Archbishop George Pell hired a publicity firm to paint him as a pioneer in "helping" victims

By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 1 May 2017

This Broken Rites article gives some background to George Pell's claim that he was a pioneer in "helping" church-abuse victims. In 1996, Broken Rites informed the Australian public that the Catholic Church had been harbouring Father Nazareno Fasciale (pronounced "Fah-SHAH-lay") while he was committing crimes against children. Police charged Fasciale but he suddenly died. Then church leaders, including George Pell, gave this pedophile a grand funeral, demonstrating the church's high regard for this pedophile priest. When Broken Rites exposed this (and other) church cover-ups, George Pell's diocese (Melbourne) rushed into damage control, hiring a public relations firm to announce Pell's "Melbourne Response" strategy, instead of waiting for the church's Australia-wide "Towards Healing" scheme which was due to start a few months later.

Father Fasciale was harboured in the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese for 44 years while he committed sexual crimes against girls and boys. The cathedral authorities continually ignored any complaints from Fasciale's victims. Fasciale knew that the church would protect him.

Finally, in late 1993, some of his victims contacted the newly-formed Broken Rites Australia victim support group. These victims, with help from Broken Rites, forced the church to remove Fasciale from the ministry, although the church covered up his crimes by announcing that his retirement was because of "health" problems.

Meanwhile, Broken Rites discovered more of Fasciale's victims and introduced them all to Victoria Police detectives. In a police interview, Fasciale admitted indecently assaulting children.

In late 1995 the police began prosecuting him in court and were expecting him to plead guilty. But in early 1996 Fasciale died, suddenly, during the court process.

The archdiocese then gave him a hero’s farewell at a grand funeral, attended by four bishops ("Most Reverend" George Pell, Peter Connors, Eric Perkins and Noel Daly) plus the majority of Melbourne's diocesan priests. (More about this grand funeral later in this article.)

The archdiocese was later forced to apologise to victims for the harm done to their lives by Fasciale’s abuse (but there was no apology for the church's cover-up). Since then, Broken Rites has found additional Fasciale victims, plus more evidence of the cover-up.

The priest's background

Research by Broken Rites has ascertained that Nazareno Fasciale was born in Delianuova, Calabria, in southern Italy, on 30 December 1926. He migrated to Australia along with his parents when he was nine years old and grew up in North Melbourne. He trained as a priest for the Melbourne archdiocese in the late 1940s and early '50s.

Fasciale was ordained by Melbourne’s Archbishop Daniel Mannix in 1952. He was in the same seminary group as Father Frank Little, who later served as the Archbishop of Melbourne (and as one of Fasciale's protectors) until 1996.

Broken Rites has searched through forty years of the annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directory to trace Fasciale's parish appointments in the Melbourne diocese (which includes the city of Geelong). We have discovered that he was an assistant priest at Geelong in 1954-57, followed by parishes in Melbourne suburbs — North Fitzroy 1958-62, Thornbury 1963-65, Brunswick East 1966-68, Ascot Vale 1969-70, and North Melbourne and Williamstown in 1971-72. He was in charge of the Yarraville parish (in Melbourne’s west) from 1973 to 1994.

Victims have told Broken Rites that Fasciale’s modus operandi was to invasively touch the genitals of girls and boys. In some cases, he forced the children to handle the priest’s genitals. In the criminal statutes, these crimes (falling short of rape or buggery) are called “indecent assault”, carrying the penalty of a jail sentence. The courts regard this crime as particularly aggravated if it is perpetrated by a person in authority, such as a priest, who uses the prestige of the church to intimidate the children or their families into silence.

Girl victims

Broken Rites first heard about Father Nazareno Fasciale soon after we launched our national telephone hotline in late 1993. Two sisters ("Susan" and "Donna") told us that Fasciale had assaulted each of them, separately, by mauling their genitals, during “home visits” when they lived in one of his earliest parishes (St Mary of the Angels, Geelong) in 1954, aged 13 and 9. (Fasciale was then aged 28.) The family complained to Fasciale's superior in Geelong (Father Bernard O’Regan) in 1954 but (typically) O’Regan asked the family to remain silent to protect the reputation of the priesthood. The family demanded that Fasciale not be given any further access to children but (typically) the church ignored this plea and permanently turned a blind eye to Fasciale’s activities.

In 1993, by chance, Susan and Donna became acquainted with a Melbourne woman, “Mandy”, who said that she too had been molested by a Catholic priest. The three women were shocked to learn that their offender was the same man, Father Fasciale.

Mandy’s abuse (mauling of the genitals) had occurred at Fasciale’s next parish (St Brigid’s, Fitzroy North) during a “home visit” in 1960 when she was 10. Mandy’s mother complained to the North Fitzroy parish priest (Father Tom Little) and also to Monsignor Laurence Moran at Archbishop Mannix's office.

