Three victims reveal their story, although church lawyers tried to stop them

By a Broken Rites researcher

Father Roger Michael Bellemore had a long career, ministering in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia. Finally, some Tasmanian victims succeeded in publicly revealing his Tasmanian crimes. This Broken Rites article demonstrates how church victims can triumph over a powerful institution through determination and persistence.

In the Tasmanian Supreme Court on 12 February 2008, after years of court proceedings, a jury found Father Roger Michael Bellemore guilty of three counts of maintaining a sexual relationship with young persons under the age of 17. This Broken Rites article is the most comprehensive account available about the Bellemore case.


Roger Bellemore is a member of the Society of Mary (also known as the Marist Fathers — not to be confused with the Marist Brothers, who are a separate religious order).

The Marist Fathers run a few parishes in Australia and are involved in running a few secondary schools.

One of these schools is Marist College (also called Marist Regional College), in the town of Burnie in Tasmania's north-west. Father Bellemore taught there in the late 1960s and early '70s, when he was aged in his thirties. It was then a boys-only school.

The offences

As it was a boarding school, Bellemore was entrusted with the care and custody of the boys at night as well as during the day.

According to court evidence, Bellemore occupied a private room above the junior dormitory. He took boys, one at a time, to his room, ostensibly to give them extra tuition in their subjects. There (the victims stated) he used them for his own comfort and sexual gratification. Most of the indecent assaults involved Roger Bellemore touching the boys and having them touch him.

Silencing the victims

As is usual in such church-abuse cases, the boys were intimidated into silence. But, three decades later, the cover-up collapsed as the adult survivors tried to deal with their hurt.

In 2002, one victim contacted the police, and detectives then discovered that there were other victims.

The Marist Fathers tried desperately to stop Bellemore from being prosecuted on these child-abuse charges. Then they tried to delay or limit the court case. They hired an expert legal team to defend Bellemore and tried to prevent the court case from being reported in the media.

How the court proceedings began

In May 2004, Bellemore (then aged 68) first appeared in the Burnie Magistrate's Court, charged with three counts of maintaining a sexual relationship with a person under the age of 17 and one of indecent assault. Later, defence counsel entered a plea of not guilty. Committal proceedings were held, after which a magistrate ordered Bellemore to stand trial at the Tasmanian Supreme Court.

When Bellemore's Supreme Court case began in Hobart on 1 February 2006, he was faced with charges involving five complainants.

The Supreme Court proceedings began with extensive legal arguments. Church lawyers made submissions seeking to stop or delay or limit the Bellmore hearing. For example, they successfully applied to have one complainant excluded from the case on technical grounds. This left four victims.

Furthermore, the church lawyers sought a separate jury for each of the four remaining victims; this would mean that each jury would think that Bellemore had only one victim and that the allegation was not typical of him. However, the court ruled that there should be a joint trial; this meant that the jury would know that there were four alleged victims and that he was allegedly a serial offender.

The church lawyers sought to exclude certain evidence from the trial but the court rejected this submission.

The church lawyers also applied to suppress media reporting of the trial as potentially prejudicial if the prosecutors later proceed with an indictment in relation to an additional victim. But this application failed after the prosecutor indicated that the additional indictment would be unlikely to proceed.

Thereafter, the Bellemore case was reported day-by-day in the Hobart Mercury.

Evidence in the first trial, 2006

A jury (eight women and four men) was empanelled.

Bellemore pleaded not guilty to four counts of maintaining a sexual relationship with a young person under the age of 17. The charges concerned four boys between 1967 and 1971.

Prosecutor Michael Stoddart told the jury: "Rather than nurture, Father Bellemore used the boys, under the guise of caring, for his own comfort and sexual gratification."

He said the abuse occurred at a time when sexual abuse was a "taboo" subject in society. He said Bellemore ordered the boys not to tell anyone what had happened.

One victim, aged 48 in 2006, told the court he was a boarder at Marist College when Bellemore allegedly assaulted him. He said he went to Father Bellemore's room one night to get help with a subject. Bellemore told him to sit on his bed. Bellemore then put his arm around him and "started playing with me", the man said. He said he also touched Bellemore sexually after the priest told him to. The man said he was too scared to resist Bellemore and felt "confused, embarrassed". He said he was sexually assaulted by Mr Bellemore on three or four occasions.

Another complainant told the court he was required to see Bellemore in the priest's room up to three times a week for two years.

