Sunday, April 3, 2011

REVEALED: The church kept quiet about Brother William Stanley Irwin

By a Broken Rites researcher

Broken Rites Australia has researched a Catholic religious Brother, William Stanley Irwin, who sexually abused a Melbourne teenage male to whom he was providing "counselling". Despite this breach of pastoral ethics, the church authorities protected Irwin and later promoted him. The victim finally obtained justice when Irwin was convicted in a Sydney criminal court on 31 March 2011.

During Irwin's court hearings in 2009-2011, it emerged that:

In the year of the abuse (1986), Brother Irwin was officially a church "youth counsellor" and was providing "counselling" to this Melbourne teenager — that is, a supposedly pastoral relationship.

The teenager's parents trusted Brother Irwin to take their son (then aged 17) on a road trip from Melbourne to New South Wales and return. That is, the victim was in Irwin's custody. During the trip, Irwin sexually abused the teenager.

After the teenager's parents complained to the church authorities about the abuse (and the breach of trust), Brother Irwin admitted his guilt. The church authorities then assured the parents that Brother Irwin would not be allowed to work with youngsters again. Relieved by this promise, the parents did not report Irwin to the police. Thus, the matter was kept quiet.

But the promise about Irwin's restricted future was not kept — he was allowed to continue working, unencumbered, as a teacher and "youth counsellor" in Catholic schools and parishes.

About 1992, the church upgraded Irwin from a religious brother to a priest, making him "Father" Irwin. He was sent to minister as a priest in Western Australia and Queensland but his new congregations were not aware of his previous abuse.

Irwin's abuse was finally exposed when the Melbourne victim spoke to New South Wales police in 2009, resulting in criminal court charges.
On 31 March 2011 a Sydney District Court jury found William Stanley Irwin (aged 55) guilty on two counts of "gross indecency on a male under the age of 18". He is scheduled to return to court later in 2011 for sentencing.

Irwin was a member of the Catholic order of Vincentian priests and brothers (this order is also known as the Congregation of the Mission).

The offences occurred when Irwin and the Melbourne boy stayed overnight at St Stanislaus College (a boys' boarding school, owned by the Vincentian order) in Bathurst, west of Sydney, in New South Wales, during school holidays in 1986. Irwin was a former pupil, and former teacher, at this school.

This New South Wales court case was confined to Irwin's abuse of the teenage victim in New South Wales. Anybody else who wishes to provide relevant information about the activities of William Irwin, in any other part of Australia, would need to talk to police in the state in which the activity occurred.

Irwin becomes a priest
Broken Rites research has found some information about William Irwin in the 1990s, after his 1986 abuse of the Melbourne boy was reported to the Vincentians.

The 1992 yearbook of St Stanislaus College, Bathurst, contains photographs of Father Bill Irwin, CM (the letters "CM" stand for Congregation of the Mission):

One photo shows "The ordination of Father Bill Irwin, CM" at the St Stanislaus College chapel.

A second photo shows him cutting a cake: "Br. Bill becomes Father Bill Irwin".

A third photo shows Father Bill Irwin with six Old Boys of St Stanislaus at Bill Irwin's ordination.
The Vincentians are an Australia-wide order, and "Reverend" William Irwin was later listed as working in other states:
In the 1994 edition of the annual Australian Catholic Directory, Broken Rites found Father William Irwin listed at St Vincent's parish, Kwinana, Western Australia.

In the 1995 and 1996 directories, Fr William Irwin was listed at the "Catholic Mission", Oxenford, Queensland (along with a fellow-Vincentian, Father Brian Spillane, who also has since been convicted of child-sex offences).

From about 1996 onwards, Fr William Irwin evidently worked outside the Vincentians — the annual Catholic directories (until 2006) listed Rev. William Irwin as on leave from the Vincentians, care of the Vincentian national office. After 2006, Father Irwin's name was dropped from the Catholic directory.

