Christian Brothers victims achieve justice after 40 years

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A member of the Catholic order of Christian Brothers, Keith William Weston, 81, pleaded guilty in the Melbourne County Court on 29 November 2004 to indecently assaulting male pupils, aged 11 to 14, forty years earlier. In 1997, a victim of Weston phoned Broken Rites, which referred him to the police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (SOCA) Unit. Police gradually found a total of seven alleged victims of Weston but were slow in processing these complaints. In Melbourne Magistrates Court in 2003, the Christian Brothers' lawyers successfully blocked the first two complainants because of the delay in getting the cases to court.

Weston, then retired and living at Tugan in Queensland, claimed he was too ill to undergo a court trial. The courts rejected this and Weston eventually agreed to a plea bargain. The remaining five alleged victims were reduced to four and the number of charged incidents was reduced to merely one for each victim, even though some victims were assaulted on more than one occasion.

Keith Weston then pleaded guilty regarding alleged victims 3, 4, 5, and 6. The seventh alleged victim reluctantly agreed to drop out in order to finalise the case.

During the 12 months of court proceedings, additional ex-students contacted Broken Rites and/or the police, but the prosecution decided not to include these newcomers because further investigation would have delayed the case against the 81-year-old defendant.

The offences occurred in Melbourne when Weston was vice-principal at Parade College preparatory school in Alphington in 1964 and principal of St Joseph's College in Pascoe Vale South in 1966-8. Weston was then aged 41 to 45.

The court was told that Weston would order a boy to go to his office for sex education. In three of these four cases, Weston ordered the boy to remove his clothes; and Weston then tried to masturbate the boy. The fourth boy was assaulted in similar circumstances through the boy's clothes.

One boy said Weston ordered him to the office three times for sex education. Weston talked to the boy about sex - and about "the need to control sexual urges" - while indecently handling him.

Weston knew that the young boys would be reluctant to report a Christian Brother's offences, the court was told.

Judge Barton Stott said the crimes were a gross betrayal of the trust placed in Weston as a principal, teacher and Christian Brother.

"Each boy was in awe of your authority and ill at ease with your conduct," he said.

Judge Stott sentenced Keith Weston to two and a half years jail, wholly suspended to two years.

Relatives of several victims attended the sentencing. One relative, an elderly man, remarked outside the court afterwards: "Weston caused the death of my son."

On the afternoon of the sentencing, a former pupil of Weston emailed Broken Rites thus: "I notice that St Joseph's School web site has just removed all references to Brother Weston. Previously he had been credited with starting the schools building program."

One of the additional victims later had a meeting with Victoria's Director of Public Prosecutions, Paul Coghlan QC, who said the office would not prosecute Weston again because of the difficulty of getting a successful outcome. (Incidentally, Mr Coghlan is an ex-pupil of St Joseph's CBC, Pascoe Vale.)

Prominent Victorian football identity Phil Cleary, who was a member of Federal Parliament in the 1990s, attended St Joseph's school, Pascoe Vale South, while Brother Weston was the principal. Cleary wrote in an article in the Melbourne Herald Sun in on 8 December 2005: "In the mid '60s the principal of St Joseph's College in Pascoe Vale was systematically molesting boys in my class. I was lucky enough not to be one of them. For some inexplicable reason no one stopped him."

An ex-student of Weston ("Bob") told Broken Rites in 2003: "A former student from St Joseph's south, Pascoe Vale South, committed suicide a few years ago. His suicide note indicated that church sexual abuse was the main thing bothering him."

After Weston's conviction, the above-mentioned ex-student "Bob" wrote the following letter to St Joseph's college:

"I write on behalf of a group past students of your school (1964 to 1970) in regard to the recent conviction of the former principal of the school, Keith Weston, for sex offences.

"Given the very serious nature of his crime, the betrayal of trust that the community placed in him, the Christian Brothers and the Catholic Church, the inconsistency with your current mission and values, we write to express our amazement that no public apology or attempt at reconciliation has been forthcoming from your organisation.

"Are we to assume that your organisation seeks to sweep this unsavory part of it history under the carpet? Has the church or school learnt from its past mistakes or are we to assume that it is still comfortable with pushing the problem onto another community and creating another set of new victims? Is there still a culture of secrecy and avoidance? Or are we to assume that the school and or the church is unconcerned about its past behavior, is this a mild distraction at best?

"Many of the past students from the 60s still regard the Preparatory School with distaste. Not only was it headed by a sexual predator, it was staffed by a number thugs and bullies who created a climate of fear and dread for children. Not surprising the academic performance of this institution was as outstanding as its leader of the time. We have not forgotten."