Two priests for the defence

Two priests who were dormitory masters at the school between 1969 and 1971 — Father Bernard McFadyen and Father Anthony Corcoran — gave evidence on behalf of the defence. They told the court that they did not know of any student regularly seeing Bellemore. They claimed it would be "unusual" for a student to see a priest in his room before going to bed as regularly as two to three times a week.

Cross-examined by prosecutor Stoddart, Fr McFadyen said he knew that teachers made appointments with students for extra study "once or twice" and he agreed that Bellemore could have been one of those teachers. He said he could not say students never left the dormitory without his knowledge.

Closing addresses

Prosecutor Stoddart told the jury in his closing addresss that school authority prevented boys from speaking out about being sexually abused by a priest. He said the boys could not complain about the priest's behaviour because of the harsh regime they were under at the school.

"How could these children have challenged the authority?" Mr Stoddart told the jury. He said that Fr Bellemore ordered the boys not to say anything to anybody about the incidents.

Mr Stoddart said the four men in the trial had not known each other before the court case. He said it would be a very strange coincidence for four different students in different years but of similar ages to describe being sexually abused in the same room. Mr Stoddart said the men who gave evidence were more credible than Father Bellemore.

Mr Bellemore's lawyer, Paul Byrne, SC (from Sydney), told the jury in his closing address that the evidence of the complainants was not enough to lead them to find his client guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Guilty verdict

On 27 February 2006, after deliberating for four hours, the jury returned a unanimous Guilty verdict against Bellemore on all four charges.

After this, victim impact statements from the men were read to the court, revealing the hurt and anger of the alleged victims.

One man, the earliest of these four alleged victims, said he told his mother after Bellemore touched him. But she replied that priests did not participate in that behaviour and sent him back to school, he said.

"If we had pursued it then, would the other complainants have been molested?" he said.

A second man said he had lost all faith in the church after being abused. He said he could not stand another man touching him and felt a deep hatred of homosexuality. He said he had carried a "terrible secret" he was unable to share for many years and could not explain to others the reasons for his rage and insecurities.

A third man said he had been "scared to death" and felt alone at school. "I'm still sad and bitter about what happened to me," he said.

The fourth man said it was hard to put into words how he had suffered years ago. He said he "learned to live and deal with it". He said that, while he did not know how life could have been if he had not been sexually abused, "I'm sure I would have been a better person, father and husband".

Sentencing after first trial

At the sentencing on 27 March 2006, Judge Shan Tennant told Bellemore that his crimes had a serious impact on the victims and their families, some of whom had lost faith in the church, but his conviction was helpling them to move on.

"You were in a position of power and you abused that power," Justice Tennent told Bellemore. "The families had trusted those boys into your care and you abused that trust."

Judge Tennant sentenced Bellemore to five years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years.

Admission by the Marist Fathers

After Bellemore's 2006 trial ended, the Provincial of the Marist Fathers (Fr Bill Ryder) issued a media statement. In the light of the jury's verdict, he expressed his deep personal regret and sorrow to the men involved and their families.

His statement included an apology without reservation "for any harm suffered by the former students ... many years ago when Marist College Burnie was conducted by the Marist Fathers".

Appeal and second trial, 2007

Immediately after the 2006 trial, the church lawyers lodged an appeal against Bellemore's conviction. In December 2006, the Tasmanian Court of Criminal Appeal allowed Bellemore's appeal, quashed his convictions and ordered a retrial. Bellemore, who had been in jail for nine months, was released on bail pending the retrial. He returned to Sydney, where he had been living at a Marist Fathers address.

The retrial began in Launceston Criminal Court in July 2007. Bellemore again pleaded not guilty to three counts of maintaining a sexual relationship with a young person.

On 2 August 2007, Bellemore's lawyer asked for the trial to be aborted because of evidence given by one of the witnesses. Justice Alan Blow agreed and discharged the jury.

Bellemore was released on bail to be re-scheduled for a future appearance in the Supreme Court.

Third trial, 2008: The victims speak again

Bellemore's third trial began in Launceston on 5 February 2008. On February 12, after all the evidence and all the legal submissions, the jury took two-and-a-half hours to find 72-year-old Roger Bellemore guilty of maintaining a sexual relationship with three boys aged between 12 and 15.

On 12 February 2008, after the jury's verdict, the judge heard two of the victims read their impact statements, telling the court how the church-abuse had adversely affected their lives. A third victim's impact statement was read by a solicitor.

One of the victims said that he had sat through two more trials since reading his first impact statement.

"Now justice has been served and Bellemore has been found guilty again," the victim said.

"I arrived at Marist College a scared, lonely young boy looking for guidance and protection. Bellemore seized on this and used it for his sexual gratification.

