After 30 years, the church was forced to say 'sorry' for the rape of a 13-year-old schoolboy

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 1 January 2018

The Catholic order of Vincentian Fathers has finally apologised to a Victorian man ("Peter"), who was raped by a priest (Father Murray Joseph Wilson) in the 1970s when Peter was 13. This was a crime and Wilson was risking jail but, as so often happens in church-abuse cases, Wilson knew that the church culture would intimidate his victims into remaining silent. In 1979, Wilson died mysteriously at the age of 44 before any of his victims felt able to report Wilson's crimes to the police.

Peter first revealed this assault when he phoned Broken Rites in 1993. He approached the Vincentians' Australian head office in 1994 but the Vincentians were evasive about the matter until 2006. By 2006, Broken Rites had publicly exposed (and humbled) the Vincentians on behalf of other victims, thereby forcing the Vincentian headquarters to become less evasive.

In 1970s, Peter was a student at St Vincent's College, Bendigo, in central Victoria, which was conducted by the Vincentian Fathers. The teachers included priests and religious brothers, as well as lay teachers. St Vincent's College was later taken over by the Marist Brothers and merged with a girls' school to become Bendigo Catholic College.

Peter's parents were friendly with the priests and brothers at the school. One priest was Father Murray Wilson, who did not teach Peter's class but was in charge of "discipline". Wilson's role was to punish students, including with a strap.

Father Wilson asked Peter's parents if he could take the boy to Sydney by train to visit Wilson's mother during the Easter break. Peter's parents were delighted. They trusted Wilson "because he was a Catholic priest".

Peter says that, in Sydney, he and Father Wilson stayed at the home of Wilson's parents. On Easter Sunday, Father Wilson took Peter to Mass in a big church. That night, at the home of Wilson's parents, Wilson raped Peter. There was nothing that Peter could do about this because Wilson was in charge of the boy. It was not possible to run away, and there was nobody to whom Peter could complain (he certainly could not tell the priest's mother).

The victim was intimidated into silence

Even when Peter and the priest returned to Victoria, reporting the crime was not an option. Peter was aware that, in the Catholic culture in the 1970s, there was a total prohibition on saying anything negative about the clergy — especially within his own family.

When Peter and Wilson arrived back in Victoria by train, Peter's father met the pair at the railway station to take them home by car. In the car, Peter's father was very cordial with the priest, unaware of the ordeal that the boy had suffered at the hands of Wilson.

Peter now says: "If only my father knew what Wilson was really like! Of course, he would not have believed that it was possible for a priest to do such a thing. I couldn't tell my father about the rape because I didn't get along well with him.

"I could not tell my mother either, because, if Dad found out later, he would object that I had told her and not him. I couldn't tell any of my friends because that would not be good for a 13-year-old's image."

If Peter had been raped by a stranger in a public park, he could have called for help — and police could have pursued the criminal. But the involvement of a Catholic priest meant that a Catholic child had to remain silent.

Peter believes the he was not Wilson's only victim in Bendigo. Peter says: "Some time after my assault, Father Wilson was caught in his bedroom with a certain boy, whom I knew. This caused a scandal at the school. Some parents removed their sons from the school. Years later, after Wilson had left the school, this ex-student died unexpectedly, reportedly by suicide."

After leaving St Vincent's College, Wilson was transferred to New South Wales, where he joined the staff of another Vincentian school -- St Stanislaus College, Bathurst.

Bad effects on the victim

Peter was left in Victoria to cope with growing up as best he could without help. Being raped by a Catholic priest had an adverse effect on Peter's life. His parents' gullibility (concerning the trustworthiness of a priest) damaged the boy's relationship with his parents, especially his father. Instead of protecting the child, his parents had handed him over to a child-sex criminal. Wilson's breach of trust damaged Peter's religious faith. The secrecy, caused by the prohibition on reporting anything negative about a priest, threw Peter off-balance during his teenage years and left him with a trauma that has lasted to the present time.

Peter says: "In 1992, when I was 28, I had counselling for a relationship break-up. The counsellor discovered about the sexual assault, and I talked about it for the first time. After that, I finally told my mother. In November 1993, I was at my parents' house, watching the TV news, and there was a news item about Broken Rites exposing a paedophile priest in the Ballarat diocese. My father scoffed at the idea that a Catholic priest would sexually abuse children, so my mother then told him about what Father Murray Wilson had done to me."

