Christian Brother Obbens indecently assaulted homesick boys in a boarding school

  • By a Broken Rites researcher

Broken Rites is continuing its research regarding Christian Brother William John Obbens (also known as Brother "Dominic" Obbens). Brother Obbens was jailed on 13 October 2016 (then aged 70) after he admitted indecently assaulting three boys (aged 11 to 13) who were under his authority in a boarding school. The offences occurred in the late 1980s at the former St Patrick's College (now called Trinity College) in Goulburn, south-western New South Wales, where Obbens was a teacher and a boarding master. According to court documents, Obbens preyed on the boarders’ homesickness to sexually abuse the boys.

At the time of the offences, these three young victims felt under pressure to remain silent. More than 25 years later, one of these three victims finally spoke to the Goulburn Detectives Office of the NSW Police. The detectives obtained a written, signed statement from this victim.

Brother Obbens was arrested in Sydney on 11 December 2014 by detectives from Goulburn (in a special unit at Goulburn called Strike Force Charish). The chief investigator was Senior Detective Dave Turner.

This case had its first mention in Goulburn Local Court in December 2014 when the prosecutors officially filed the first two charges against Brother Obbens, relating to one boy. Media coverage prompted the attention of other victims who each contacted the Goulburn Detectives Office.

The Obbens case had its next mention in the same court in early 2015, when two additional charges were laid against Brother Obbens, regarding a second boy, making a total of four charges.

Later, following further investigations by the Goulburn detectives, the charges were increased to five incidents involving three boys.

Guilty plea

A magistrate conducted preliminary proceedings in a Local Court and then committed Obbens to stand trial in the NSW District Court on the five original charges. However, before the trial date, Obbens offered to plead guilty on three of the five counts, and this plea was formally presented to Judge David Frearson in the Goulburn District Court on 9 May 2016 (courts case number 2014/00364511).

In Sydney's Downing Centre District Court on 13 October 2016, Judge Frearson formally convicted Obbens on the three charges in the guilty plea. In calculating the sentence, the judge considered the usual factors, such as: the number and nature of the charges; the provisions of the sexual-abuse laws as they existed in the late 1980; and the guilty plea. The judge sentenced Obbens to a total of three years jail regarding these three victims. Obbens must serve 18 months behind bars before becoming eligible to apply for release on parole.

Obbens is yet to face two additional charges which were laid in September 2016 by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Goulburn Detectives Office is still interested in the Obbens matters.

Broken Rites research

When William John Obbens first joined the Christian Brothers in the 1960s, this religious order normally gave its new recruits a "religious" name. Therefore, in the Christian Brothers, he became known as Brother "Dominic" Obbens (and was sometimes listed in church publications as Brother W.D. Obbens).

In the early 1980s, before going to St Patrick's Goulburn, Brother Obbens had been teaching at a Christian Brothers school in Sydney (St Patrick's Strathfield).

Brother Obbens was a teacher at St Patrick’s College, Goulburn, from 1986 to 1989, according to a book, entitled Up on the Hill: A History of St Patrick’s College, written by David Bollen.

St Patrick's College Goulburn was formerly a boys-only boarding school, conducted by the Christian Brothers. According to a history book about this school, the Brothers’ involvement at St Patrick’s College was winding down by the mid-1990s.

In 2000, the boys' college merged with a Catholic girls' school, Marian College, to become today's Trinity Catholic College Goulburn.

According to statements made in court in 2016, Brother William John Obbens was convicted in 1989 for sexual abuse of another boy at the Goulburn school. The 1989 conviction resulted in a jail sentence but this was wholly suspended, allowing Obbens to serve the sentence in the community, while he continued living with other Christian Brothers. The Christian Brothers then appointed Brother Obbens to work in the Christian Brothers archives office in Sydney.

  • To read more from Broken Rites about the 1989 conviction of Brother William John Obbens, click HERE.