Ex-students complain about Catholic clergy at this Salesian college

  • By a Broken Rites researcher

Former students of a Catholic boys' school in South Australia (Salesian College, Brooklyn Park, Adelaide) have complained that at least three senior priests at this school between the 1960s and the 1980s were child abusers. The abuse happened under the noses of the Melbourne-based national headquarters of this Catholic religious order, the "Salesians of Don Bosco".

Here are details of the three priests in the Adelaide incidents:

  • 1. The Salesians' national headquarters have acknowledged that Father Patrick Laws committed child-sex offences in 1967-68 while he was a senior staff member at Salesian College, Brooklyn Park, Adelaide. 
  • 2. Another former student of the same school has lodged an official complaint about having been sexually abused in 1969 by another teacher, Father Adrian Wenting, who eventually rose to be the head of this school. 
  • 3. And in 1980-81, this school had a paedophile priest, Father Frank Klep, as its head. Eventually, Klep was jailed in Victoria for Victorian crimes. 

These three priests also worked at other Salesian schools around Australia. Salesian priests and brothers belong to this Australia-wide order, instead of being confined to a particular local diocese.

The Salesian religious order has stated that it has a "special interest" in boys. As well as owning schools, the Salesians have also operated homes, clubs and camps for disadvantaged (that is, vulnerable) boys.

Example #1: Father Patrick Laws

One former student (Broken Rites will call him "Roger" - not his real name) was born in 1955. He encountered Father Laws at the Adelaide school in 1967, aged 12.  Roger was a boarder, which made him particularly vulnerable to any abuse.

In 2011 the Australian headquarters of the Salesian order accepted Roger's complaint and made a settlement with him. Broken Rites has examined a copy of the settlement document.

In their settlement document for Roger, the Salesians state:

  • "It has been established that during 1967 and 1968, while [" Roger"] was a boarder at Salesian College at Brooklyn Park in South Australia:  
  • "(a) he was unlawfully physically and sexually assaulted by various Salesian Priests or Brothers including Fr Patrick Laws;  
  • "(b) as a result of all such unlawful or inappropriate acts, ["Roger"] sustained loss, damage and injuries, nervous shock and may require specialist counselling and therapy."  

The Salesians paid "Roger" a relatively small sum, just enough to encourage him to sign the settlement deed. By signing this deed, Roger gave up his right to later take legal action against the Salesians to obtain a proper amount.

Since the settlement, "Roger" has made oral and written submissions to Australia's national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He is complaining about how the Salesians inflicted Father P.J. Laws and other offenders on vulnerable boys in the Salesian schools. He is also complaining that the Salesians' settlement process was designed to benefit the Salesians (to protect them from any legal liability), rather than being designed primarily to repair the damage life of the victim.

During his long career in the Salesians, Fr Patrick J. Laws had access to boys in several schools. For example (and this is not a complete list):-

  • In the 1950s, Father Laws' postings included Salesian College Rupertswood, in Sunbury, in Melbourne's outer north-west.  
  • In the 1960s and early 1970s, he was at Salesian College, Brooklyn Park, Adelaide (where he became the headmaster and rector).  
  • In 1977, he was living in the Salesian community at Port Pirie, South Australia (where the Salesians operated St Mark's College).  
  • From 1978 to 1983 he was the principal of St John Bosco College  in Engadine, south of Sydney. This school was originally called John Bosco High School.  
  • In the late 1980s, he was listed as being associated with two Salesian schools in Melbourne (Salesian College at Chadstone and St Joseph's College at Ferntree Gully).  

Example #2: Father Adrian Wenting

Fr Wenting taught at Brooklyn Park in the late 1960s and rose to become the rector  there from 1974 to 1979.

A former student ("Charlie" - not his real name),  encountered Fr Adrian Wenting while attending Salesian College, Brooklyn Park, school as a day boy, between 1969 and 1975. Charlie commenced in primary school grade seven.

Charlie told Broken Rites:

"I was called to Fr Wenting’s office on a matter of discipline for a minor matter, such as talking in class. In those days, corporal punishment was the norm. The Salesians had a vast array of weapons -  leather straps, canes, steel rulers, fists and open hands.

"Wenting had a habit during these 'counselling/discipline sessions' of coming up behind a boy, putting his hands on your shoulders and grinding his penis into your anal area. This was done with clothes on. We boys referred to it as 'bumming'.

"Being sexually naïve, we just joked about it afterwards in the playground. After our first encounter with Wenting, most of us learned that, the next time he attempted this bumming, we just moved to face him. As result we got the cane, or the cuts from a strap, extra hard, or more of them.

"I am revealing Wenting's 'bumming' because I believe that it may have been the tip of an iceberg. I was a day student, and boarding students would have been more vulnerable and easier targets, especially at night or during weekends."

Charlie said that Fr Wenting was not the only Salesian who took a "close interest" in boys at the Brooklyn Park school. He said:

"For example, Fr Drohan [his first name was Frank] would invite us boys into his private living quarters on a regular basis and show us pictures of nude men, nude women and couples having sexual intercourse in various positions. He would ask us what we felt about what we were seeing, and would ask whether we were having sex with either girls or boys. Once again, being sexually naive, we just laughed the whole experience off. As boys, we were more interested in cars, music and sport.

