Black Collar Crime
In 2005, the Australian public learned that, for a decade, the prominent Catholic order of Salesian Fathers had been harbouring a priest who had a criminal conviction for child sex-abuse. Broken Rites has conducted detailed research on this case.
The priest, Father Frank Klep, had been convicted in Melbourne in 1994 for indecently assaulting vulnerable boys, aged 13, in the sick dormitory of a Salesian secondary school, Salesian College (also known as "Rupertswood"), at Sunbury in Melbourne's north-west. The offences occurred in the 1970s but were covered up.
During the 1980s and '90s, parents and ex-students from "Rupertswood" tried to get Klep removed from the priesthood but the Salesians obstinately protected him. The Salesians eventually transferred him from Australia to the Pacific island Samoa -- and they illegally concealed his criminal conviction from the Samoan authorities. In Samoa, he was out of reach of the Australian police. In 2004, after more victims contacted the Australian police, Samoa deported Frank Klep back to Australia, where he eventually pleaded guilty regarding the additional victims. He was again convicted. Even as Klep entered jail in December 2005 (eleven years after his first conviction), his Salesian bosses still had not removed him from the priesthood.
This story raises questions not just about Frank Klep but about the Catholic system that sheltered him from justice.
The priest's background
Broken Rites has compiled the following account from court submissions and witnesses' testimonies. Broken Rites was present in court during the 2005 hearing.
Broken Rites has ascertained that Father Frank Gerard Klep was born in Holland on 3 October 1943, in a family of nine children. He arrived in Australia with his family when he was aged ten. He went to school at Salesian College, Chadstone (in Melbourne's south-east), and, by age 16, the Salesian Fathers viewed him as a future priest. He began boarding with the Salesians and spent his final two school years (years 11 and 12) in a special classroom of priesthood "aspirants". At 18, he joined the Salesian order, the formal name of which is the "Salesians of Don Bosco". Klep's Catholic family (according to his barrister in court in 2005) enjoyed the prestige of having a future priest in the family. One of his younger siblings became a nun.
Klep's Salesian training in the 1960s included teaching in a Catholic school in South Australia. He is also believed to have taught at Dominic College, Glenorchy, Tasmania.
In 1968, aged 25, went to the United States for theological studies, including at Pontifical College (a Catholic seminary in Ohio).
Catholic priests are purported to live a life of "chastity" but Klep's barrister told the court in 2005 (at time of sentencing) that, while Klep was in the U.S. in 1968, he met a fellow male student who fondled him sexually. (This kind of experience is not uncommon in the Salesian order.) Klep's barrister said that this was Klep's first experience of "sex" and his first orgasm.
Ordained as a priest in 1972, aged 29, Father Frank Klep worked as a teacher at "Rupertswood", where he was the "religion" co-ordinator. "Rupertswood" then was a boys-only school, with boarders as well as day students. The boarders included many from distant farming communities in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales.
The boarders slept in dormitories, partitioned at the end by a curtain, behind which a Salesian priest or brother slept to maintain order. There were about 19 priests, brothers and lay brothers at "Rupertswood".
Klep was in charge of the infirmary, where sick boys were kept. Klep slept in a partitioned section in the infirmary. He administered medication to sick or injured boys.
The prosecution alleged that Klep used to touch the genitals of some boys while the boys were in bed asleep and that, in some cases, he performed oral sex on the boys. Furthermore, some boys alleged that Klep gave them sedatives, or a drugged drink, to put them into a deep sleep before abusing them. Some alleged that he inserted a medical suppository into their anus.
At that time, Frank Klep's victims were unable to report the sex-abuse to their parents or the police. As boarders, the boys were a long way from home. Furthermore, their parents were devout Catholics who would not welcome - or even believe - the complaints. The boarders also knew that a complaint would result in reprisals from the school administration.
Klep transferred from "Rupertswood" at the end of 1979 to become the principal of Salesian College in Brooklyn Park, Adelaide. He is recorded as taking part in many activities with Adelaide boys, including one trip with boys in May 1981 to visit the Salesian houses around Melbourne.
Complaints surfaced in the 1980s
In the 1980s, some "Rupertswood" parents were alarmed that their sons, now becoming adults, seemed to have had their personal development disrupted at the school. Gradually, these ex-students admitted to their parents that Father Klep sexually abused them in the infirmary in the 1970s. Being adults now, the ex-students felt safe to reveal what they could not have said when they were children.