Mandy told Broken Rites in 1994 that, when questioned by the church authorities in 1960, Fasciale admitted the offences. The archbishop's office asked Mandy's family to remain silent to protect the priesthood. The family demanded that Fasciale should be kept away from children but the church stubbornly kept transferring him to new parishes, thereby endangering more children.

When Mandy met Susan and Donna, in 1993, the three women were angry that, despite the complaints in 1954 and 1960, the church was still providing Fasciale with access to children, after all those years.

In late 1993, the three women went to see the Vicar-General of the Melbourne archdiocese, Monsignor Gerald Cudmore. Cudmore admitted to the women that there had been similar complaints about Fasciale over the years. The three women again demanded, as in 1954 and 1960, that Fasciale be removed from parish work. This time, they made it clear that they “meant business”. If the cover-up continued, they said, they would expose Fasciale publicly.

Susan told Broken Rites: “Cudmore said that the church could retire Fasciale but it would say that this was due to ill-health, rather than expose him for the real reason. Cudmore begged us not to tell anyone the real reason.”

Following this interview, Fasciale's parishioners at Yarraville were told early in January 1994 that the priest had suddenly decided to retire, due to “bad health”.

In May 1994, the three women asked Broken Rites for help in giving their story to the media. Therefore, Broken Rites contacted the Australian Associated Press news service, which circulated an article about Susan, Donna and Mandy to Australian newspapers. The AAP story did not mention Fasciale’s name. AAP sought a comment from Monsignor Cudmore, who admitted that the un-named priest was an offender. Cudmore said that the church had removed the priest from parish work. He said the priest had admitted the incidents to the church authorities. This AAP article appeared in the Melbourne "Herald Sun", afternoon edition, 23 May 1994, page 2, and also in "The Australian", the "Canberra Times" and the Adelaide "Advertiser", same date. Broken Rites also arranged for similar articles in the daily “Geelong Advertiser” on 21 May 1994 and the weekly “Geelong News” on 24 May 1994.

Next, Broken Rites referred the three women to detectives in the Victoria Police sexual offences and child-abuse (SOCA) unit. The women made written, sworn statements that were forwarded to Geelong, where the earliest offences (in 1954) had occurred. The Geelong police were slow in investigating the matter, so Broken Rites wrote letters and faxes to police headquarters, seeking a speed-up. In 1995, the Geelong detectives finally submitted a file to the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to charging Fasciale with the indecent assault of Susan, Donna and Mandy.

Boy victims (and more girl victims)

Meanwhile, at the suggestion of victims, Broken Rites arranged for an article to appear in the “Western Independent” weekly newspaper (24 May 1994), which circulated near two of Fasciale’s last parishes — Williamstown and Yarraville. As a result, Broken Rites received a phone call from “Charles” who reported having been indecently assaulted by Fasciale many times during a three-year period at Williamstown and Yarraville in 1971-3, aged 11 to 14. Charles and his three brothers acted as altar boys for Fasciale.

Charles said the abuse was not merely a series of isolated incidents but was an intense sexual relationship which Fasciale imposed on him. This abuse confused Charles — the boy came to think of himself (incorrectly) as having been “born to be homosexual”. This confusion disrupted Charles’s adolescent development and at the age of 15 he tried to commit suicide. At 19, he realised that he was really heterosexual but, because of the disruption, he has never been able to develop a relationship with anyone, even into his forties.

Furthermore, it was revealed that Fasciale also indecently assaulted Charles’s brother “Brian”, in his early teens.

Fasciale used to give alcohol to his boy victims. Both Charles and Brian ended up with alcohol dependence as adults.

Broken Rites referred Charles and Brian to detectives in the Victoria Police sexual offences and child-abuse (SOCA) unit at Newport, which was in the district where the crimes occurred. The Newport police obtained written, sworn statements from Charles and Brian. The incidents, which occurred at Fasciale’s presbytery (parish house) in Williamstown and later in Yarraville and also on beach trips, involved Fasciale handling the boy’s genitals and forcing the boy to handle the priest’s genitals. The police also located witnesses who saw Fasciale indecently assaulting Charles and Brian separately on various occasions at presbytery and also during the beach trips.

Around this time in 1994, Broken Rites received calls from two more female victims — "Meryl" and her sister "Jill", who said they were indecently fingered by Fasciale on numerous occasions at their home in North Fitzroy in 1959-61. Broken Rites referred Meryl and Jill to the Newport SOCA detectives. Meryl said that Fasciale’s assaults had left her with long-lasting fears, later causing sexual problems in her marriage.

On 27 October 1995, Senior Detective Gary Carson of Newport SOCA took Fasciale to a police station and formally interrogated him regarding Charles, Brian, Meryl and Jill. According to the two-hour taped police interview, Fasciale said he accepted the victims' accounts of these assaults. He said he was sorry for harming the four children.

