Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Offender allowed to continue
The church allowed an offender to continue as a teacher

By a Broken Rites researcher

(Article updated 21 February 2011)

After a family complained about a sexually-abusive Catholic religious Brother (Peter Paul Van Ruth) in their son's school, the church allowed this offender to transfer to teach (as a lay person) in government schools, a court has been told. Later the offender was allowed to resume teaching (as a lay person) in the Catholic system, where he eventually rose to administrative positions.

In the Melbourne County Court on 21 February 2011, Peter Paul van Ruth (now residing in Adelaide) appeared for pre-sentence proceedings for offences that he committed in 1969 while he worked as a Catholic religious Brother at Salesian College "Rupertswood" (a secondary school at Sunbury, near Melbourne, in the state of Victoria).

This school was operated by the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order. "Rupertswood" then was a boys-only school, with boarders as well as day students. The boarders included many from distant communities.

Van Ruth, who is known by his middle name (Paul), was born on 5 July 1946. He was charged with indecent assaults against two boys, both aged 12. These were not necessarily the only boys who were touched by Brother Paul Van Ruth. These were the two who have spoken with the police.

Peter Paul Van Ruth pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent assault upon two male children. One of the charges involved the digital penetration of the child.

Peter Paul Van Ruth had previously appeared before a magistrate in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 23 July 2010. There, the defence lawyer applied to have the sentencing done by the magistrate's court, rather than by a judge in the County court (the latter court can impose a more severe sentence). However, the magistrate refused this application, and ordered Van Ruth to appear in the County Court for sentencing by a judge.

At the County Court on 21 February 2011, Judge Jane Campton heard submissions from the prosecutor and a defence lawyer about the circumstances of the offending and also about what sort of sentence the court should impose.

The court was told that Peter Paul Van Ruth came from a "strict" Catholic family background. At age 12, his family sent him to be a boarder at Salesian College in Chadstone, Melbourne. There, the Salesians fancied him as a future Salesian brother or priest. Thus, at age 14, he became an "aspirant" for a "religious vocation". Thus, during his years as a boarder there, he absorbed the Salesian culture. Next, at 18, he became a novice at the Salesian seminary in Oakleigh, Melbourne. There, he donned clerical garb and became "Brother" Paul Van Ruth.

In 1969, aged 22, the Salesians appointed him to teach at "Rupertswood" College, at Sunbury (in Melbourne's outer north-west), where he was put in charge of a dormitory containing about 30 or 40 beds for incoming young boarders. His duties included supervising the boys at bed-time — and this is when Van Ruth committed his sexual offences.

Victim No. 1 was upset about being separated from his family and was crying in bed. On several occasions, after "lights-out", Van Ruth got into bed with the boy and touched him sexually. On one occasion, Van Ruth put his finger into the boy's anus, the court was told. Two of the court charges related to this victim, although the incidents happened on more than two occasions.

Victim No. 2 was upset after learning that his grandmother had died. After "lights-out", Van Ruth got into this boy's bed and touched him indecently.

Each victim felt powerless to complain to Van Ruth's fellow-Salesians in the school administration. Eventually, the parents of Victim No. 1 learned about the abuse and they complained to the Salesians.

The Salesians' way of solving the Van Ruth problem was to transfer him to a Salesian community in South Australia. There, they immediately arranged for him to leave the Salesian order, enabling him to join the South Australian state education department in 1970 as Mister Van Ruth, using the teachers' qualification that he had gained from the Salesians. Thus, he became a teacher in government primary schools — and the Salesians had solved their Van Ruth problem.

In 1978, Mr Van Ruth was accepted back into the Catholic education system (still in South Australia), becoming a principal or deputy principal in several church schools.

In 1993 the Catholic Education Office seconded Mr Van Ruth to the South Australian government schools registration board.

Meanwhile, three decades after the 1969 abuse, Van Ruth's victims were still feeling aggrieved by the way in which Van Ruth had been inflicted on them and by the way in which their lives had been disrupted. In 2006, Victim No. 1 from "Rupertswood" consulted the Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (SOCA) squad. After being interviewed by a specialist police officer, he signed an official police statement about the abuse.

The matter was later investigated by Detective Senior Constable Nathan Toey, of the Victoria Police criminal investigations unit (CIU) at Broadmeadows (situated in the region of "Rupertswood" College). During the investigation, Detective Toey met Victim No. 2.

Police then located Paul Van Ruth in South Australia. At first, Van Ruth explained his actions by telling police that he had been starting a "sex education" program for the boys.

In fact, however, Van Ruth did not have proper qualifications to give "sex education". In court, his lawyer said that that Salesians had put Brother Van Ruth in charge of these boys without having proper safeguards in place for the protection of the children.

Because Van Ruth pleaded guilty at an early stage, the court proceedings were relatively brief. The victims were not required to give evidence in court, although they were sitting (separately) at the back of the courtroom as observers. This experience gave the victims a feeling of empowerment.

The prosecution had arranged for each victim to write an impact statement, explaining how the sexual abuse at "Rupertswood" College had affected his adolescent development and his adult life. To protect the privacy of the victims, these statements were not read out in court. The prosecutor submitted the statements to the judge to help the judge to consider the kind of penalty that should be imposed on Van Ruth.

After hearing the pre-sentence submissions, Judge Jane Campton remanded Paul Van Ruth on bail. Van Ruth's sentence will be announced in court at an early date.

During the pre-sentence submissions, the prosecutor recommended that the court should give Van Ruth some time behind bars (that is, not merely a suspended jail sentence). The prosecutor referred Judge Campton to two previous cases involving offences against boys in church schools:

Father Frank Gerard Klep, of the Salesian College "Rupertswood", was sentenced to a minimum of 3 years 6 months behind bars. See the Broken Rites story here.

Christian Brother Peter Toomey, of Melbourne, was sentenced to a minimum of 2 years 6 months behind bars. See the Broken Rites story here.

In both the Klep and Toomey cases, a judge originally imposed a lesser minimum jail term but the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed against this sentence on behalf of the victims and secured a longer minimum sentence.

Other Salesians who have been convicted include:

Fr Paul Raymond Evans,

Brother Gregory Coffey (or Coffyn) and

Fr David Rapson.

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