In 1982-6, Klep was back at "Rupertswood" as principal. Alarmed by this promotion, a dozen parents confronted the Salesians' Australian administration and demanded Klep's removal but the Salesians refused. Klep denied everything. These parents also reported Klep to the then chief administrator of the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese but he ignored the complaints.
Eventually, after the parents threatened legal action, the Salesians "solved" the problem by awarding Klep a "study" trip to Rome and the United States.
Returning to Australia in 1989, Klep helped to train priests at Salesian Theological College in Oakleigh (in Melbourne's south-east).
Despite the complaints of 1986, he was again put into contact with boys in 1992 -- as head of the Salesians' Don Bosco Hostel and Youth Centre, 715 Sydney Road, Brunswick, a blue-collar suburb of Melbourne. This centre included some potentially vulnerable youngsters.
One ex-Rupertswood parent, "Cath", said she and the other parents were horrified by this Youth Centre appointment. She complained in writing to the Salesians in 1992 and (she said) received a scolding from the order's Australian head at the time. She dropped her protests.
"I just tried to do the right thing, but we never got anywhere," Cath said later. "They absolutely had it covered, like the Mafia."
Conviction in 1994
In 1993, some Klep victims from "Rupertswood" in the 1970s contacted the police, instead of merely telling the Salesians or the Melbourne archdiocese. The police, unlike the church authorities, took the matter seriously.
First, two siblings ("Kerry" and "Paddy") made sworn statements at what is now called the police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (SOCA) unit. These boys, who were boarders at "Rupertswood", were from a Victorian country town, where their parents were "pillars of the church". Kerry encountered Klep in Year 9 in the mid-1970s, when he was 13. Paddy, who is four years younger, encountered Klep four years later, in Year 9 when he too was 13. Both boys said they were assaulted in the infirmary.
Paddy said that Klep gave him sedatives. In addition to indecent touching of genitals, Klep inserted a medical suppository into Paddy's anus, the boy said.
Klep denied everything and pleaded not guilty. The Salesians left him on duty throughout the court process in 1994.
Senior Sergeant Steve Iddles, the prosecutor, later said: "He [Frank Klep] forced himself on them [the boys]. Lie down and do as I tell you."
In the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 12 December 1994, a magistrate found Frank Klep guilty. The Salesians' barrister immediately told the court that Kelp would appeal against the conviction. This discouraged the media from reporting the conviction. In fact, however, Klep withdrew the appeal a month later, by which time the metropolitan media had forgotten to follow up the case.
The magistrate sentenced Frank Klep to nine months jail, which he was allowed to serve in community service, gardening at nursing homes.
The Salesians successfully kept the 1994 conviction out of the metropolitan media. However, a local weekly newspaper, the Sunbury "Regional" (circulating in the district around "Rupertswood") published four paragraphs about it on 20 December 1994.
After the conviction, Klep had discussions with Catholic Church psychiatrist Richard Ball but (according to statements made in court in 2005) this did not constitute "treatment" because Klep's plea of "not guilty" indicated that he showed no remorse. The Salesians arranged no subsequent on-going professional treatment for Klep -- and this indicates that the Salesions,too, felt no remorse.
One victim, Kerry, wrote an article for the Broken Rites printed newsletter in 1995, saying: "Klep's actions have altered my life in many ways. I feel cheated by the Catholic Church which for years must have known of this problem with many clergy and yet took no stand to remove those responsible or even to apologise to the victims concerned."
Another victim comes forward
After the 1994 conviction, Father Frank Klep was transferred to a position at Auxilium College (a training and retreat centre for clergy) at Lysterfield, south-east of Melbourne.
In 1996, another former "Rupertswood" student ("Pierre") contacted the police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse unit. Pierre alleged that, when he was in the infirmary in 1973 aged 14, Klep had fondled him, performed oral sex on him and penetrated his anus with a finger.
Police interviewed Klep in June 1996 but, once again, he denied the allegations. When the investigating detective was transferred to a country area, the file lay dormant in Melbourne for a while.
