The church was finally forced to apologise for abuse committed by a Melbourne Cathedral priest

By a Broken Rites researcher, updated 4 August 2022

After action by Broken Rites, the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese has accepted complaints about a prominent Australian Catholic clergyman, Monsignor Penn Jones. The archdiocese gave a written apology to two men who demonstrated that they were still feeling harmed after being sexually abused by Monsignor Jones in their school days.

One of these men, "Luke", had contacted Broken Rites in 1994, when he was aged 46 — and Broken Rites immediately began researching Monsignor Jones. Broken Rites discovered that there was potentially sufficient evidence about Monsignor Jones for him to be convicted in a criminal court if any victim reported him to the detectives in the child-abuse unit of the Victoria Police.

However, before the police could charge him, the elderly Monsignor Jones died in 1995.

The second man, "Matthew", contacted Broken Rites in 2004, aged 57. Both men had encountered Jones in their teens. Both said their lives had been disrupted not only by the sexual abuse but also by the fact that the church's culture had prevented them from complaining to their families or teachers at the time of the abuse. Thus, they suffered in silence throughout their lives until, separately, each of the men contacted Broken Rites.

When Jones died in 1995, his boss (Melbourne's Archbishop Sir Frank Little) wrote (in an obituary article) that Jones is "an example to us all". Ten years later, in 2005, a new archbishop (Archbishop Denis Hart) was forced to issue his written apology to victims of Jones. So exactly what sort of "example to us all" did Archbishop Little have in mind?

Broken Rites research

Penn Harold Jones was born in January 1915. After leaving school, he trained and worked as an accountant in Melbourne with Shell petroleum. At age 26, he entered the Melbourne diocesan seminary to train for the priesthood as one of the oldest entrants.

Frank Little, who entered the seminary a couple of years after Jones, was ten years younger than Jones. In an obituary article about Jones (in The Age newspaper on 1 August 1995), Archbishop Little wrote: "He [Jones] happily plunged into the activities of his younger friends" . . . again, rather an ambiguous choice of words.

Jones was ordained in 1948 (two years before Frank Little). Research by Broken Rites indicates that Jones's earliest parishes included Geelong West (the parish of Saints Peter and Paul) and South Yarra (St Joseph's parish). In 1957, aged 42, he was posted to St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, to help in the office administration there which (according to Frank Little) was then based "in a mean couple of rooms on the bottom floor of the Catholic presbytery". He remained at the cathedral, doing archdiocesan administration work, for 35 years.

As the supervisor of the archdiocesan finances, Jones' administrative career boomed in the 1960s. He was appointed chancellor of the Melbourne archdiocese and secretary to the Roman Catholic Trust Corporation (nominal controllers of the church's property and assets). Paradoxically, this corporation is the body that fights any sex-abuse victims who try to sue the archdiocese for damages.

Jones also became a director (and later the chairman) of the church's insurance company, Catholic Church Insurances Limited. This, too, is a body that fights any sex-abuse victims that sue the church for damages.

Jones was given the distinguished title of "Monsignor" and became listed in the annual Australian Catholic directories as the "Very Reverend" Monsignor Penn Jones. He also became a "Prelate of Honour of His Holiness the Pope".

Jones's extra-curricular activities

While working at the cathedral, Penn Jones acted as a "chaplain" to the nearby Parade Christian Brothers College, where he gave individual counselling to boys about "sex" — or, rather, Jones's idea of "sex". Former students have told Broken Rites that they were summoned, one at a time, to the chaplain's office, where Jones would engage them in chat about "sex". Jones was obsessed with erections and masturbation and he "discussed" these topics in graphic detail.

He also took a keen interest in the cathedral's altar boys.

And he "befriended" boys who were thought to be potential candidates for the priesthood.

He took schoolboys and cathedral altar-boys on excursions, including after school hours and at weekends.

There are complaints that he behaved indecently with some of these boys during these activities.

Luke's story

On 27 November 1994, Broken Rites was contacted by one of Penn Jones's former altar boys — let's call him "Luke" (not his real name) — who was born in 1948. "Luke" said he had noticed how Broken Rites acted on behalf of victims of church sexual abuse.

"Luke" told us that in the early 1960s he went with Father Penn Jones and about 20 other altar boys to a holiday camp at Shoreham (on the Mornington Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne). The camp comprised unlined cement sheet huts, in which the boys slept, plus an old house, in which Jones slept. There were a couple of open shower cubicles at the back of the house.

"Luke" told us that Father Jones would loiter around the showers while the boys were showering and in fact Jones showered with the boys.

