The church concealed Father Terry Pidoto's life of crime: FULL STORY

By a Broken Rites reseacher 

This Broken Rites article is the most comprehensive account available about how the Catholic Church in Australia protected Father Terry Pidoto for 25 years while he committed crimes against boys in his parishes.

Terrence Melville Pidoto was jailed in Melbourne in 2007 for seven years after being found guilty of 11 charges including rape.

Pidoto's priestly career revolved around boys. His superiors and colleagues in the Melbourne archdiocese knew this but they tolerated him, thereby giving him access to victims.

According to court evidence, Pidoto was noted for giving boys a "massage", sometimes behind closed (or locked) doors. The "massages" enabled Pidoto to commit sexual assaults, sometimes by anal penetration.

According to court evidence, Pidoto even took a boy to visit one of Australia's leading priesthood-training colleges (Corpus Christi College, Melbourne) and sexually assaulted him in a room there. Other priests or student priests saw Pidoto with the boy at the seminary but they did not see anything unusual about this.

When Broken Rites established its Australia-wide telephone hotline in late 1993, some of our first callers told us about Father Terry Pidoto. Several of these contacted the Victoria Police sexual offences and child-abuse investigation team (SOCIT). Detectives eventually charged Pidoto with child-sex crimes, and a long series of court proceedings began.

Finally, in June 2007, Pidoto appeared in the Melbourne County Court, charged with 22 offences against seven boys. On 18 July 2007, after weeks of evidence and legal argument, the jury returned a GUILTY verdict on eleven charges, involving four of the boys.

On 17 September 2007, the court sentenced Pidoto to seven years and three months' jail. He was ordered to serve a minimum of five years before becoming eligible for parole.

Crimes at the seminary

According to evidence given in the Melbourne County Court in June 2007, Pidoto committed some of his crimes on the premises of Melbourne's Corpus Christi College, where the church trains its priests for all the Catholic dioceses in Victoria and Tasmania.

One victim, "Roger", stated that in 1972, when he was aged 13, he became a parishioner at St Bede's Catholic parish, Balwyn North (a Melbourne eastern suburb), which was one of Pidoto's earliest parishes. Roger said that Pidoto took him to the seminary, on the pretext of showing him "where priests are made". Pidoto, then aged about 27, was a recent graduate of this seminary.

Roger said that Pidoto took him to a bedroom, where there was a single bed, with three of Pidoto’s friends, sitting around, dressed in underwear.

The three men were evidently seminarians, or recently-ordained priests, from Pidoto’s peer group. Pidoto introduced Roger to these men in a sexual manner, saying ‘Isn’t he cute?’

Pidoto’s friends agreed that Roger was cute. Roger immediately knew that he was in danger and asked Pidoto to take him home. Outside this room, in the corridor, Roger and Pidoto passed two other men, apparently seminarians, both wearing shorts. These men exchanged greetings with Pidoto.

Pidoto showed Roger the chapel, saying "this is where we have Mass", and then took the boy to the dining room, which was deserted. There, he grabbed Roger's penis, performed oral sex on the boy and inserted his penis into the boy's anus.

[Pidoto is not the only priest who has taken boys to the Corpus Christi seminary for sexual purposes. Broken Rites has received complaints about two other Melbourne priests who have done this.]

The priest's background

Broken Rites has compiled the following account of Pidoto's career.

Terrence Melville Pidoto was born in Melbourne on 12 December 1944, the oldest of eight children. He was educated to age 15 (Year 11) at St Bernard's College (Christian Brothers), Essendon (in Melbourne's north-west). Pidoto has said that he then worked with the Victorian Forest Commission for three years and did Year 12 studies while working. In 1964, aged 19, he entered Melbourne's Corpus Christi College seminary to train for the priesthood.He spent the first four years at the seminary's Werribee campus (west of Melbourne), where his room-mate for the first six months was Michael Charles Glennon (Glennon, too, later ended up in jail for child-sex crimes). For the later years of his course, Pidoto transferred (along with other senior students) to the seminary’s new campus at Glen Waverley (in Melbourne's east).

He was ordained on 22 May 1971, aged 26. By then, Pidoto was already "working" with boys. The 1972 annual report of St Augustine's boys' orphanage, Geelong, said that students from Corpus Christi seminary, including Father Michael Glennon and Father Terry Pidoto, "have frequently travelled down to St Augustine’s and have given many hours in counselling, holding discussions and helping the boys generally."

In late 1971, according to archdiocesan records, Father Pidoto spent four months on loan to the Ballarat diocese (ministering at Donald in western Victoria) and two months as a chaplain at Melbourne's Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.