Klep in Samoa
About May 1998, the police began instituting charges against Frank Klep (regarding the victim "Pierre") but the Salesians arranged for Klep to work at Moamoa Theological College in Samoa. In August 1998, Melbourne police tried to serve a criminal summons on Klep in Melbourne (for five sexual assaults on Pierre) but Klep was already in Samoa -- and Australia has no extradition treaty with Samoa. Police then issued an Australia-wide arrest warrant for Klep.
The people of Samoa were not aware that the newly-arrived friendly priest was a convicted child molester who was wanted on more charges back in Australia. Neither he nor the church felt an obligation to tell anyone about all that.
In 2002, a United States journalist, Reese Dunklin of the "Dallas Morning News", Texas, was investigating the Catholic Church's habit of allowing sexually-abusive priests to move from one country to another. Dunklin heard about Father Frank Klep and certain other Australian Salesians who had gone to Pacific islands. Dunklin eventually flew to Samoa and published a long article about Klep in the "Dallas Morning News" on 18 June 2004.
To satisfy Klep's victims, the Salesians' Australian headquarters had previously claimed that Klep would never again deliver Mass publicly or participate in any activity that may bring him into contact with children. But Dunklin found that Klep was helping during Mass at a Samoan church and at the nearby Salesian schools. A photo in the "Dallas Morning News" showed Father Klep in Samoa handing out sweets to children after Sunday Mass. The paper reported that teenaged boys were waiting for Klep outside.
Samoa's top Catholic, Archbishop Alapati Mataeliga, told Dunklin that he was startled to learn about Frank Klep's criminal conviction. He said the Salesians should not have hidden the conviction from him.
The archbishop said he had just learned, from the media, about the Salesians' promise that Frank Klep would not deliver Mass or participate in any activity that may bring him into contact with children. The archbishop said he should have been told this earlier.
Dunklin's article pointed out that the Salesians of Don Bosco, one of the largest Catholic religious orders, concentrate on educating and housing some of the world's most needy and vulnerable children. Yet influential Salesian officials, worldwide, have spoken out forcefully against cooperating with law enforcement agencies investigating sex-abuse allegations.
Dunklin said that Salesian officials worldwide had spoken out against co-operating with police investigating sex-abuse allegations. He quoted Salesian Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez of Honduras - then regarded as a possible candidate to be the next pope - as saying: "It would be a tragedy to reduce the role of a pastor to that of a cop. I'd be prepared to go to jail rather than harm one of my priests."
Broken Rites emailed Dunklin's article to several Australian journalists who began investigating Australian aspects of the Klep story.
Frank Klep back in Australia
In late June 2004, the Samoan government deported Klep because he had failed to disclose his 1994 conviction. On his visa application for Samoa, Klep had sworn that "I ... have never been convicted of a criminal offence." The lie was witnessed, and endorsed, by Klep's then Salesian boss.
Returning to Australia on 25 June 2004, Frank Klep was immediately arrested on the 1998 charges involving Pierre. The publicity about Klep's return from Samoa resulted in more victims contacting the police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse unit.
Embarrassed by the publicity about Father Klep, the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese wrote to Klep immediately after his arrival, stating that he was no longer authorised to function as a priest within the boundaries of the Melbourne diocese. (However, this prohibition related only to Melbourne; the Melbourne diocese had no power to ground a Salesian priest in other dioceses or other countries.)
At the Melbourne Magistrates Court in April 2005, Frank Klep was charged with 28 incidents of indecent assault [i.e., touching of genitals] and one of buggery [i.e., Pierre's allegation of digital penetration]. These alleged offences were against eight "Rupertswood" boys, mostly aged 14 to 15, in 1973. Klep's lawyers (hired by the Salesians) contested the charges fiercely but, after hearing evidence, the magistrate decided that there was certainly enough evidence for a jury to convict Klep and he therefore ordered Klep to stand trial.
When the matter was scheduled for a higher court (the Melbourne County Court) later in 2005, Klep decided to plead guilty.
The guilty plea meant that the evidence would not need to be argued in court. The defence and prosecution submitted an "agreed statement of facts", describing certain incidents of indecent assault committed by Klep. These were "representative" charges -- just one or two incidents per victim, although some of the victims had allegedly been assaulted numerous times during several years.
