This priest (he was the deputy to a bishop) is jailed again - and police are making further investigations

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 9 March 2021

In the 1970s and 1980s, Father Richard John Cattell was a Catholic priest in western Sydney, where he committed sexual crimes against numerous boys. In the early 1990s, the Catholic Church promoted Cattell to become the Vicar-General of the Parramatta diocese, supervising 48 parishes in western Sydney on behalf of the bishop. Eventually, many years later, some of Cattell's victims began to speak (as adults) to the police, and therefore Cattell was jailed in 1994 and again in 2015 and 2019 regarding these victims. On 2 November 2020, Cattell (aged 80) was jailed again after an additional victim contacted the detectives. This demonstrates that it is never too late for a former victim to obtain justice. In early 2021, New South Wales Police began investigating further complaints from other alleged victims of Richard Cattell.

Broken Rites has ascertained that Father Richard John Cattell was ordained on 18 July 1964 for the Sydney archdiocese. He was in the same graduating group as another New South Wales priest, Vincent Kiss, of the Wagga Wagga diocese. (Vincent Kiss was eventually jailed for sexual crimes against children.)

Cattell worked in various parishes (Broken Rites has compiled a list of these) until one victim managed to get Cattell convicted in court in 1994. Since 1994, various Cattell victims have contacted Broken Rites which has advised these victims to have a private chat with NSW Police detectives These victims were from several parishes (and various years) and they do not know each other.

The 1994 court case

In 1973, when Father Richard Cattell was a priest in the Liverpool parish in Sydney's south-west, he sexually abused a boy ("Albert") who eventually reported this crime to the police twenty years later. This resulted in Cattell being jailed in 1994 after pleading guilty. This 1994 court case, researched by Broken Rites, demonstrates that church victims should report sexual crimes to the civil authorities, not to the offending organisation (the church).

In the early 1990s, Cattell was the vicar-general of the newly-created Parramatta diocese, administering it on behalf of Bishop Bede Heather. In his role as the vicar-general, it was possible that Cattell could be approached by church-abuse victims wanting to report the crimes of one of  Cattell's fellow-priests.  It was after his appointment as the vicar-general that "Albert" (a victim of Cattell from the 1970s, at  the Liverpool parish) spoke to detectives from the New South Wales Police, resulting in the 1994 court case.

In the Penrith Local Court on 19 August 1994, Richard St John Cattell (then aged 54) pleaded guilty to five counts of indecent assault on a male. The court was told that in 1973 (when Cattell was aged 33, working at the Liverpool parish), a 14-year-old boy ("Albert") went to him, reporting that he had been sexually assaulted by a schoolteacher. Instead of helping the boy (for example, by getting the teacher punished), Cattell allegedly told the boy that this sort of experience was "normal". Cattell then committed indecent assaults against the boy several times during the next three years.

The sentencing process began in Penrith District Court on 25 November 1994. The prosecution brief was compiled by Det. Sgt. Malcolm Hockenberg (of Penrith), working in association with Detective Sue Lightfoot of Penrith.

On 9 December 1994, Judge Saunders sentenced Richard Cattell to three years jail, with parole possible after serving two years behind bars.

On the day of the sentencing, the head of the Parramatta diocese (Bishop Bede Heather), wrote to Cattell's former parishioners, supporting the convicted criminal Richard Cattell, rather than supporting the victim.

Bishop Heather wrote: "The Church's message is one of mercy. From me and the priests of Parramatta Father Richard will receive forgiveness and support. He continues to be our brother priest..."

Bishop Heather's attitude demonstrates why church victims should report the crime to the civil authorities — not to the offending organisation, the church.

On 19 December 1994, Heather wrote to his clergy about the Cattell case and several similar cases in his diocese. He gave Cattell's prison address, with suggestions for those priests "intending to visit". He also indicated his depressed mood about all the scandals, saying that "priestly ministry has suffered a severe setback in the eyes of many people." (That is, it was unfortunate that the scandals had become public.)

The Liverpool victim ("Albert") who got Cattell jailed in 1994 was setting an example which could be followed by other victims.