In March 1972 Pidoto became an assistant priest at Balwyn North (St Bede's parish). He also acted as a part-time chaplain and school "counsellor" at the nearby Marist Brothers' Marcellin College. The school's pupils were sent, one by one, to a room to have a private "counselling" session with Pidoto.

Pidoto himself has said in court that, by the early 1970s, he was becoming very experienced at "massage". He said he had lost count of the number of boys he had "massaged" during his career. He "massaged" boys in their homes, at school and in his presbytery, he said.

Father Terry Pidoto became a chaplain for the Scouts movement in Victoria and was involved in their camps. He had a pilot's licence and went flying in light aircraft, from Coldstream airport, east of Melbourne, taking boys with him.

A Balwyn North woman, "Ruth", told Broken Rites in 1997: "I had brothers, aged 13 to 16. Terry Pidoto was always after them. He took them on outings, including a flight in a light aircraft. I never liked Pidoto. He was a creep. But he was a priest of the church, so we gave him the benefit of the doubt. [In 1997] we learned that Pidoto behaved intrusively towards these boys. One of my brothers, at the age of 21, came out as gay and said he had been conscious of his own gay orientation since the age of 13 [when he was associating with Pidoto]."

A former Marcellin College student told Broken Rites in 1996: "Terry Pidoto hovered around the Marcellin sports teams and gave them massages. Every kid knew that Pidoto was touching kids and therefore the Marist Brothers knew. Pidoto once put his hands on my shoulders from behind, but I knew his reputation, so I escaped his clutches fast."

Marcellin is one of Melbourne's most prominent Catholic schools. The sons of many well-known Catholics, including sons of Peter O'Callaghan QC, have been students there. (Peter O'Callaghan QC deals with sex-abuse complaints on behalf of the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese.)

Kilmore parish

In January 1975, Fr Terence Pidoto was posted to Kilmore (St Patrick's parish), 57km north of Melbourne, where he also acted as a part-time "chaplain" at the Marist Brothers' Assumption College, Kilmore. This was the second time that Pidoto had been given the run of a Marist Brothers school. Assumption College is big on sport and there were many opportunities there for Pidoto to give "massages".

At Kilmore, the court was told, Pidoto developed a relationship with the police force. He became chaplain for a youth group (the Police Scouts) run by the police. Pidoto was a probation officer for Kilmore and he would "look after" boys who got into trouble with the police. Such boys thus became indebted to Pidoto.

This arrangement was particularly advantageous to any offenders who were students or ex-students of Assumption College. At one of Pidoto's court appearances (in 2001), a retired senior police officer named Tom gave character evidence in favour of Pidoto. The court was told that Tom had been stationed at Kilmore during Pidoto's time. Tom said he and Pidoto would help each other regarding offenders. For example (Tom said), if offenders were from Assumption College, Father Pidoto would offer to take them under his supervision, and the police would not charge them. That is, offenders from Assumption College would be let off with a warning and would not have to face court.

[Although Tom did not say so, this arrangement also protected and enhanced the reputation of Assumption College. The arrangement would also be beneficial for any police officer who might want to get his children admitted to Assumption College — a school which enjoyed an unblemished public image.]

While at Kilmore, Pidoto's reach extended even to State schools, where he acted as a part-time chaplain. A defence witness (a former State teacher) told the court that her State school sent its Catholic students to a room to have an individual "counselling" session with Pidoto.

Pidoto left Kilmore in January 1978. About the same time, Marist Brother John Desmond Dyson (later convicted of sex crimes against boys) was arriving at Assumption College.

Later parishes

Pidoto's later parishes were in Melbourne suburbs, including St Clare's parish in Box Hill North (in the late 1970s), St John the Baptist parish in Clifton Hill (about 1979 or 1980), St Pius X parish in Heidelberg West (early 1980s) and St Edmund's parish in Croydon (during the 1980s). His time at Croydon co-incided with that of another assistant priest, Father Jack Gubbels, who was indecently assaulting boys in that parish.

About 1984, according to court evidence, Pidoto was the victim of a bashing. [This is believed to have been an anti-gay bashing in a public park.]

A Croydon parent told Broken Rites in 1997: "Pidoto used to associate with my son, then aged 11, who was in a Catholic scouts group. Pidoto was a district Scouting official. My son, who is now an adult, is oriented towards males. I asked him if anything happened with Pidoto but my son is loyal to Pidoto and won’t say anything against him."

