucas and Usher were representing the "Special Issues Resource Committee" of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

In the 1990s, the term "Special Issues" was a euphemism for clergy sexual abuse. The Special Issues Committee had been established in conjunction with the church's own insurance company (Catholic Church Insurances Limited), which handles "confidential" compensation payouts to victims of church sexual abuse.

In his report, Father Peters alleges that Farrell made the admissions at this meeting about how he committed sexual actions (such as "sucking off boys' dicks") upon children in his custody in 1982-84.

The church leaders explained to Farrell that it would be too risky for the church to appoint him to a new parish because (as Fr Peters' wrote in his letter) "the possibility always remains that one or some of the boys involved may bring criminal charges against [John Farrell] with subsequent grave harm to the priesthood and the Church."

Thus, the church officials were worried about possible harm to the church (that is, harm to its corporate brand-name and its assets), rather than harm that may have been done to the altar boys.

The church officials showed no interest in checking among the altar boys in Farrell's former parishes to find out if any of them needed help.

And the church officials did not help any of the former altar boys to have a chat with detectives in the Sexual Crime Squad of the New South Wales Police. Why not? The reason was given in the report by Father Wayne Peters — that if police laid criminal charges against Farrell, this would cause "subsequent grave harm to the priesthood and the Church."

Farrell in the 1990s

By late 1992, John Farrell was back in his home-town, Armidale, living in a private house this time (not the bishop's house). Although now living as a private citizen, in the eyes of the Catholic Church he was still a priest (a priest without a parish).

Despite his record, the Armidale diocese allowed him to continue playing an active role (as a layman) in church affairs in Armidale town.

And (according to Antony Whitlam QC) church records state that in May 1997 Father Farrell heard confessions one weekend at a parish in the Broken Bay diocese (in Sydney's north) where a seminary classmate was parish priest. Did these parishioners realise exactly to whom they were confessing their sins?

Farrell's status, as a priest without a parish, continued for another ten years while he lived as a private citizen.

Compensation for Damian Jurd

Meanwhile, during the 1990s, Damian Jurd of Moree was feeling hurt by damage which (he alleged) had been done to his life by the church's protecting of Farrell He hired a Sydney legal firm to tackle the Armidale diocese for compensation. The church resisted this application but it eventually was forced to make a confidential financial settlement with Damian (then aged 26) in 1998. Such settlements serve a business purpose — in order to end (and limit) the diocese's financial liability to the alleged victim.

Damian used his compensation as a deposit to buy a house for his partner and his two young children.

Death of Damian Jurd

Despite receiving compensation, Damian was still feeling damaged by the church's victimisation of him. At the end of 2000, his depression became particularly bad and he was feeling worn out. He had lost the will to continue living. He took his own life and was found unconscious in bed. He died on New Year's Day, 2001, aged 28, leaving two children — a boy then aged nine and a girl then aged eight. The Catholic Church had indeed succeeded in "making mince-meat" of him.

When the story of the "Father F" cover up became public in July 2012, Damian's son and daughter were aged 20 and 19 (and they are still feeling hurt about what the Catholic Church did to their father and their grandparents).

Cardinal George Pell knew in 2002

Another altar boy,"Bill" (not his real name) re-surfaced in 2002. Bill had encountered Farrell in the Moree parish in 1982-84. Bill's experiences with Farrell began at the age of eight but the church culture intimidated Bill into remaining silent for many years. Finally, in 2002 (when he was in his late twenties with children of his own), Bill wrote a letter to Sydney's publicity-oriented new archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, complaining about how Father Farrell (and the church's protection of Farrell) had disrupted Bill's life. Pell replied that this was a matter for the Armidale diocese.

So Bill's complaint was flick-passed to the Armidale diocese, which then took an evasive attitude towards Bill. Thus, Bill felt intimidated into not pressing the matter further.

Despite Bill's complaint in 2002, none of the church leaders in 2002 gave him the telephone number of the Sex Crimes Squad of the New South Wales Police. Why not? This squad has a team of detectives to investigate such matters. It is not the role of the Catholic Church to "investigate" its own crimes.

Daniel Powell, altar boy

Meanwhile, trouble was brewing for another of Farrell's altar boys. Daniel William Powell (born on 28 May 1979) was aged 12 when he encountered Farrell in the Merrylands parish in the Parramatta diocese during Farrell's final months there in 1991-92.

In 1997, aged 18, Daniel's life was in a mess. He contacted Farrell, telling him how the priest had damaged the boy's life. According to Daniel, Farrell paid money to Daniel on the understanding that Daniel would not go to the police. Unwisely, Daniel accepted this money from Father F. (Instead, Daniel ought to have asked a solicitor to tackle the Parramatta diocese, not the priest, for compensation.)

Farrell arranged for the police to charge Daniel with the crime of demanding money with menaces.

The matter first went to court for a preliminary ("committal") hearing in October 2003 when Daniel was aged 24. The matter then proceeded to a jury trial in 2004.