Cattell in retirement

Broken Rites has ascertained that, after retiring from parish work in the 1990s, Richard Cattell lived privately at Port Macquarie on the New South Wales mid-north coast. At the sentencing in the Penrith District Court on 20 February 2015, the court was told that Cattell left Port Macquarie after local people learned about his connection with child-abuse.

The Port Macquarie house was then put up for sale. The real estate agent's advertisement (which Broken Rites has examined) said that the house was being sold because the owner was "moving interstate". Indeed, Cattell went to live with his brother on the Queensland Gold Coast — until the New South Wales police caught up with him in 2014, resulting in his conviction in 2015.

How the 2015 case began

New South Wales detectives travelled to the NSW/Queensland border, and interviewed Richard Cattell about one former altar boy ("Zachary") who alleged that he was sexually abused while Cattell was based at parishes in western Sydney in the 1980s. The matter was officially filed in a NSW Local Court on 24 March 2014.

At the time of the offences against Zachary in the 1980s, Father Cattell was based at a parish called "Our Lady of the Rosary" in a suburb called St Marys [situated 45 kilometres west of the Sydney central business district, near Penrith]. According to a church website, Reverend Richard Cattell was the parish priest in charge of Our Lady of the Rosary parish from 1982 to 1994.

Police alleged (in court documents) that, during three years between 1984 and 1987, the priest interfered with the young boy’s genitalia.

During 2014 the case began going through its next steps at the magistrate level in Local Courts in western Sydney. In late 2014, Cattell pleaded guilty to two charges.

The guilty plea meant that Cattell was convicted. Therefore, the victim was not required to appear in court.

The case was then passed on to a higher court, the Penrith District Court, for sentencing by a judge on the particular charges relating to the guilty plea. The District Court case number was 2014/00062169.

The victim in the 2015 sentencing

The police investigation in Zachary's case was conducted by Plain Clothes Senior Constable Peter Shedden, of the Taree Detectives Office, because it was he who conducted the first interview with this victim. (Other alleged victims of Cattell have spoken to Detectives Offices at other police stations around Sydney.)

Zachary told the police how he came from a broken, disadvantaged family (his father was absent from the home). Zachary encountered Cattell in the early 1980s at the age of 11. Cattell used his status as a Catholic priest to take control of Zachary's life.

The abuse of Zachary began at Cattell's holiday house in Mollymook on NSW south coast, 225 miles from Sydney. That is, Zachary was away from home and in Cattell's custody. The abuse continued, at various times, in Cattell's parish house (the presbytery) in western Sydney.

Zachary has stated that he was intimidated into remaining silent about the crimes, because (according to Cattell) "nobody" would believe complaints about a Catholic priest. This church cover-up damaged Zachary's teenage and adult development.

Although Zachary suffered multiple incidents, the Office of Public Prosecutions selected (for court purposes) two representative incidents (occurring after Zachary reached the age of 12).

Pre-sentence procedures in the 2015 case

In Penrith District Court on 20 February 2015, Judge Jennifer English began by hearing submissions from the prosecutor and the defence about what kind of sentence should be imposed.

The defence requested a suspended, non-custodial sentence, claiming that Cattell had been successfully rehabilitated after he served a jail sentence in the mid-1990s for similar offences.

The prosecutor, however, called for a “full-time custodial sentence” as the victim was just 12-years-old when the sexual assaults began and the assaults took place when “the victim was under the authority of the accused”.

The court was told that one of the early assaults involved Cattell handling his young victim’s genitals in a fold-out bed of Cattell’s church residence at St Marys.

Similar sexual assaults took place during holidays at other locations in country New South Wales.

“The behaviour of the accused represents a gross breach of his trust and position,” the prosecutor stated. “The offences were not isolated and occurred over a number of years,” the prosecution stated.

Victim impact statement in the 2015 case

As well as giving police a written statement about the crimes, Zachary was invited to compile a separate statement (called a victim impact statement), which was submitted to the judge to help her in preparing for the sentencing.