In 1988 the diocese promoted Pidoto to be in charge of one of the diocese's most remote parishes — at Yea (Sacred Heart parish), 80km north-east of Melbourne, where he was the only priest. Some of Pidoto's victims are wondering if the church hierarchy posted him to such a remote parish in order to get him out of the way. Pidoto remained at Yea, out of sight and unsupervised, until the police contacted him in 1997.

An ex-parishioner from an earlier parish told Broken Rites in 1997: "I visited Pidoto at Yea and he had a boy in his presbytery. Pidoto said it was a homeless youth who he was looking after."

At one of Pidoto’s court appearances (in 2001), one of his character witnesses (from the Croydon parish) told the court: "I visited Terry at Yea and his presbytery was often full of young people — for example, drug addicts and Scouts."

After 25 years

While at the Yea parish, Pidoto appeared to be a pillar of the community. In 1993, he was proclaimed as "Citizen of the Year" in Yea. In May 1996, he celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination and glowing articles about him appeared in the Yea and Kilmore newspapers on 29 May 1996. The papers had photos of Pidoto, looking holy in his vestments, celebrating Mass with eight other priests.

These articles were seen by "John", a former altar boy for Pidoto at Kilmore. John (born in 1967) was still upset in 1996 about sexual "massages" he received from Pidoto at the age of ten. In November 1996, John contacted the police sexual offences unit, which already had other complainants about Pidoto — from two males in the Yea parish.

In late 1996, following the widely-publicised jailing of various Catholic Church personnel for child-sex crimes, the Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese established an "in-house" system (under Peter O'Callaghan QC) to receive complaints about clergy sexual misconduct. The diocese advertised publicly, inviting complainants to contact Mr O'Callaghan. So John contacted Mr O'Callaghan, demanding that Pidoto should not have access to children. Mr O'Callaghan also received reports about Pidoto from other males.

In June 1997, because of the police investigation, the Melbourne diocese issued a media statement saying that Father Pidoto had been placed on administrative leave until the police investigation was resolved (Melbourne Sunday Herald Sun, 15 June 1997). Subsequently, police received several more complaints about Pidoto, including one from the Croydon parish and one concerning a Catholic school in Ringwood — making a total of half a dozen complaints. And, simultaneously, the Scouting movement removed Pidoto as a chaplain.

In April 1999, the Office of Public Prosecutions gave authority for Pidoto to be charged on summons concerning eight incidents involving three of the complainants — John of Kilmore, plus one of the Yea complainants and one from Marcellin College. Pidoto indicated that he would contest the charges, by pleading not guilty.

Before the committal hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court in October 1999, the Yea complainant dropped out. A magistrate ordered Pidoto to stand trial regarding the remaining two alleged victims. The magistrate granted Pidoto a name-suppression order in case Pidoto won the right to have two separate juries. This order meant that Pidoto's name and charges could not be reported in the media until the time of sentencing.

In the Melbourne County Court in February 2000, Judge Campbell granted separation of trials — that is, a different jury for each complainant. This means that each jury thinks there is only one complainant, making a conviction less likely.

While awaiting his trial, Terence Pidoto (according to later court evidence) was living with the Columban Fathers (a Catholic order of priests, officially called St Columba's Mission Society) at their headquarters, 69 Woodland Street, Strathmore (north Essendon), in Melbourne's north-west. The 69 Woodland Street address was given for Pidoto also in the 2001 federal electoral roll. According to court evidence, the Melbourne archdiocese was paying Pidoto’s living costs while he awaited trial. The archdiocese was also providing him with a priest's stipend, plus a diocesan car, the court was told.

First jury, 2000: The story of John

In the first jury trial in the Melbourne County Court in the year 2000, Terence Melville Pidoto was charged concerning four incidents involving "John" when he was a 10-year-old altar boy at the Kilmore parish — including one indecent assault (meaning indecent touching) and three incidents of buggery or, alternatively, indecent assault. The incidents occurred during "massage" sessions over a period of 18 months in 1977-8.

The prosecution alleged that, in one incident, Pidoto massaged John's penis and that, in three other incidents, he somehow penetrated John's anus, thereby necessitating medical treatment.

The court was told that Father Terry Pidoto was a friend of John's parents. During his frequent visits to their house, Pidoto would take John into the boy's bedroom, lock the door and then massage him on a table.

In court, Pidoto admitted massaging John, using a lubricant, but he denied committing any sexual assault.

John said he was too frightened to tell his devout parents about the alleged indecent assaults because of Pidoto's priestly status. Eventually, while John was having marriage problems in his late 20s, he told his wife about Pidoto. At his wife's insistence, John spoke to a counsellor and finally to the police.

