The church exposed young Aboriginals to abuse

By a Broken Rites researcher

The Brisbane Catholic authorities had known for 25 years that Father Leo Wright was committing sex crimes against children but they retained him in the ministry and he continued to offend, Brisbane District Court was told in September 1997.

Wright, then 59, who was already in jail for child-abuse, was charged with one count of rape, four counts of indecent assault and four of indecent dealings involving an Aboriginal girl ("Sally"), from 1970 to 1976, when she was aged from 12 to 18. The offences began at an Aboriginal community, where Wright was ministering. Some of the offences occurred immediately after Wright conducted Mass. After Sally turned 18, Wright continued a sexual relationship with her but this did not involve criminal charges.

After a plea bargain, the rape charge was withdrawn, and Wright agreed to plead guilty to the eight lesser charges. He was given a further 18-month jail sentence on top of the three years he is already serving behind bars for child-sex offences committed against four girls (one of whom was Aboriginal) and one boy in 1968-77.

Media helped 

Prosecutor Michael Byrne told the court that the matter came to light when Sally saw media reports in December 1995, when Wright was jailed for offences against the five other children.

Mr Byrne said: "This is a case where the media has made a positive effect in seeing that justice is done."

Wright's lawyer said that, as early as 1972, Wright had reported his sex problems to a bishop but was simply transferred to a new parish. He later told another bishop but was simply transferred again.

The church authorities allowed Wright to continue as a "chaplain" to Aboriginal communities - and these communities included many vulnerable young people, including members of the "stolen generation". From 1978, Wright was full-time superintendent of St Martin's Aboriginal Hostel, Brisbane, under the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau.

In the 1995 case, one non-Aboriginal girl ("Mary", who was assaulted by Wright in 1968 when she was ten) said she complained to the Brisbane archdiocesan authorities in 1990, when her own daughter was turning 10. In 1993, Mary was shocked to find that Wright was still living as a priest in the parish house at Tugan on the Gold Coast. Therefore, she lodged a police report but the church fobbed off the police by sending Wright to attend the church's St Luke clinic for sexually abusive priests in the USA in 1994.

Mary was not informed about the USA trip and was irritated that she never heard again from the police. She was also angry that Wright was still listed as a priest in the mid-1995 official Catholic directory. She again went to the police and demanded that they re-activate her complaint. The police then located further victims.

In the 1995 case, the prosecution had intended to subpoena two top archdiocesan clerics to be questioned in court about their prior knowledge of Wright's offences but Wright's plea of guilty made this unnecessary.

The Brisbane diocesan spokesman on sexual abuse told the media after the 1995 case that Father Wright will always be a priest and will be accepted back into the ministry after he leaves jail .

See the Courier Mail newspaper, Brisbane, 20 September 1997, 15 December 1995.