ABC television "7.30" program examines the church cover-up of Father Farrell

  • Article updated by a Broken Rites researcher, 20 September 2016

The ABC television "7.30" program (on Monday 19 September 2016) had a story about the child-abuse Royal Commission's public hearing re the Father John Farrell case (and the role of church official Father Brian Lucas). The Broken Rites team helped the ABC with research for this "7.30" item. A link to the ABC video is given at the end of this Broken Rites article.

The rape of an altar boy

In a public hearing on 13 September 2016, Australia's national child-abuse Royal Commission heard evidence from a former altar boy about how he was raped by Father John Joseph Farrell at the age of 12 in northern NSW in 1981. The former altar boy (code-named "CPA" at the Royal Commission) explained how his later life was damaged by Farrell's crimes and by the church's cover-up. John Joseph Farrell is currently serving a minimum 18-year jail term after being convicted in May 2016 for 79 child sex crimes, including the assault of the above-mentioned altar boy, "CPA". Additional charges (involving five more alleged victims) have recently been brought against Farrell, with court proceedings scheduled to begin in Sydney in April 2017.

At the public hearing in September 2016, the Royal Commission protected the privacy of this former altar boy by giving him the code name "CPA".

This boy was born in 1969. In 1978-1982, aged 9 to 13, he lived in Moree in northern New South Wales with his parents and siblings. Moree is one of the parishes in the Catholic Church's Armidale diocese, which extends to the Queensland border.

Below are the main points from CPA's story, condensed slightly by Broken Rites to save space. (CPA's full statement is filed by the Royal Commission as Exhibit #44.002):-

"My mum was very religious. I was always a happy kid and enjoyed life. All my life I was very close with my dad. He was my best mate until he died in 2005.

"I was enrolled at St Philomena's Catholic Primary School [in Moree]. Some time in 1980, when I was in year 5, I volunteered to become an altar boy...I was excited when I became an altar boy as it was a big honour. There was a pool of around 10 or 12 altar boys.

"Some time during the fourth term of school in 1981, Father Farrell came to the Moree parish as a new priest. I was in year 6 at the time.


"One afternoon during the summer of 1981/1982, I was at St Francis Xavier Church assisting Father Farrell with mass preparation or some cleaning. I was in the cellar underneath the altar, which could only be accessed by a trapdoor and a ladder. I think that I was in the cellar because Father Farrell asked me to clean the statues for the nativity scene.

"While I was in the cellar, Father Farrell opened the trapdoor and climbed down the ladder. Without saying a word, he unzipped his pants and pulled out his semi-erect penis.The next thing I remember was that I was kneeling in front of Father Farrell and he held the back of my head and forced his penis into my mouth. Father Farrell then repeatedly pushed my head forwards to meet his penis, which caused me to start gagging. I felt like I was going to vomit. When he was doing this, I did not understand what was going on.

"Father Farrell ejaculated into my mouth, on my face and down the front of my t-shirt. He the zipped up his pants and climbed up the ladder and left the church. He did not say anything to me.

"As soon as I heard Father Farrell's footsteps leaving the church, I climbed up the ladder and ran to the presbytery next to the church. I told Monsignor Ryan that Father Farrell had hurt me. Monsignor Ryan then placed his hand on my shoulder and he told me, 'It's okay, I'll sort it out', or 'I'll fix it up', or words to that effect.

"I then ran home and continued with the day as if nothing had happened.


"The following morning I returned to St Francis Xavier Church as I had been rostered on by Father Farrell to assist with the morning mass. I arrived around one hour before the service. When I entered the church, Father Farrell was standing behind the altar. No-one else was in the church. As I walked in, Father Farrell looked at me and acknowledged me without saying a word. I did not feel scared at the time because I had been told by Monsignor Ryan that he would deal with Father Farrell. I continued walking down the altar.

"As I approached the altar, Father Farrell grabbed my left arm and dragged me behind the altar. Father Farrell bent me over what I think was a single pew behind the altar. Father Farrell then pulled down my shorts and underpants. Father Farrell placed his finger inside my anus. This was very painful, but not as painful as when he placed his erect penis in my anus moments later. The pain was immediate and excruciating. I remember the rotten smell of his breath as he pushed his penis in and out of my anus. While Father Farrell's face was pressed against mine, he leaned closely into my ear and said in a clear, whispered voice, 'If you tell anyone about this I will kill you and your family.'

"After Father Farrell stopped raping me, I pulled up my pants and ran home. When I got home, I desperately needed to go to the toilet. I remember pulling down my pants and seeing a pool of blood in my underpants. I tried to clean my underpants by crubbing them, but it did not work, so I threw them out.