To demonstrate that Daniel had been seeking reparation (rather than committing extortion), Daniel's defence barrister (Philip Massey) recited to the court a 24-page statement by Daniel, alleging multiple incidents of sexual abuse by Father John Farrell which had disrupted Daniel's life. Broken Rites possesses a copy of this statement.

Farrell again admits his child-sex assaults

During Daniel Powell's jury trial in 2004, Daniel's defence barrister revealed (and quoted from) Father Wayne Peters' letter of 11 September 1992, containing Farrell's admission that he had committed oral-sex assaults on altar boys.

During the 2004 jury trial, Farrell again admitted these sexual assaults. While he was being cross-examined by Daniel Powell's lawyer, the following exchange occurred (on page 176 of the transcript):

LAWYER: I suggest to you that at that meeting you made certain admissions to those priests [Lucas, Usher and Peters] that you had had oral sex with young boys. What do you say about that?
FARRELL: Yes.

LAWYER: And that's the reason why they [the Armidale diocese] won't let you carry out your duties as a priest, isn't it?
FARRELL: That's part of it, yes…

LAWYER: That, of course, breaks your promise of chastity, doesn't it?
FARRELL: Actually what you are talking about is the promise I took of celibacy, which is not getting married, but if you are saying it was wrong and sinful to engage in wrong practices the answer is yes, and I am deeply sorry for what happened.

This 2004 admission by Farrell (made while under oath) now makes it difficult for Father Brian Lucas to deny the admissions that were cited in Father Wayne Peters' 1992 letter.

The church in damage control

The 2004 jury found Daniel Powell not guilty of the extortion charge.

After the 2004 trial, the church authorities realised that Father Peters' letter about the 1992 meeting with Farrell could become a public-relations problem for the church. Therefore, after the 2004 trial, the church authorities took steps to officially "laicise" John Farrell (that is, remove his priestly status). Thus, he finally became "Mister" Farrell (merely a "former" priest). But this was done to protect the assets of the church. And this was 20 years too late for the altar boys.

And, still, no church official bothered in 2004 to help any of Father F's former altar boys to make an appointment with the NSW Police crime squad.

Compensation and death for Daniel Powell

Daniel engaged a legal firm to tackle the church for compensation for his damaged life. The church resisted this claim but a "confidential" settlement was reached in 2005 when Daniel was 26.

Daniel Powell never recovered from the disruption of his adolescence and he took his own life, by hanging, on 25 November 2007, aged 28. He was the father of two young children.

The significance of Damian and Daniel

Damian Jurd and Daniel Powell lived in different parts of New South Wales and they never knew each other. Damian was born seven years earlier than Daniel. Each of them gave up living at the age of 28.

Whereas Damian Jurd first contacted Broken Rites in 1993, Daniel Powell did not contact us until 2004, and by then Damian Jurd had already died. Broken Rites told Daniel about the trouble in the Moree parish in northern New South Wales and the story of Damian Jurd. Daniel Powell's lawyer then used this information to help get Daniel acquitted from the criminal charges of "demanding money" from Farrell.

Broken Rites arranged for Daniel Powell to have telephone contact with Damian Jurd's family in northern New South Wales. Damian's family expressed sympathy and encouragement to Daniel.

Both Damian and Daniel were damaged not only by the church's culture of clergy sexual abuse but also because of the church's protecting of Father John Farrell from 1981 onwards. While Father Farrell remained in parish work, the lives of Damian Jurd and Daniel Powell were spiralling downwards.

Each died at the age of 28.

Neither the Armidale nor Parramatta diocese seems to show any concern for the future welfare of Damian's two children or Daniel's two.

And, judging from Father Wayne Peters' letter about the 1992 meeting, the church officials showed no interest in trying to find out the names of all the altar boys who may have been affected. In 1993, however, Broken Rites EASILY discovered the names of these altar boys — the names that the church officials in 1992 did not want to know about.

Broken Rites and the "Four Corners" program

In early 2012, Broken Rites spoke to the producers of the Australian television program Four Corners and this program eventually ran a story about "Father F" on Monday, 2 July 2012 — thirty years after Bishop Henry Kennedy and his deputy (Monsignor Frank Ryan) first ignored the complaints about "Father F". Four Corners displayed the letter that was written by Rev. Wayne Peters to Bishop Kevin Manning about Father F's 1982-84 activities. A link to this letter is given at the end of this Broken Rites article, under the sub-heading "Further reading".

The "Four Corners" program prompted other media outlets to take up the "Father F" story. A day after the "Four Corners" program, a Sydney Morning Herald journalist stated in his article: "The [Father F] saga has intensified calls for a royal commission into sexual abuse in the Catholic church and allegations of widespread cover-ups."

Go to "a police station"

After the "Four Corners" program, many people wondered how the church had managed to keep the "Father F" story away from the police for 30 years.