Zachary's impact statement (tabled in court) said:

"As a 43 year old father of four and a survivor of child sexual assault, I recognise this crime as hideous and horrific perpetrated by cowards for deviant purposes.  But as an 11 year old victim, you, Richard Cattell, stole my childhood and robbed me of a normal adult life. Your actions have both pervaded and devastated my life for the past 30 years.

"You were aware that I came from a broken family and that we didn’t have much, and in 1982 when my mother started volunteering at the local Catholic Church you saw this as an opportunity to take me under your wing where you started grooming me with holidays, gifts and pocket money for doing odd jobs.

"Your holiday house in Mollymook is where the abuse started.  I was only a child, I was petrified, hurt, confused and very alone.  This is the day you exploited your position of trust, violated my innocence and destroyed my ability to trust another human.

"If this wasn’t enough, you then started to control all aspects of my life – I found myself sleeping over at the presbytery on weekends; you also engineered a change of school. I had no way of escaping your cycle of abuse. My helplessness often turned to uncertainty as you would tell me you loved me and what you were doing to me was normal.  If it was so normal, why was it a secret?

"I was conflicted internally —  'tell someone' [but]  'they’ll never believe you'—  thoughts raced through my head constantly about wanting to speak up, but shame and fear held me back. 

" I spent my late teens isolating myself from friends and family, so they didn’t see the guilt, shame and toxic thoughts I carried with me. (Feelings of worthlessness and wanting to hurt myself.)  This isolation lead to a period of unemployment as I spiralled into a world of depression, abandoned to face the demons of the abuse you inflicted.  I simply lost the ability to see any joy and have fun.

"During my 20s and into my 30s I struggled to keep jobs having had 14 different jobs in total.  I continued to suffer socially and now I was feeling the full economic stress of my past. 

"The burden of your abuse weighs heavily on my marriage and my children, your actions have not only impacted my childhood but theirs.  I’m overly protective, lack the confidence to trust people in their lives and they go without wonderful childhood opportunities so they never have to carry the pain and suffering I endured at your hands.

"The impact of your crime has also passed to my extended family and handful of friends, who have also struggled.  You conducted the wedding for my sister and brother-in-law, who now feel guilty, as they should have known…or should have been there for me.

"It took until 1998 before I had the courage to tell my wife and for the first time in my life I felt a little less dirty.

"In February 2012 I decided it was time to change my life.  I consulted a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with Major Depression.  I’m currently taking anti-depressants and have been seeing a clinical psychologist on a fortnightly basis for the past two and a half years.

"It is with this help I understand why this happened to me. I did nothing wrong. I was an easy, vulnerable target for a predator.

"For the first time since you attacked and assaulted this 11 year old boy in Mollymook all those years ago, he now has the strength and courage to say no more.

"Today I leave this courtroom with my head held high." 

The sentencing in 2015

In handing down the jail sentence, Judge Jennifer English read extracts from the victim’s impact statement, for example, where the victim described being “deprived of a normal childhood”.

Judge English said she had taken into account Cattell’s age (74 years in 2015) and his recent good behaviour but, she said, a full-time custodial sentence was important because “a message must be sent to those who abuse trust”.

Judge English sentenced Cattell on two charges (one charge called sexual assault and one called indecent assault) regarding this one boy, "Zachary". Cattell had pleaded guilty to both charges. Cattell was sentenced to 1 year 6 months on one charge and 2 years 6 months on the other charge, with parole possible. These jail terms were to be served concurrently, with Cattell becoming eligible to apply for parole after 18 months behind bars. He received a discount on his sentence because of his guilty plea.

The priest's career

Broken Rites has searched through old editions of the annual Australian Catholic Directory to compile a list of Cattell's parishes. His early parishes included: Concord West and Lakemba in the 1960s; and Liverpool, Windsor and Castle Hill in the 1970s. These are in Sydney's west.

In addition, he spent time at Forestville (Our Lady of Good Counsel parish), in Sydney's north, about 1970; plus some some time at the East Gosford parish, north of Sydney, in the 1970s.

In 1982, Cattell was listed as being in charge of St Matthew's parish, Windsor, in Sydney's north-west.