"I did not tell my parents what Father Farrell did to me because I thought he would kill me and my family if I did.

"For around a week after I was raped by Father Farrell,I felt pain in my anus. It hurt every time I went to the toilet because the tearing around my anus would split and re-split.


"After Father Farrell raped me, I stopped being an altar boy. I began to hate going to church, so I stopped going. Since Farrell raped me I have been to church no more than 10 times. There were times, such as during mass at Christmas in 1981, when I had to go to church with mum

"In 1982, I started year 7 at Moree high school and no longer had anything to do with Father Farrell. I never spoke to Monsignor Ryan after I told him that Father Farrell had hurt me. I felt let down by Monsignor Ryan because I trusted him and I thought that he would help me.

"After being raped by Father Farrell, I started getting into trouble at school and developing a problem with people in positions of authority. I wagged school a lot and when I was at school I would have fights with other students.

"I lasted at Moree high school for about six weeks before I was moved to Courallie high on the other side of town. I started to lose the plot and it was at this time I began to steal cars and commit other petty crimes. From the age of 13 to 18 I was in and out of court a lot for all sorts of crimes.

"At the beginning of 1983 my family moved from Moree to Sydney. I was enrolled at a local Catholic school and kept getting into trouble. After moving to Sydney my issues with people in authority progressively got worse and I did not accept or trust anyone in a position of authority.

"When I was 14 or 15 years old I stole a police car after a police officer told me to wake up to myself and go home. I had zero respect for authority. Whenever I saw a priest walking down a street I would spit in their face and keep walking. I didn't care if I lived or died. I was self-destructing.

"When I was 14 I left school and got a job in a wrecking yard. This job was great as I was getting paid to smash things up.

"As a teenager, I drank a lot and I smoked marijuana regularly. I would drink until I was written off. I did this every couple of months. I rode motorbikes that I had stolen as fast as I could and I didn't care if I fell off.

"I also often had nightmares about Father Farrell during my teenage years. I literally would feel him grabbing me and pulling my pants and underpants down and I would wake up muffling a scream. The nightmares or 'Farrell moments', as I called them, made me feel dirty.

"In 1990, I went to Long Bay Gaol after going to court for stealing a car. It was also around this time that found out that I had a daughter from a one-night stand a few years earlier.

"In 1991, I crashed a motorbike which I had stolen. I have a scar which runs from the bottom of my ribcage to the bottom of my stomach. I punctured both lungs, ripped my liver, broke my ribs and scratched my heart.

"After the motorbike accident, and particularly after my two youngest children were born in the mid-1990s, I became more settled. I found it difficult to hold down the same job for long periods of time and still had problems with people in authority.

"In November 2005 my dad died. It was within a few hours after dad dying that I finally disclosed to another person that I had been raped as a child. I did not want to tell anyone before dad died because I thought if my dad found out that I was raped he would have killed the person who did it. I told my mum that I'd been raped when we lived in Moree. My sister was also present and heard me say that to my mum.

"I'm not sure if mum heard me. She was in shock. She'd just lost her partner of 40 years. I felt relieved that I had finally told someone. It was a huge weight off my shoulders.

"Around 18 month or two years after dad's funeral I told mum that the person who raped me in Moree was Father Farrell. I was living with mum at the time and I recall that we had this conversation in the evening. Mum was shocked when I told her this.

"I decided not to do anything further after telling mum. I was happy for the matter to be done and dusted.


"It was not until 2012 that I decided to report Father Farrell to the police. In July 2012, I was listening to a radio show and they were talking about a priest in Moree who sexually abused children. When I heard this, I completely broke down. I called in to the show and spoke to a producer. I told him about my own abuse and he arranged that I would be interviewed [on the radio program] the following day. I called mum and told her that she should listen to the interview. The radio interview was the first time that I told anyone in specific detail about being raped by Father Farrell. When the interview was finished, mum called me and was balling her eyes out.

"After the interview, [the radio producer] encouraged me to make a formal complaint to police.

"I made a complaint to Sergeant Glen Coleman in January 2013. I made a second statement to police two weeks later and a third statement in August 2014.


"The police were fantastic from the first meeting that I had with Sergeant Coleman. They made the court process as easy and relaxed as it could be. Even though the police from the Sex Crimes Squad have the scummiest job, they always had a smile on their face. I can't thank the police enough for everything that they did for me, my mum and my partner. I still occasionally speak to Sergeant Coleman on the phone and consider him to be a friend.