When Broken Rites is helping any church-abuse victim, we give them a police telephone number, where (if they wish) they can arrange to have an private interview with a Crime Squad detective who specialises in investigating crimes against children. Too often, however, the Catholic Church has been off-putting about a police interview. For example, when interviewed on ABC Radio's "AM" program on 6 July 2012, Father Brian Lucas was asked why the church had not helped each victim of Father F to arrange an interview with police investigators. Lucas replied, unhelpfully that "those men [the victims of Father F] today ought to go to a police station and report this abuse ."

Go to "a police station"? The local cop shop? And queue up at the reception counter, waiting for the person ahead of them to report a stolen bicycle?

Father Brian Lucas's attitude is discouraging.

The church establishes an investigation into itself

After the Four Corners program in 2012, the bishops of Armidale and Parramatta announced that they would engage a senior barrister (Mr Antony Whitlam QC) to conduct an investigation for the church on certain aspects of the Father F matter.

The church released the Whitlam report to the media on 17 January 2013. The Whitlam report was based on church correspondence, plus Antony Whitlam's interviews with some bishops and priests, Damian Jurd's parents and Daniel Powell's mother, and a number of other persons.

Royal Commission

Meanwhile, in late 2012, the Australian federal government decided to establish a national Royal Commission to investigate the issue of child abuse in religious and other organisations more generally. The commission would examine the manner in which these organisations have handled (or mis-handled) the problem of child sexual abuse.

The Royal Commission began its work in early 2013. Any victim around Australia could apply to have a private interview in order to tell his/her story to the commission behind closed doors (and some victims of Father Farrell took this opportunity). Also, the Royal Commission would hold a series of public hearings on particular case studies (and Case Study #44, at a public hearing in September 2016, was to examine how the Catholic Church handled the matter of Father John Joseph Farrell).

The church leaders' 30-year silence

The church authorities have some explaining to do:

WHY did the church authorities remain silent about Father John Joseph for thirty years? Why did no church official ever arrange for any of Farrell's altar boys to have an interview with the NSW Police sex crimes squad? In New South Wales law, concealing an alleged crime can itself be a crime.

WHY was it left to the television program "Four Corners" to reveal the "Father F" matters in July 2012?

DO the church authorities feel any responsibility towards the parents and siblings and (especially) the children of Damian Jurd and Daniel Powell? The lives of these families have been damaged by the church's behaviour in harbouring and protecting Father Farrell. The next generation is still feeling the impact of the church's cover-up. Likewise, some of Farrell's other altar boys now have children of their own and the impact of the church's behaviour (in keeing quiet about Father Farrell for 30 years) is being felt by these children, too.

In memory of Damian Jurd and Daniel Powell

Broken Rites has a policy of not publishing the real names of victims. However, Damian Jurd told us in the 1990s that he WANTS his name to be published when his story is told. Likewise, Daniel Powell told us in 2005 that he, too, wants his name published.

Therefore Broken Rites is publishing this article in memory of Damian Jurd and Daniel Powell, two boys who did not deserve their tragic deaths.

Further reading

  • To see the letter by Fr Wayne Peters (on 11 September 1992) about Father Farrell admitting child-sex assaults (as displayed on the "Four Corners" program in 2012), click HERE. In 2012, for legal reasons, the "Four Corners" website redacted (that is, deleted) John Farrell's name. A more complete version of this letter is filed among the exhibits of the Royal Commission's case study #44 in 2016, where the letter is given the number CTJH.240.01001.0123_R.pdf.
  • To see some additional information from Broken Rites about the altar boy Damian Jurd, click HERE.
  • To see a detailed Broken Rites article about the altar boy Daniel Powell, click HERE.
  • You cam still watch the ABC "Four Corners" program in 2012 (based on Broken Rites research) including our material about the church leaders' cover-up of John Joseph FARRELL. The 45-minute program is in three sections:
    *SECTION 1 is an introduction about church victims in Ballarat VIC;
    *SECTION 2 (starting at 5min 50sec) is about John Joseph FARRELL (referred to, for legal reasons, in this program as "Father F"); and
    *SECTION 3 (starting at 32min 50sec) is about a different priest, Father Julian Fox.
    To watch "Four Corners", click HERE.
  • After Farrell was jailed in May 2016, the ABC "7.30" program ran a major item (lasting seven minutes) about the church's cover-up of Farrell. To watch "7.30", click HERE.
  • To see a Broken Rites summary of the court proceedings against John Joseph Farrell in 2012-1016, click HERE.
  • And to see the Royal Commission website regarding a public hearing in 2016 about the Catholic Church's handling of the Farrell matter, click HERE.

The Broken Rites research (as outlined on the "Four Corners" program in 2012) was one of the factors which finally prompted the Australian government to establish a national Royal Commission to investigate how churches have managed to cover up the child-sex crimes committed by members of the clergy. Broken Rites will continue doing research about how the Catholic Church covered up the crimes of Father John Joseph Farrell.