This priest (an Archbishop's secretary) pleaded guilty

By a Broken Rites researcher

Father Raymond Deal, who was once the private secretary to former Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little, has admitted committing a sex offence that involved a breach of trust. And ex-Archbishop Little gave the priest a glowing "character" reference in court.

In 1999 Father Raymond John Deal (then aged 51) was in charge of the Corpus Christi parish in Glenroy in Melbourne's north-west. He pleaded guilty in Broadmeadows Magistrates Court on 21 July 1999 to three charges of indecent assault against an emotionally-impaired male who was in his custody.

The victim was a 26-year-old parishioner ("Kevin") who had been sentenced to a community-service order by a magistrate for past offences. Kevin was required to do community work at the Glenroy parish under the supervision of Fr Ray Deal. Deal would be required to report eventually to the judicial authority whether Kevin had performed the community work satisfactorily. Deal, acting on behalf of the judicial system, was therefore in a position of authority, power and trust over Kevin.

The prosecution (prepared by the Moonee Ponds criminal investigation unit) alleged that Deal sexually groped Kevin at the Glenroy presbytery on three occasions between December 1998 and March 1999 and that he pulled down Kevin's trousers on the second and third occasions. Kevin contacted police, who then recorded a conversation between Kevin and Deal. In this conversation, Deal admitted the assaults and his breach of trust. Police played the tape back to Deal and he was unable to deny the offences.

The court was told that Fr Raymond Deal (born in 1948) was ordained in 1973. He ministered first at St Bernard's parish in Belmont (Geelong) and later in the Sacred Heart parish in Oakleigh (Melbourne) and in the Preston-Reservoir area. In 1979 he was transferred from parish work and became Archbishop Little's secretary until 1987, when he went to Glenroy parish.

Explaining the circumstances of the offences, Deal's lawyer, David Grace, QC, told the court that Deal was sexually oriented towards males and was an alcoholic, drinking "up to a bottle of whisky a day".

The defence tendered a glowing testimonial from Archbishop Little, stating that he had known Deal for 25 years [ie, since Deal's ordination]. After Deal became his private secretary, the pair shared a residence and had meals together. Anybody wanting to contact the archbishop (for example, people making a complaint) had to go through Deal, Little wrote.

Professor Richard Ball, a psychiatrist who was then performing paid work for the Melbourne diocesan office, gave evidence for the defence. He told the court that Deal began consulting him on 12 April 1999 (after Deal learned he was facing court charges). Ball said that Deal's same-sex orientation and his alcoholism were contributory factors in the offence. Ball said Deal "usually" expressed his sexuality with consenting adults and these males were "usually" not connected with Deal's professional role.

Referring to Deal's alcoholism, Professor Ball said that alcohol abuse is a "common problem" among priests.

David Grace, QC, requested a lenient sentence. He claimed that Deal's conviction meant that he could no longer work as a priest and that this itself was "a severe punishment".

Magistrate Paul Grant accepted Mr Grace's claim. After convicting Deal, Mr Grant imposed a four-months jail sentence, suspended for two years, instead of an immediate jail sentence.

However, a church spokesman told the Melbourne Herald Sun that Father Deal would remain a priest unless the Pope determined otherwise. The Melbourne archdiocese continued to list Deal as one of its priests (although "on leave", care of the archdiocesan office) in the annual Catholic directories until 2004.

Outside the court, the victim ("Kevin") told the media that the assaults had affected his life. He said he had turned his back on religion. He said he could no longer trust other males.

The court case was reported in the next day's Herald Sun and the Age, with a photo of Deal leaving the court.

Some background

As a sex-offender in the Melbourne archdiocese, Fr Ray Deal was certainly "no Robinson Crusoe".

Deal's early parishes in the mid-1970s included Oakleigh, where he worked under Father Kevin O'Donnell who was already known to the diocesan authorities as a sex offender.

Deal was then transferred to the Preston-Reservoir area, where his stay in 1978 co-incided with that of another sex-offender, Father Michael Glennon.

It is unclear why Father Deal was transferred from parish work in 1979 and why he was placed under the supervision of Archbishop Little.

While Deal was based at the Melbourne archdiocesan office as Archbishhop Little's secretary, he had another sex-offender, Monsignor Penn Jones, as a colleague.

Deal's role with the Archbishop is significant. Archbishop Little's "character" reference said that anybody wanting to contact the archbishop (for example, someone making a complaint) had to go through Deal. This means that, if the complaint was about a sexually abusive priest, the appointment was arranged through someone who eventally admitted being a sex-offender — Father Ray Deal.