"Shortly after my experiences with Bellemore, I approached my mother to discuss this behaviour to try to understand what was happening.

"The reply from my mother was 'Priests do not participate in this type of behaviour', and [she] sent me back to school without any explanation."

The victim said that only now was his mother beginning to understand that the abuse had occurred.

"I hold my mother and the church responsible for the guilt I hold now for the sexual assaults on other students after I left Marist," the victim told the court.

"If we had pursued it then, would the other (victims) have been molested? That I have no answer for, but I still feel the guilt even to this day.

"Even though my faith in God is still intact, my belief and trust in the church and the religious system is zero - my wife has questioned her own beliefs in the church and I find this quite distressing."

The victim told the court that only in the past few years of his third marriage had he been able to give himself completely and unconditionally to his wife.

"I feel totally frustrated and annoyed that so many years have been taken away from me and I will be forever indebted to my wife for standing by a person as troubled as I have been in the past," he said.

"My wife described my mood swings during our courtship and marriage as living with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - one moment loving and caring and the next moody and distant."

The victim told of his deep regret, shame and guilt at the discipline he handed out to his older children.

"Although not physical, it was excessive," he revealed.

The victim's final remarks were addressed to Bellemore.

"Your sentence is beyond my control, but I get comfort out of the knowledge that you will have to face God when you time comes," he said.

A second victim said that he had been passed from one priest to another.

"It wasn't much fun," the second victim said.

The victims' impact statements were reported in the next day's Tasmanian newspapers (although not in interstate papers). Thus, the victims' story was brought to the attention of the population of Tasmania. The cover-up was over.


After the guilty verdict, Bellemore was remanded in custody for sentencing.

On 21 February 2008, Justice Ewan Crawford sentenced Bellemore to four years' imprisonment with a non-parole period of two years, minus the time that Bellemore had already spent in custody in relation to the previous court proceedings.

In his sentencing remarks, Justice Crawford said: "Initially, he [Bellemore] had the boys come to his room on some pretext or another. Once he had commenced a course of indecent conduct with a boy, it continued for some time."

Justice Crawford said the indecent assaults varied between each boy and included masturbation, but with no acts of penetration.

"All of the complainants have been psychologically affected as a result of the crime, the judge said. "That, of course, is a common result for victims of sexual assaults as a child for whom justice has not been done for many years."

Justice Crawford said although Bellemore's health was poor and was at risk in prison, a sentence of "general deterrence" was required.

"His crimes amounted to substantial abuses of the trust that the boys and their parents had in the college and its staff. He took advantage of three young persons for his own gratification, using his superior age and personality to have his way with them.

"Such conduct by a teacher and a priest must be appropriately condemned by the court's sentence."

The priest's career

Broken Rites has checked the annual Catholic directories to see Bellemore's movements after Burnie, Tasmania. Bellemore left the school in 1972 but worked in other states as a teacher, parish priest, counsellor and chaplain until his retirement in 2003.

In the late 1970s, he was at St Anne's parish, Belmont, Western Australia. It is believed that he also taught at Holy Spirit College, Bellambi, Wollongong, New South Wales. In the 1980s and early 1990s, he was a chaplain at the Christian Brothers Edmund Rice College in Wollongong NSW. Thereafter, he was in Sydney — at St Patrick's presbytery (Church Hill), Grosvenor Place, in central Sydney (1995-6) and at a Marist Fathers residence in Lane Cove (1997-2002). In 2003, Bellemore was a chaplain at St Pius X College in Chatswood, Sydney.

When charged in 2004, he was living with the Marist Fathers in Sydney. The July 2007 edition of the annual Australian Catholic Directory gave his address as care of the Marist Fathers community, Mary Street, Hunters Hill, Sydney. In court in 2008, his address was given as a Marist Fathers community in Lane Cove, Sydney.

[To assist people seeking this article through a search engine, we note that Roger Bellemore's surname is sometimes mispelt as Bellmore, Bellmoor, Belmore, Belemore, Bellemor or Bellamore.]


The Society of Mary (the Marist Fathers) was founded in France. Its Australian office is located in Sydney.

As well as working in Australian parishes or secondary schools, the Marist Fathers also do "missionary" work in the Pacific - and this is a cause for alarm.

Another priest at Burnie's Marist College, Father Gregory Laurence Ferguson, was jailed in 2007 for offences against boys at the same school. See our article about Ferguson, entitled Victims of this priest were intimidated into silence but now they obtain justice after 36 years.