Pidoto's barrister in the year 2000 (presumably financed by church sources) was energetic and skilful. This barrister persuaded the jury (incorrectly) that John might be "making up" his complaint against Pidoto in order to gain compensation from the Catholic Church.

In fact, however, John had not claimed compensation from the church. His only aim was to get Pidoto removed from access to children.

Jury discharged

Some members of this 2000 jury were confused by the defence's misinformation about "compensation" (and by the assumption that there was "only one" complainant). Thus, the jury was split between those who said Pidoto was "Guilty" and those who said "Not Guilty". Judge Campbell, requiring a unanimous verdict, discharged the jury and ordered a retrial.

After the jury members left the court, they were stunned to learn that that John was not Pidoto's only alleged victim.

Second jury, 2001: 'Guilty' verdict

In January 2001, a second jury was empanelled for a new trial on the same "John of Kilmore" charges. This time, the prosecutor was careful not to let the jury be mis-led about the church’s system of compensation payments.

One issue in both trials in 2000-2001 was the question of buggery. Medical evidence could not prove how John's anus was penetrated; furthermore, if the penetration was done by a finger, this would not count as buggery as the law stood in 1977-8.

The second jury found Pidoto guilty on four counts of indecent assault, instead of the more serious charge of buggery.

In sentencing, Judge Neesham told Pidoto (then aged 57): "Your breach of trust is truly wicked…As a priest you were above suspicion."

Judge Neesham said Pidoto had shown no remorse. He said the priest’s not-guilty plea, together with his attitude in the witness, "militates against any such emotion".

The judge said a child molester gambles on the age difference and power difference to silence his victim — that is, the offender takes the chance that the victim might speak out later (as John finally did).

Jail sentence, February 2001

Pidoto's offences against John are serious crimes, with a maximum penalty of five years' jail per incident. On 21 February 2001, Judge Neesham declared Pidoto a Serious Sexual Offender (under the crimes statutes) and sentenced him to three years' jail (eligible for parole after 18 months).

The Office of Public Prosecutions was satisfied with winning the case of John and decided not to proceed with a trial involving the Marcellin College student. The Marcellin victim agreed, as he shared the satisfaction of seeing Pidoto removed from access to children after John’s case.

Pidoto had a very expensive and well-resourced legal defence team for his two trials.

Media coverage in 2001

Pidoto's sentencing on 21 February 2001 was widely reported on Melbourne radio and also in the newspapers — the Melbourne Age, 22 February 2001, the Sunday Herald Sun on 4 March 2001 and the Whitehorse Gazette in Box Hill (circulating in one of Pidoto's former parishes) on 26 March 2001. This media coverage prompted more Pidoto victims to contact the Victoria Police sexual crimes squad.

After the jailing of Pidoto on February 2001, the case was discussed on Melbourne Radio 3AW by presenter Neil Mitchell who expressed sympathy for the victim, "John". This irritated Father Michael Shadbolt, of the Doveton parish (in Melbourne's south-east), who had set himself up as "the Catholic Priests Anti-Defamation League". Fr Shadbolt published a letter-to-the-editor in the Herald Sun (5 March 2001), attacking Mitchell for having not presented "the church's side" of the story.

Mitchell then phoned Fr Shadbolt and allowed him to present "the church's side" on air. The following day, Mitchell interviewed "John", who gave a first-hand account of the incidents for which Pidoto was convicted. Thus, "both sides" got a hearing. However, Father Shadbolt might have served "the church's side" better if he had stayed out of the Pidoto affair. In subsequent "talkback" segments, listeners phoned in, supporting John and denouncing "the church's side".

Pidoto wins appeal, 2002

Pidoto's legal team lodged an appeal against his February 2001 conviction. Meanwhile, Pidoto remained in jail during 2001. However, he was still listed as a priest ("on leave") in the mid-2001 edition of the Directory of the National Council of Priests of Australia. In fact, Father Pidoto was spending his "leave" in the Ararat prison and later the Port Phillip prison. And he was still a priest.

In May 2002, the Victorian Court of Appeal ruled that some inadmissible evidence had been given at Pidoto's trial. The appeal judges quashed Pidoto's conviction and ordered a retrial. Pidoto was released from jail, pending the retrial. He had been behind bars for 15 months.

Pidoto's release was reported in the media, and this prompted more Pidoto victims to contact the Victoria Police sexual crimes squad. Therefore the new trial would involve a bigger number of victims.