Court proceedings

In December 1995 the Newport detectives charged Fasciale (aged 69) with multiple counts of indecent assault and gross indecency involving Charles, Brian, Meryl and Jill. He was remanded to appear at Sunshine Magistrates Court on 12 February 1996.

The Geelong police (dealing with the case of Susan, Donna and Mandy) were not aware that Fasciale was also under investigation by the Newport police. When the Newport police learned about the separate Geelong file in early 1996, they proposed to ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to combine the two files for Fasciale's court hearings.

When the court case first came up at Sunshine Court in February 1996, the church's defence solicitor obtained an adjournment to March 28, saying that Fasciale was in bad health. On March 13, two weeks before the next court date, Fasciale died at "Justin Villa", a home for retired priests in Balwyn, Melbourne.

A housekeeper told callers next day (including a Broken Rites researcher) that Fasciale "died peacefully in his sleep". However, Fasciale's medical records (seen by a Broken Rites contact in the medical profession) asserted that the priest died from "acute coronary occlusion". The medical professional commented to Broken Rites: "If this diagnosis is truthful, why wasn't Fasciale rushed into intensive care?"

According to the Newport detectives, Fasciale phoned "a lot of people" in the week before he died.

A grand funeral

The Melbourne archdiocese published a glowing death notice for Fasciale in the press on 15 March 1996, ending with the slogan "Caring For Those Who Cared".

On 21 March 1996, Fasciale's colleagues in the Melbourne archdiocese accorded him full ecclesiastical honours with a Requiem Mass in St Mary's church, West Melbourne (Fasciale’s boyhood parish). The ceremony was lavishly and expensively organised, with stunning floral tributes and heavenly music. It was a spectacular send-off.

The Requiem Mass was concelebrated by four bishops, together with sixty priests of Melbourne’s 90-odd priests. The bishops included Bishop George Pell, who was about to be promoted as the new archbishop of Melbourne. The others were Bishop Eric Perkins and Bishop Peter Connors (both from Melbourne) and Bishop Noel Daly (from Bendigo). Connors later became the bishop of Ballarat.

Four Broken Rites representatives were standing at the rear of the church, taking written notes of the proceedings.

The principal preacher was Bishop Peter Connors, who (as the head of the church’s Melbourne western region at that time) had been Fasciale’s boss. Connors said in his homily that Fasciale’s brothers and sisters were “immensely proud” of him. [The huge turnout of priests and bishops at this Mass indicated that Fasciale’s clergy colleagues, too, were immensely proud of him.]

In a gushing outline of Fasciale’s “life of service”, Connors hinted at Fasciale’s darker side. Connors said: “The life of our brother Nazareno Fasciale was not without its own fair measure of pain and suffering . . . He would be the first to confess that he too was a sinner.” (No mention of the criminal charges, however.)

[In a letter to the late John Ruth, of Edenhope (western Victoria), dated 6 October 1997, Bishop Connors agreed that he knew of the sex-abuse allegations against Fasciale before the funeral.]

Other clergy listed in the order of service were Monsignor Denis Hart (who later became the archbishop of Melbourne) and Fathers Denis Stanley, Gerard Fitzgerald and Barry Gwillim. (Father Barry Gwillim was later convicted of a sex crime.)

The mourners included several rows of school children, dressed in their school uniforms. Did their parents realise that the church was using these children to make a child-abuser look like a hero?

Monsignor Gerry Cudmore — the vicar-general who officially received complaints from the three female Fasciale victims in 1993 — helped to serve Communion.

Two of these victims (Donna and Mandy) stood at the rear of the church during the requiem mass and were appalled to see the hierarchy honouring a child abuser, 42 years after the Geelong victims first complained to the church.

Two weeks after the funeral, an obituary appeared in the Melbourne diocesan magazine Kairos, praising Fasciale.

Some old editions of the annual Catholic directories spelt the priest’s name as Nazzareno Fasciale but at the funeral service it was spelt as Nazareno.

George Pell "not available" to victims

Early in 1997, the year after the funeral, Donna asked the church counselling agency Carelink if she could have an interview with the new archbishop (George Pell) to discuss her concerns about this cover-up. Carelink received a reply from the new vicar-general, Monsignor Denis Hart (on behalf of Archbishop Pell), stating that "a careful consideration of the Archbishop's diary shows that it is not possible for an appointment to occur."

So George Pell had time for a child-abuser's grand funeral but not for the abuser's victims.

Further victims

After the funeral, Broken Rites briefed the media about Fasciale’s criminal charges. On 20 March 1996, a chain of local newspapers near Fasciale’s final parishes reported that he had been summonsed just before his death to appear in court on child-sex charges. The headline (in the Footscray Mail, the Williamstown Advertiser and the Sunshine Advocate) said: “Sex-charges priest dies.” A similar report appeared in the Geelong press.