For the remainder of the 1980s, until 1994, he was listed (in the Australian Catholic Directory) as the parish priest in charge of the "Our Lady of the Rosary" parish in the outer-western Sydney suburb of St Marys, near Penrith. The "Our Lady of the Rosary Parish" includes the suburbs of Claremont Meadows, Colyton, Oxley Park, St Marys and Werrington.

In the mid-1980s, parishes in Sydney's outer-west were separated from the Sydney archdiocese to form a new separate western-suburbs diocese, which is called the "Diocese of Parramatta" (because the bishop is located in Parramatta). Father Richard Cattell became a senior priest in the new diocese; and in the early 1990s he was listed as the Vicar-General, helping Bishop Bede Heather to administer the new diocese.

More complaints

Apart from the above-mentioned story of "Zachary", Broken Rites has received complaints about Richard Cattell from other parishes. For example, "Percy" (a former altar boy at St Patrick's parish, Gosford) told us:

"In the early 1970s, Cattell wanted to take me from Gosford to a religious retreat at Orange. My parents liked this idea. Near Orange, Cattell merely took me to an isolated house where I would be staying the night alone with him. He molested me in my bed but I managed to ward him off.

"Cattell apologised for his action. He begged me to keep quiet about it.

"I didn't tell my parents, or anybody else about it, because I didn't think I would be believed. Years later, I told my father, who said that if he had known at the time, he would have flattened Cattell."

Jailed again in 2019

In 2017 and 2018, prosecutors filed multiple additional charges against Cattell. In the Penrith District Court on 26 July 2019, Cattell was given a 30-months jail sentence (with a minimum of nine months behind bars) for sexual crimes committed against five victims during his time at several parishes between 1968 and 1991. The victims were aged between six and 16, including four males and one female.

Jailed again in 2020

Meanwhile, by 2020, a Sydney man was obtaining justice for sexual abuse which he suffered when he was an altar boy for Father Richard Cattell in St Bernadette’s parish in Castle Hill in Sydney's north-west. In Sydney's Parramatta District Court on 2 November 2020, Cattell (then aged 80) pleaded guilty to three counts of indecently assaulting this boy. These offences occurred from January 1974 to October 1975, when the victim was 13 and the priest was 34.

Cattell appeared at this sentencing via video from a jail where he was in the middle of his previous sentence for child sex abuse.

The court heard that the boy was from a dysfunctional family. The boy’s mother invited the priest to attend the family home for dinner. Later, the priest offered to “help’’ the mother by inviting the victim to stay at the presbytery. The boy was forced to watch the priest masturbate before making the victim do the same.

The victim gave the court a written victim impact statement, saying that the abuse had a profound negative impact on his life. “I have difficulty trusting people because I was scared of being taken advantage of. What he did affected my ability to have a normal education and childhood.’’

Sentencing Cattell, Judge Stephen Hanley said that the victim felt disgusting and confused by the sexual abuse. The incidents occurred three times from when the victim was 13 and the offender 34, incidents that took a degree of planning. On each of these occasions the victim would masturbate the offender and the offender would masturbate the victim, the judge said.

The judge said that Cattell breached the trust of the boy’s family, which, like many Catholic households in the 1970s, invited the priest into their home.

“The position he held in relation to the community was one of respect and allowed him access to family homes, which was quite frequent,’’ the judge said. “It was abundantly clear that it was a troubled family.’’

The judge said that the victim suffered from epilepsy and had behavioural problems — something the priest took advantage of in a “premeditated, predatory’’ way that was a “charade of care and kindness’’, Judge Hanley said. “The victim was highly susceptible and I’m satisfied the offender would have been aware of this. He was clearly a troubled young man and no doubt his mother was provided some form of assistance by the offender looking to care for him. It was a gross breach of trust not only to the victim’s family but also his parishioners. He abused his position as parish priest to gain access to a parishioner.’’

Judge Hanley said he found Cattell to be remorseful and had low risk of reoffending, largely because of his age and health problems.

Cattell (already in jail) was sentenced by Judge Hanley to 12 months in jail regarding this victim.

Another police investigation in early 202l

In early 2021, NSW police began investigating further allegations which they have received from additional alleged victims of Richard John Cattell.