"I found the court process at the District Court to be honest. I felt that justice was served when Father Farrell was sentenced to 28 years for crimes committed against me and other children.


"What Father Farrell did to me changed my life forever. It changed me in every way. I stopped caring about school. I went from a happy kid who used to go motorbike riding, go to the pool, play soccer and have fun, to someone who I didn't like. I went on to self-destruct. Anyone in authority was an instant enemy.

"I spent many years completely off the rails.I don't sleep well and will only sleep four to five hours a night. In 2003, I thought about going to sleep and not waking up. I bought a petrol generator and I was going to start it in the laundry and wait until I went to sleep. Everything became too hard. My daughter stopped me from turning on the generator. I think that she saved my life.

"I have never been able to commit to work. I couldn't handle bosses telling me what to do so would often change jobs. Sometimes I'd be sacked for fighting with bosses or other employees. This didn't happen a lot because I could feel it coming on, I could feel the anger building and I'd just stop showing up or resign. I do not trust people.

"It has only been since dealing with the Sex Crimes Squad at Parramatta that I have started to trust people in authority. Making my statement to police was the turning point for me. It was the first time that anyone in authority had believed me.

"I do not have many close friends. I lost contact with all of my old friends from Moree when I moved to Sydney. It was not until the court case against Father Farrell that I saw some of the kids that I grew up with in Moree.

"I hate all religions because of what happened to me.I hate the Catholic Church. I think that the world would be a much better place if there was no religion. My mum has lost her faith in the Catholic Church and is now a Jehovah's Witness.

"Since the moment my kids were born, I have been hyper-vigilant around them. When they were growing up, I didn't let them go to camps or have sleep-overs. Since the age of two, I have told them if anyone touches them they are to tell me or their mum, and to tell nan and pop if mum or me touches them. I made it clear that they would never get in trouble for telling the truth. My kids suffered because of my paranoia.

"I hope that my statement to the Royal Commission encourages other kids who were raped by Father Farrell, and have not made a report, to come forward. I hope that my statement gives them strength to report Father Farrell to the police as I did."

Bishop Bede Heather and "moral failings"

Bishop Bede Heather told the Royal Commission's public hearing that he had regarded priestly sex-assaults as merely a "moral failing", not as a crime. In 1989-1992, Bishop Bede Heather allowed Farrell to work as a priest in parishes in western Sydney, thus putting more children in danger.

Bishop Bede Heather (born in 1928 and now retired) was summoned by the Royal Commission to appear at the September 2016 public hearing to be questioned about how the church handled the Father Farrell matters.

Asked about his background, Bede Heather said he was recruited at the age of 13 to attend a "junior seminary" (a high school for boys who aspired to become a priest). He then went on to a senior seminary. After working as a priest, he became the bishop of the Parramatta diocese in western Sydney between 1986 and 1997.

In 1989, Bishop Heather agreed to accept Father John Joseph Farrell "on loan" from the diocese of Armidale because there were "rumours" around the Armidale diocese in the 1980s (about Farrell sexually assaulting altar boys).

On the witness stand at the Royal Commission on 14 September 2016, Bishop Heather was asked why he was so willing in 1989-1992 to regard Father Farrell as "innocent".

Bishop Heather answered:

"I suppose here I have to confess my ignorance at the time [in the 1980s], that I was on a slow learning curve. I don't think I understood at the time that paedophilia is a condition that is probably going to be compulsive and repetitive and addictive. I didn't understand the nature of the condition at the time. I guess I was inclined to see it as a moral failing in which this person had been involved and from which this person could, with proper guidance, recover.

"A person has a moral failure in some area. It might be in greed or in pride or any of the known capital sin areas, and the goal of the church's mission would be to help that person, your Honour, to recover from that moral failure."

Q. "What was the character of moral failure of sexual activity with a child that you could see? How could that be a moral failure?"

A. "It was much more than a moral failure as it turned out and as I recognise now."


To see a Broken Rites article about Father John Joseph Farrell's background (plus some Broken Rites research about the church's cover-up), click HERE.

To see a Broken Rites article about an altar boy (Daniel Powell) who was abused by Father John Joseph Farrell in the Parramatta diocese (with Daniel's life ending in suicide), click HERE.

ABC television "7.30" program

The ABC "7.30" program (on Monday 19 September 2016) had a story about the Royal Commission's public hearing re the Farrell case (and the role of Father Brian Lucas). The Broken Rites team helped the ABC with research for this "7.30" item. To see the ABC video, click HERE.