When police arrested him in 2009, Irwin was at St Aloysius College, Milsons Point, Sydney (a Catholic day school for boys, run by the Jesuits), where he had been a chaplain and teacher since 2003.
Background of the case
According to statements made in court, William Irwin was a former pupil of St Stanislaus College, Bathurst. Here he was introduced to the culture of the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers. The Vincentians recruited him as a member and he joined the order in 1975 in his late teens, becoming "Brother" Irwin. He was based at St Stanislaus College between 1980 and 1983 and between 1987 and 1989.

The prosecution said that in between these two stints, Irwin worked in the mid-1980s in a Melbourne parish and was a "spiritual leader" in the Catholic youth group, Antioch. His role included providing "counselling" to youths aged between 15 and 18.

A Melbourne family consulted Irwin for assistance with counselling for their son, the prosecution said. The boy's parents, who trusted Brother Irwin, told Irwin that their son had been sexually abused at the age of 15 by another man, who later pleaded guilty and was jailed. The boy began visiting Irwin for counselling sessions, often in priests' quarters.

The prosecution said that, in the second half of 1986 when the youth was 17, Irwin allegedly took him on a trip from Melbourne to Sydney, where they stayed in a seminary. They then allegedly stayed overnight at St Stanislaus College, Bathurst. No pupils were there as it was in the school holidays.

At St Stanislaus College, Irwin told the boy to lie on a bed with him and Irwin then behaved indecently, the prosecution said.

In the weeks or months after the assault, the teenager reported the abuse to a nun. When his parents heard about the assault, they complained to the Vincentian order (instead of reporting the crime to the police). The Vincentian Order's Australian head (known as "the Provincial") allegedly promised to the parents that Irwin would be removed from all positions involving contact with children or young people. But that did not happen, the prosecution said, and in fact Irwin went on to be a dormitory master at St Stanislaus for two years, during which time he also taught "personal development" and "religion".

The prosecution said that police had located the Vincentian order's file on the matter, which was headed "strictly confidential". In it, the Vincentians' Australian head allegedly recorded that Irwin had admitted the "bed incident". [However, for legal reasons, the jury was absent when the court was told about this file; and, again for legal reasons, the jury was also absent when the court was told about the Vincentians' promise to keep Irwin away from children.]

Court proceedings
After police arrested William Irwin in November 2009, he appeared before a magistrate in Sydney's Downing Centre Local court on 1 December 2009 and again on 11 February 2010. These were brief, procedural hearings to file the charges. The investigation had been made by detectives from Bathurst, where St Stanislaus College is located.

In March 2011, William Stanley Irwin appeared in the Sydney District Court, where he pleaded not guilty to the two charges of gross indecency. This necessitated a jury trial.

The victim (aged 41 at the time of Irwin's trial) told the jury that, after being sexually abused by another man at the age of 15 (while on work experience), he felt "depressed and very confused, with very low self-esteem". He later began receiving counselling from Brother Bill Irwin, who "seemed to understand where I was coming from".

The victim said that when he tried to explain his feelings, Irwin would often put his arms around his shoulder and gave him a hug at the end of a session.

The victim described the trip to New South Wales. He said that when he and Irwin stayed overnight at St Stanislaus College, he was asked to Irwin's room and then was told to lie down on Irwin's bed. He said Irwin kissed him, fondled him sexually and then got him to masturbate Irwin and vice-versa.

"Brother Bill said we should keep this to ourselves," he said.

The victim said that after returning to his room, he remembered "tossing and turning that night thinking about what had happened and feeling very confused. I remember I was upset".

The victim's mother gave evidence in court. She told the jury how upset her son was when he later disclosed being sexually assaulted by Br. William Irwin.

"He felt he was let down because Br. Bill was the one who was supposed to be helping him," she said.

William Stanley Irwin gave evidence in court. He denied that he had taken the youth to visit St Stanislaus College and he denied that he had ever sexually abused the youth.

Guilty verdict
After the jury (comprising eight women and four men) returned a verdict of guilty, Judge Ronald Solomon remanded William Stanley Irwin on bail. A further hearing is scheduled for later in 2011, at which the prosecution and the defence will make final submissions before the judge decides the sentence.

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