More victims

By 2005, detectives had prepared a file for a new prosecution. The investigator was Detective Senior Constable Fiona Bock, who was then at the Sexual Crimes Squad in St Kilda Road (she has since transferred to a higher position elsewhere).

The Office of Prosecutions chose seven complainants for the new trial. "John" of Kilmore opted not to participate in the new trial, because he considered (understandably) that he had already done his civic duty by putting the Pidoto matter on the public agenda in 2000 and 2001. Also, he said, he had achieved his objective, which was getting Pidoto removed from children.

In 2005 and 2006, Pidoto made several attempts to delay or stop his new trial, claiming health problems such as "sleep apnea". The County Court eventually rejected this procrastination and scheduled the trial for June 2007. Pidoto again pleaded not guilty.

Pidoto also tried to get a separate jury for each alleged victim, meaning that each jury would think that the offence was an isolated one. But the County Court insisted on having a single jury.

New trial, June 2007

Pidoto's new trial (with the seven alleged victims) began in the County Court in June 2007 before Judge Ross Howie. After weeks of evidence and legal argument, the jury spent one whole day (18 July 2007) considering the various charges and at the end of the day the jury returned its verdict of "guilty" on eleven charges. These included one count of rape, one count of buggery, seven counts of indecent assault, one count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and one count of gross indecency. (The words "buggery" and "rape" were used because these were the terms used in Victoria's criminal statutes in whichever years the offences were committed.)

The guilty verdict related to offences against four of the seven boys.

  • One one these four was "Roger", the above-mentioned 14-year-old boy from St Bede's parish in Balwyn North, who was penetrated anally by Pidoto at the Melbourne seminary in 1972 (at that time, this crime against a male was defined as buggery).
  • More assaults on two 15-year-old boys took place at St Clare's Catholic parish in Box Hill in the late 1970s. One of these boys says his mother complained about Pidoto's offence to Father James Brazier, who was the head of the Melbourne archdiocese's Catholic Family Welfare Bureau at the time. The boy says that Brazier's attitude was: "Well, what do you expect me to do about it?"
  • The fourth victim, a 13-year-old boy ("Sam"), was targeted by Pidoto in 1982-83 after the priest officiated at the wedding of Sam's sister. In one of several incidents, Pidoto drove the boy to a park, where he masturbated himself (gross indecency) in the boy's presence and then masturbated the boy (indecent assault). In another incident, he inserted his penis into the boy's anus (at that time, this crime was defined as rape).

Two of the victims — Roger and Sam — submitted written impact statements to the court, describing how the abuse (especially as it was committed by a priest) had adversely affected their lives. The judge studied these impact statements when calculating the sentence that Pidoto should receive.

The judge also took into account the fact that Pidoto had expressed no remorse about his crimes.

Jailed in 2007

Judge Howie said Pidoto's actions were a betrayal of his vocation and had permanently scarred some of his victims.

"These were the premeditated, intentional acts of an ordained priest of the church, a person trusted by the boys concerned and by their families as a representative of what they regarded as the highest good," he said.

The judge said that Pidoto's position of power and authority (as a priest) discouraged his victims from reporting the offences at the time.

The judge then listed each of the crimes for which Pidoto had been convicted, giving a term of imprisonment for each charge. The total came to a maximum of seven years and three months' jail, with a minimum of five years before becoming eligible for parole.

The judge ordered that Pidoto's name be added to the Register of Serious Sexual Offenders. He also ordered the prison authorities to take a DNA sample from Pidoto's mouth, for adding to the national criminal database.

A victim has the final say

Several of Pidoto's victims, including "John" of Kilmore (from the court proceedings of 2000 and 2001), were present in court at the 2007 sentencing, accompanied by a representative from Broken Rites.

Outside court, one victim ("Sam") told the media that his experiences at Pidoto's hands had affected his personal and professional relationships.

"It's quite hard to trust people. I didn't really like myself growing up. I always put myself in abusive situations, including drugs and alcohol.

"There will never be closure, because I'm a different person to what I might have been had I not been abused.'

Pidoto out of jail and facing new charges but he died

On 9 December 2014, Terrence Pidoto completed his jail sentence (which he had served in a prison at Ararat in western Victoria). He was therefore released but Victoria Police detectives immediately charged him in court with additional offences regarding some more alleged victims who had contacted the police while Pidoto was in jail. Pidoto's new case was scheduled to have a preliminary mention in the Melbourne County Court on 20 November 2015. However, a week or so before this court procedure, he died. Therefore, the new case could not go ahead. And the additional victims are unable now to obtain justice.