One day, when "Luke" was the only boy in the shower area, Jones cornered him and behaved indecently and invasively with the boy.

Because of Jones's position of authority, "Luke" was at a disadvantage in defending himself during the molestation. There were no witnesses. There was nobody at the camp to whom "Luke" could complain. Anyway, the Catholic culture prohibited negative statements about the clergy.

Therefore, he did not tell his parents. "Luke" suffered in silence. The hurt disrupted his teenage and adult years and it remained with him throughout his life. In his mature years, he found it increasingly difficult to cope with life.

As an adult, "Luke" mentioned Father Jones' 1960s behaviour to a number of church agencies but nobody offered to take the matter up. Nor did the church authorities or agencies bother checking with other former pupils or altar boys in Luke's year to see if they had been harmed by Penn Jones.

In later years, "Luke" realized that Catholic parents had been unknowingly taking a risk in the 1960s when they allowed their sons to go off to altar boys' camps, thinking that their sons were perfectly safe with supposedly "celibate" priests and student priests.

Broken Rites article, 1995

"Luke" authorised Broken Rites to publish his account, and we did this (briefly) in 1995 in the quarterly printed Broken Rites Newsletter which we were publishing at that time. We referred to this victim as "Luke" because Broken Rites has a policy of not revealing a victim's name.

After publication, "Luke" was pleased with the article and he asked us to publish some further details in a subsequent edition (in the same year), which we did.

The 1995 Broken Rites Newsletter article was the first time that the matter of Monsignor Penn Jones's behaviour had been raised in public in Australia.

Later, after the era of the internet began, our newsletter article was transferred to the Broken Rites website.

Matthew's story

In 2004 another victim of Monsignor Penn Jones — "Matthew" (not his real name) — contacted Broken Rites. Matthew did not realize that there had been any previous complaint about Penn Jones. Broken Rites told Matthew that he was not the only complainant, as shown by our 1995 article.

Matthew (born in 1947) told Broken Rites: "In my final years of secondary school in Melbourne in the early 1960s, I was interested in becoming a priest. My 'vocation' was encouraged by the Christian Brothers and I would meet regularly with Father Penn Jones to discuss how my vocation to the priesthood was going. By year 12, Penn Jones and I had become friends. He would come to my house on some weekends and pick me up for a game of squash. He would never come inside; he would just beep the horn, then wait for me in the car.

"My father was dead and my mum never queried what was happening. She was happy that I was going on outings with a priest; in fact I think she was proud of this.

"During school holidays, Penn Jones and I would travel to an inner-suburban school that had squash courts. There was never anyone else around. He would get the keys to a type of gym, turn on lights at a main switch, and we would get changed in a shower/locker room.

"In the showers, after each game we would talk about normal things, but on some occasions I felt pressured to get physically closer. It first started as a joke and a flick of a towel, but when I saw him fully naked, mucking around, I thought it was bit strange for a priest to not have a towel around himself. I felt very embarrassed. Sometimes he would push up against me 'as a joke', squeezing my buttocks. And on one occasion he pulled my hand across onto his penis as he pretended to want the soap. He didn't say anything just looked at me in a dominant way. I think I must have joked my way out of it, because I had absolutely no idea of what was going on.

"Over time I became uncertain as to where this was going, but there was no-one to talk to. My mother was a solid Catholic and I didn't think she would want to know about the shower stuff. I just keep quiet but must have given Jones the impression that I was uncomfortable. Finally, one day, he cornered me in the showers pretending to play a squash shot, and tried to push his penis into me. I was aware of it being erect and hard up against my buttocks. I became quite frightened and squeezed away.

"That turned out to be the last time I ever saw him. For various reasons, I ended up choosing a different career, not the priesthood."

Apology and settlement

In 2004, after consulting Broken Rites, "Matthew" decided to report Penn Jones's behaviour to the Melbourne archdiocese's commissioner on sex abuse, Peter O'Callaghan, QC. Matthew asked Broken Rites to mention this to the earlier complainant, "Luke", who until then had not contacted O'Callaghan. Now realising that he was not the only victim, Luke felt more empowered than previously. Therefore Luke, too, decided to report Penn Jones's behaviour commissioner O'Callaghan.

After interviewing Matthew and Luke (separately) and examining their evidence, commissioner O'Callaghan upheld the complaints. He wrote to both Matthew and Luke on behalf of the archdiocese, accepting that both boys were sexually abused by Monsignor Penn Jones. This acknowledgement made Matthew and Luke feel better.

Also in the same year, Luke revealed to his siblings the secret that he had been harbouring for all his life — the abuse by a Catholic priest. At last, Luke's siblings realised how this code of silence had disrupted Luke's life.