As these court proceedings were getting under way, two more "Rupertswood" victims contacted police. In December 2005, Frank Klep finally pleaded guilty in the County Court to 13 incidents of indecent assault involving ten Rupertswood boys. All were boarders and all were assaulted in the infirmary.
Klep's barrister asked the court for a wholly-suspended sentence, particularly in view of the long delay in reporting the offences to the police. The publicity and the disgrace were a sufficient punishment, the defence claimed.
However, Judge Francis Hogan quoted a letter from the Salesians' Australian head, Father Ian Murdoch, dated 13 December 2005, which stated that the Salesians had not yet decided what to do about Klep's future as a priest. Murdoch failed to explain why Klep was still a priest in 2005 (11 years after the 1994 conviction) and why there was still a hesitation about removing him from the priesthood.
The prosecution sought an immediate jail sentence, pointing out that the boys were particularly vulnerable because they were ill and because, as boarders, they had no parents on hand to whom they could complain; and, furthermore, the delay in reporting was because the boys could not tell their devout parents about church sex abuse.
Off to jail
Early in December 2005, just before Klep was due to be sentenced, another "Rupertswood" victim contacted police, and his case was included in the sentencing, making 14 incidents involving eleven victims.
Sentencing Klep on 16 December 2005, Judge Francis Hogan said Klep had violated the innocence of his students. The judge told Klep: "You betrayed their trust in a most appalling way. Not only were you in a position of trust but you were also in a position of power."
The judge also said: "Offences of this kind are difficult to detect because they are committed against children who are scared and do not complain."
Judge Hogan sentenced Klep to a total of 36 months jail, with one year behind bars and the remainder possibly on parole. However, this sentence was later increased considerably by the Victorian Court of Appeal [see below in this article].
Judge Hogan ordered that Kleps name be placed permanently on the Register of Serious Sexual Offenders and that a sample of his saliva be taken for DNA testing. (Detectives took Klep's fingerprints in 1994.)
Kleps conviction was widely reported in radio and television bulletins and in newspapers.
On 19 April 2006, the Director of Public Prosecutions for the State of Victoria appealed aginst Judge Hogan's sentence as being too lenient. Three Supreme Court judges heard submissions from the prosecution and the defence.
The defence counsel submitted that the sentence should be reduced because Klep had received an additional punishment -- "losing his job". However, the defence counsel admitted that Klep had not been expelled from the Salesian order.
That is, according to the defence, Klep was still a priest. And this was four months after his December 2005 conviction -- and eleven years after his 1994 conviction.
The appeal judges increased Klep's sentence to a total of 5 years 10 months jail, with parole possible after 3 years 6 months.
How the church hurt the victims
Klep's victims submitted written impact statements to Judge Hogan before the sentencing in December 2005. Each victim described how Klep and the Salesians had adversely affected the victim's subsequent life. The impact was caused not only by Klep's actions but also by the church's culture of cover-up. The effects included: losing trust in other people; disrupting the boys' relationship with their families; becoming socially withdrawn; sexual identity problems; substance abuse; and destroying their relationship with their fellows in the Catholic community.
In her sentencing remarks, Judge Hogan emphasised that Klep had left his victims with profound and lasting psychological scars.
For many victims of Father Frank Klep and other Salesians, the anchor of their lives has been cut, leaving them spiritually and emotionally adrift. They consider it a high price to pay for the bad faith of Salesian priests and administrators.
One victim, Kerry (from the 1994 case), told reporters on 16 December 2005 that his mother, a church person all her life, has lost all trust in the Catholic Church, as have the rest of Kerry's family.
Some of the victims in the December 2005 conviction said they know of other Klep victims who, for family reasons or other reasons, have not contacted the police. (Such a victim might remain silent because, perhaps, he has still not told his devout Catholic parents about being sexually abused by a Catholic priest.)
Victims said that they know of several "Rupertswood" former students who have committed suicide since leaving the school and who are believed to have been victims of sexual abuse.
The publicity surrounding the Klep case has helped to educate Australian parents about the importance of protecting their children from predators who abuse a position of trust.
Klep's victims are entitled to receive compensation from the Salesian Fathers to help make up for the victims' financial and personal losses (medical expenses,loss of earnings and so on). The Salesian Fathers have made modest payments to some of the Klep victims but others have not bothered to receive such payments. Such a payment does not completely make up for the damage that has been done to a victim's life.