Anglican case: Reverend James Stirling Murray allegedly molested schoolboys

For fifty years, one of Australia’s most prominent Anglican priests — Father James Stirling Murray — managed to survive complaints about him committing sex offences on vulnerable boys. These alleged offences began in the 1950s, when Murray was in his twenties, working as a teacher, and these boys were under his supervision. Thus, he breached his duty of care to these boys. 

Born in 1927, James Murray grew up in Melbourne, where he was educated at Scotch College and the University of Melbourne. In the 1950s he was a religious studies teacher at two Melbourne boys’ schools -- Scotch College and Ivanhoe Grammar School. He became an Anglican deacon in 1961 and was ordained a priest in 1962.

He later worked as a priest in Sydney and as a chaplain at Sydney's Barker College. He was the religious editor of The Australian for many years. Conservative in religion, he opposed women priests for the Anglican Church. He could easily have fitted into the Roman Catholic Church but he resisted attempts to co-opt him into that denomination.

Victim aged 15

In May 1994, prominent Australian journalist Peter Blazey, a former Scotch College pupil in Melbourne, alleged in a magazine article that Murray molested him at the age of 15.

Peter Blazey, who died in the late 1990s, also wrote an autobiographical book in which he recounted the Murray incidents.

Blazey’s 1994 article alleged that Murray also used to molest boys at Ivanhoe Grammar School and he later molested boys at Sydney's Barker College.

Complaints to Anglican Church

In 2004 two former schoolboys lodged a complaint about Murray with the professional standards office of the Anglican Church. The complaints were reported in the Melbourne Herald Sun on 23 December 2004 and the Melbourne Age a day later. Both papers published James Stirling Murray’s name.

One of these pupils (“Angus” – not his real name) also spoke to Broken Rites. Angus said the offence occurred in 1956 outside his parents’ house after Murray gave him a lift home. He said James Stirling Murray was then a priest in training and was the school's religion and music teacher.

Angus said: "He made comments and suggestions of a sexual nature. The next thing, his hands working up my leg. I have no doubt that what followed was a grope. It was a sexual overture.

"I hit him and said ‘don't be so stupid, James’, and he apologised profusely and said we should meet the next day and pray about it."

Angus said that the Anglican professional standards office was also considering a complaint from another ex-pupil from the same school. Angus said that the other complaint (regarding a school camp) involved conduct "far worse" than what allegedly happened to him.

"There are others but I'm the first to come forward," Angus said.

Contacted by the Herald Sun, Father Murray confirmed the complaints but said he was loath to comment without legal advice.

He said he did not recognise the names of the complainants and that over time he had had a lot of operations and lost a lot of memory.

The Anglican Church authorities acknowledged these complaints but were unable to take action against Murray because, by the time these complaints were made, he had retired from holding any positions in the Anglican Church. Murray died on 29 September 2009.

Attacks in cinema

In 1997 Broken Rites learned that Reverend James Stirling Murray had first come to the attention of Victoria Police in the late 1950s when he was still in his twenties. In fact, his fingerprints were placed on the police files.

A retired Victorian detective sergeant (George Baddeley) told Broken Rites that he had been a pupil at Ivanhoe Grammar school when James S. Murray was a religious education teacher there. Later Baddeley joined the Victoria Police and he was working in the criminal investigation branch about 1956-59 when he saw a form with Murray's name and signature. The form indicated that Murray had been observed by staff at a cinema in Bourke Street, Melbourne (called the Times newsreel theatrette, downstairs in a building opposite the Myer Emporium), where he would sexually grope any young boy in the audience.

Murray was interviewed by police and his fingerprints were taken, although he was not charged.

Chaplain to youth

In 1961-65, according to the Australian Anglican Clergy Directory, the Reverend James Stirling Murray was a chaplain in the Victorian Social Welfare Department. This gave him access to young males in institutions such as the Turana youth detention centre.

In 1999 a former inmate of Turana (born in 1947) complained to the Victoria Police that Father James Murray had accosted him sexually at Turana in the 1960s. The complainant’s signed statement was investigated by Detective Senior Constable Brett Eldridge, of the Victoria Police Sexual Crimes Squad, but Murray survived.