Meanwhile, commissioner O'Callaghan referred both Matthew and Luke to the Melbourne archdiocese's compensation panel (this panel is not chaired by O'Callaghan). The purpose of the compensation panel is to remove the church's legal and financial liability as cheaply as possible.

In 2005, as part of this process, Matthew and Luke each received a letter of apology, signed by Melbourne's Archbishop Denis Hart. It was a "form" letter, drafted by the Melbourne archdiocese's lawyers. This kind of letter is sent to Melbourne diocese victims in general, with the name of the particular offender being mentioned in the final paragraphs. Thus, in the letters to Matthew and Luke, the apology was for the harm done to them "by Monsignor Penn Jones".

The Melbourne archdiocese also paid a discounted financial settlement to both Matthew and Luke in return for each of them signing a deed releasing the archdiocese from any further legal liability (the church finds this a cheap way to end any legal liability). Thus, the church authorities were able to forget about Luke and Matthew as soon as the victims signed the receipt. And the church authorities did not bother to look for other possible victims of Penn Jones who might need help.

To paraphrase the words of former archbishop Frank Little, the case of the "Very" Reverend Monsignor Penn Harold Jones serves as "an example to us all" — that is, to all victims of the church's cover-up on sexual abuse.

And Broken Rites has demonstrated, in the Penn Jones case, how a church-abuse survivor can fight to obtain justice. We are pleased that we placed the Monsignor Penn Jones matter on the record in our newsletter article in 1995.

Richard's story

In January 2007, another ex-pupil, "Richard" (not his real name) contacted Broken Rites about Monsignor Penn Jones. Richard (born 1949) was a pupil at Parade College (Christian Brothers) in East Melbourne in 1963 and 1964, when he was aged about 14 to 15.

After speaking with Broken Rites, Richard contacted (and was interviewed by) the Melbourne archdiocese's contact person, Peter O'Callaghan, QC, in early 2007.

Broken Rites contacted Richard again in September 2009 but he said he has heard nothing back from the Melbourne church authorities.

In September 2009, Richard gave Broken Rites some more information about Penn Jones's behaviour.

Richard told us in an email in September 2009:

"I was one of those boys that were called into Jones office for a chat about 'spirituality' or about going to mass on Sundays. It turned out to be something quite different. It was about masturbation [in crude detail]... All this told with detail and with strange movements of his hands."

"My experience of the whole thing is that the church sees my experience with Penn Jones at Parade College as a non-event. It didn't happen. I have heard nothing from them.

"I have had to struggle through life due to a great extent to that encounter with Penn Jones. It took me many years to even realize that I had done nothing wrong. My parents did not act on the matter despite the fact that I told them about it the same day."

Richard says he still feels hurt by the whole Penn Jones incident and by the church's cover-up of this kind of priestly behaviour and by the fact that the church inflicted Penn Jones on vulnerable boys.

More victims, 2009

In September 2009 the Melbourne Age daily newspaper finally heard about Monsignor Penn Jones (but not through Broken Rites) and it published a full-page feature article (by a staff journalist), focussing on one of Penn Jones's victims. The Age published extensive details about this victim (but the Age did not obtain those details from Broken Rites, as we do not release identifying information the victims who contact us).).

After this September 2009 article, several people (including two who had spoken to Broken Rites) contacted the Age to tell about an unpleasant encounter they had with Jones in their school days. The newspaper published some of these accounts in another full-page feature article in October 2009.

The church's insurance company

Monsignor Penn Jones served as director, then chairman, of Catholic Church Insurance from 1971 to 1992.

CCI chief executive Peter Rush has claimed (in response to a question from a Melbourne Herald Sun reporter) that, when CCI appointed Penn Jones to its executive, CCI had not known that he was a sex-offender.

CCI collects premiums from the church's individual orders and dioceses and covers them for various claims, including sexual abuse by clergy.

According to those with knowledge of the process, CCI helps decide how much claimants should be paid.

Its representatives have been known to attend settlement discussions, but Mr Rush said Monsignor Jones's CCI positions "did not require him" to have contact with sex abuse victims or have any say in the size of their payouts.

"These were decisions for management, applying the terms of insurance policies then in place," Mr Rush explained.

Monsignor Jones also held senior positions with the church's property trust and other church entities.

Monsignor Jones had been elected to the CCI board because he was seen as a "skilled and experienced" accountant, Mr Rush said.

Monsignor Penn Jones remained a priest with the Melbourne archdiocese while holding positions with CCI, Mr Rush said.