"And there were also other weirdos among the Salesians. Each Monday morning, boarders would talk about strange incidents with the Priests or Brothers that occurred over the weekend. And we just viewed these things as strange. Being only in Grade 7, none of us knew much about sex or inappropriate behaviour. We had been taught by our Catholic parents to trust Priests above everyone else.

"I told my parents about these Salesian goings-on, but, being strict Catholics, they would not hear nor believe it possible for a Catholic Priest/Brother to be capable of such actions.

"I could not report these priestly incidents to anybody in authority in the Salesian order. For saying anything negative about a Priest or Brother, I would have received corporal punishment such as several blows from a ruler across my knuckles or delivered by a cane or leather strap to my buttocks. And I would have been branded a liar for the rest of my school days.

"It would have been impossible to report these abuses to the police. If my own parents did not believe me and passed it off as a boy being silly, what hope did I have with the police?

"I would have liked my parents to show more concern and at least to have given me the benefit of the doubt and investigated my concerns. It seemed that, being Catholics, they would never talk ill of the Catholic Church, or if something was proven they would never raise the matter. It was like we were part of a secret society and could never talk about the inner workings to anyone.

"I doubt that any investigation by the Catholic Church would have had any success, as the Catholic Church was not a transparent organization and at school you did not have any idea which of the Priests and Brothers were involved in the abuse, and which were protecting the Salesian order and the Catholic Church.

"I would feel better if the offenders were charged by the police and convicted in a court. This of course will not occur as the persons concerned have passed on.

"I would like to see the Salesians' behaviour made public. And the church should offer an apology to the victims.

"I hope that the Royal Commission will result in the Salesian Order and the Catholic Church being forced to take responsibility for what occurred. I believe that many people have been scarred for life by what occurred to them whilst under the care and education of the Salesians and the Catholic Church in general," Charllie said.

Charlie has made a submission to Australia's national Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Charlie is also worried about a Father Alfonz (or Alphonsus) Silhar [pronounced like "SHEELAH"] who committed physical abuse at the Brooklyn  Park school.

Another complaint about Father Wenting

Another Brooklyn Park ex-student, "Karl" (not his real name), who was born in 1950, was from a distant country town. He became a boarder at Brooklyn Park at age 15, to do Year 10.

Karl has told Broken Rites that the school went on an excursion to John Bosco camp at Warooka on Yorke Peninsula. Karl slept in a dormitory there, under the supervision of Fr Wenting. One night, after lights-out, Fr Wenting heard Karl’s voice and took Karl to Wenting’s room for punishment. He told Karl to remove his pants and strapped Karl's bare bottom repeatedly.

Wenting then masturbated himself in Karl’s presence, Karl says.

Karl later told his father but his father refused to believe that such a thing could happen in the Catholic Church. That year, Karl failed Year 10, on  purpose, and then left, without qualifications. He spent his life working in factories.

Karl says he is contacting Australia's Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

More about Father Wenting

Fr Adrian Wenting also spent time at the Salesians schools in Melbourne. A Salesian website says that there is a "Fr Adrian Wenting scholarship" at Salesian College, Chadstone, Melbourne.

A Catholic directory in 1991 listed Fr Adrian Wenting that year as the priest in charge of a parish in Kelmscott, Western Australia.

Example #3: Father Frank Klep

Salesian priest Fr Frank Klep transferred from Melbourne to Adelaide at the end of 1979 to become the principal of Salesian College, Brooklyn Park. He  was the rector there in 1980 and 1981.

He is recorded as taking part in many activities with the Adelaide boys, including one trip with boys in May 1981 to visit the Salesian houses in and around Melbourne.

In a Brooklyn Park yearbook in 1981, Klep spoke about his forthcoming departure from Brooklyn Park and about the “very happy and fulfilling time” he had had there. The yearbook says he was to return to the Sunbury school in Melbourne.

Klep reportedly worked at times with disadvantaged boys at the Salesian order’s St John’s Boys Home in Adelaide, which raises suspicions in light of his convictions for child abuse.

One former student  says that sex-crime detectives from the South Australian Police should investigate Klep's activities in Adelaide and set up a help line for people to call. Any crimes committed by Klep in South Australia would be dealt with in a South Australian court.

To read more about Fr Frank Klep's Victorian crimes, click HERE.

Example #4: Father Paul Raymond Evans

This Salesian priest worked in New South Wales. Then he was a teacher at Salesian College in Brooklyn Park, Adelaide, for six months — an unusually short period of time. He was jailed in New South Wales for NSW crimes. Any crimes committed in South Australia would be a matter for the South Australian police and courts.

To read more about Fr Paul Raymond Evans in New South Wales, click HERE.

Further research

Broken Rites is doing further research about Fr Patrick J. Laws, Fr Adrian Wenting, Fr Frank Klep and Fr Paul Raymond Evans and other Salesians.

Broken Rites is also researching another Salesian school in South Australia - St Mark's College, in Port Pirie (north of Adelaide). Too often, pedophile Salesian clergy from Melbourne spent time at the Port Pirie school. For example:

  • Father Michael Aulsebrook - see more from Broken Rites HERE. 
  • Father John Ayers - see more from Broken Rites HERE
  • Brother Gregory Vincent Coffin (he changed his surname to Coffey and, despite being convicted in South Australia, was later allowed to work as a lay teacher in a Catholic school in Melbourne) - see more from Broken Rites HERE