Immediately, two more victims contacted Broken Rites, complaining of indecent assaults by Fasciale. One was a girl in Geelong ("Joan") in 1954 and the other was a boy ("Kevin") in St. Michael's parish, North Melbourne, in 1971-2.

Kevin told Broken Rites: "About 1991, I told a priest — a friend of mine — about Fasciale but he urged me to keep quiet about it".

Thus, by April 1996, a total of nine Fasciale victims had contacted Broken Rites. Each of these nine victims knew of other victims who, for various reasons, had remained silent. The total number of Fasciale victims could run into hundreds.

Additional Fasciale victims (for example, “Daniel”, a younger brother of Charles) have contacted Broken Rites in the years since the funeral but these complaints arrived too late to be included in the police prosecution.

The victim Charles was later told by another sibling, “Jim”, that Jim too had been molested by Fasciale; however Jim does not want to talk about it with anybody.

Charles’s parents had four sons — Charles, Brian, Daniel and Jim. It is tragic that all the boys in this family were victims of Fasciale. Yet their “devout” father does not want to know about it. (Their mother is dead.)

A woman caller told Broken Rites: "My mother told me that years ago Fasciale interfered with my little sister"

Former parishioners have told Broken Rites that Fasciale liked to remove pupils from the parish-school classroom, one at a time, and take them to his presbytery to hear their confessions "in private". During confession, he would initiate intrusive sexual discussions.

Other parishioners told Broken Rites that Fasciale targeted adult women as well as children. For example, Fasciale would speak to women with sexual connotations, while they were being “prepared” for the sacrament of marriage.

Also, Broken Rites was told, whenever any impoverished woman was unable to pay a household bill, she was welcome to visit Fasciale at his parish house, to obtain some cash from him, thereby risking sexual exploitation.

Fasciale’s child victims say that his abuse had drastic effects on their adolescent development. The victim Charles was so disrupted by what Fasciale did to him at the age of 11 to 14 that he became “totally screwed up”. After attempting suicide at 15, Charles developed addictions with gambling and medications as well as alcoholism. He became unemployable. He has spent his entire adult life on medications and in the care of psychiatrists. By going to the police, Charles alienated his father who was a “loyal” Catholic. His father preferred to protect the “reputation” of the church, rather than to obtain justice for his own son or to protect other children in the community. In fact, Fasciale destroyed Charles’s relationship with his father. And the crisis also estranged Charles from the Catholic community — the community that had been the basis of his whole life. Charles is now lacking friendships.

The Melbourne “Herald Sun” contacted Broken Rites, seeking to interview “Charles”. Charles agreed to participate, resulting in a full-page article about Fasciale and Charles (“Priest’s dark secret”), published on 7 October 1996. The story was accompanied by a photo of Charles (from the shoulders down, with his back to the camera, holding Rosary beads), standing outside his old parish church, St Mary’s, Williamstown, where much of the abuse occurred. As the “Herald Sun” is Australia’s largest selling daily newspaper, the church’s cover-up of Fasciale’s crimes was now well and truly over.

This resulted in more people contacting Broken Rites about Fasciale.

In the late 1990s, following the unmasking of Fasciale by Broken Rites, the Melbourne archdiocese began giving a letter to Fasciale victims, admitting that Fasciale was an abuser and apologising to them for the harm done to them by this abuse.

Many Fasciale victims, however, are still angry with the hierarchy for having knowingly inflicted Fasciale on them during a 40-year period until Broken Rites helped to end the cover-up.

One phone caller to Broken Rites in 1997 (“Tammy”) told us about her close encounter with Fasciale. Tammy said: “I was a non-Catholic, living close to the Yarraville Catholic church. Therefore, I attended the local Catholic girls’ college for Years 7 to 10. I used to take a short cut through the presbytery grounds. One day, about 1974 when I was 14, Fasciale stopped me and asked me to come into his presbytery. He questioned me about my family and asked me to come upstairs with him. He went into his bedroom but I wisely stayed outside the room. He gave me an envelope containing $20. He said I could come back to see him again. I told my mother but she said not to go near him again. I wish that Catholic parents had given their children the same advice.”

Damage control

In mid-1996, shortly after Fasciale's funeral, George Pell became the new archbishop of Melbourne, with Denis Hart as his vicar-general (chief administrator). With the aid of a prominent (and expensive) firm of public-relations consultants, Pell soon became Australia's most prominent Catholic. And Melbourne, under Archbishop Pell, became the first Australian diocese to go into damage-control with a public-relations strategy to counteract the community's growing awareness of the church's record of sex-abuse cover-ups. The Fasciale case is just one of these cover-ups.

The public-relations project became known as the "Melbourne Response" (the Melbourne version of the church's Australia-wide "Towards Healing" strategy).