The next day, on 18 November 1993, Peter phoned Broken Rites and discussed ways of achieving justice. Having achieved independence from his parents by this age, Peter was prepared to initiate a police prosecution of Wilson. However, Peter's family heard a rumour that Wilson had died, which, if true, would make it impossible for the police to charge Wilson.

Mysterious death

Broken Rites advised Peter to ask the Vincentians' Australian head office (in Sydney) to show him Wilson's death certificate, so as to make sure that he was really dead (and that he had not been sent to another country, as sometimes happens). Strangely, the Vincentian head office was reluctant to let Peter see the certificate but eventually in 1994 it sent a Catholic Church representative from Melbourne (named Shane Wall), who showed Peter a copy of the death certificate. The certificate said that the death (on 22 September 1979) was caused by asphyxiation (lack of oxygen).

The Vincentians behaved nervously about the certificate. Peter was allowed to read the document (in the presence of the church representative) but not to keep it or copy it. As soon as Peter had read the certificate, the church representative (acting under instructions from the Vincentians) tore up the document. All this seemed very mysterious.

Meanwhile, Broken Rites located Wilson's death notice and funeral notice in the Sydney Morning Herald, dated 25 September 1979. These notices said that the death occurred at St Stanislaus College, Bathurst, and Wilson was buried in the Vincentian section of the Catholic cemetery at Rookwood, Sydney.

Peter later learned informally, from Vincentian priests whom he knew, that Wilson's death occurred in suspicious circumstances in his bedroom at St Stanislaus, aged 44 years. The death was caused by a gas heater in his bedroom.

Peter knows nothing further about what was going on in Father Murray Wilson's life at the time of his death. Had some other family complained to the police? Were the police pursuing Wilson at the time of his death?

Peter says: "In late 1993, after I phoned Broken Rites, I told some Vincentian priests about the rape and they didn't seem surprised. When I said there were other Wilson victims, they did not deny that. I believe that the Vincentian order was negligent in inflicting Wilson on us unsuspecting boys."

In 1994, the Vincentians' Australian head came to Victoria in 1994 to meet Peter but was evasive and defensive. After hearing Peter's story, the Vincentian head merely said that "there are two sides to every story and Father Wilson is no longer here to tell his side of the story."

Peter then gave up on the Vincentians and the Catholic Church. In late 1996, the church established the Towards Healing system of hearing complaints from church victims but Peter ignored it.

Beginning in 1993, Broken Rites encouraged church victims to report the sexual assaults to the police — if the offender was still alive. From 1994 onwards, due to Broken Rites, the Catholic Church in Australia suffered regular embarrassment when numerous priests and religious brothers were sentenced in the criminal courts for committing sexual crimes.

Apology from the church

So, by 2006, Peter decided that the church might be sufficiently humbled to give him a better hearing.

In late 2006, helped by advice from Broken Rites, Peter finally managed to force the Vincentian headquarters to give him an "unreserved apology" for what Father Murray Wilson did to him in the 1970s and also for having made Peter wait till 2006 for this apology. Furthermore, the Vincentian Fathers had to compensate Peter for his pain and suffering. This meant that the Vincentian Fathers had finally been forced to make an act of contrition. Thus, Peter finally achieved closure.

Research by Broken Rites indicates that Father Murray Joseph Wilson, born about 1935, was first listed as a priest at St Vincent's parish in Ashfield, Sydney, in 1961. He taught at St Stanislaus College in Bathurst NSW in 1962-6, at St Charles Seminary in Perth in 1967, at a Vincentian seminary in Eastwood in Sydney in 1968, and at St Vincent's College (a boarding school) in Bendigo, Victoria, from 1969 till about 1977, after which he returned to Eastwood and then to St Stanislaus College.

"Peter" was not Murray Wilson's only victim. Broken Rites has obtained evidence of further criminal activities by Father Murray Wilson while he was working at the Victorian school..

Father Murray Wilson is merely one of several Vincentian priests about whom Broken Rites has received complaints regarding sexual assaults on boys in schools and parishes.

The Vincentian Fathers are also known as the Congregation of the Mission.