Black Collar Crime
Broken Rites has researched a Catholic priest who started his career in New South Wales but ended up in jail in Western Australia. The research findings are interesting.
In Western Australia on 12 May 2003, Judge Mary-Ann Yeats jailed Father Adrian Van Klooster, aged 61, for sexual offences which he had committed recently against children in that State. Van Klooster pleaded guilty to indecently dealing with two boys and three girls aged from six to 12 in Western Australia’s Bunbury diocese. The charges involved the priest sliding around on a floor naked with the children, in olive oil and shampoo. He also pleaded guilty to taking indecent photographs of the children and possessing child pornography. The court was told that Van Klooster had child pornography on his computer under the heading “Parish Business”.
In sentencing the priest, Judge Yeats remarked that Van Klooster also admits having sexually abused a girl who was under his supervision in New South Wales, 30 or 40 years earlier (presumably in the late 1960s or the early 1970s). The court was told that the New South Wales incidents involved a girl who was being supervised by Van Klooster in a hostel for troubled young people. The West Australian police and prosecutors were not aware of this aspect of Van Klooster’s past, which was identified during Van Klooster’s psychiatric interview for the West Australian case.
Broken Rites has ascertained that Adrian Van Klooster originally belonged to the diocese of Wollongong in New South Wales. But for reasons that have never been convincingly explained, he left Wollongong on two occasions and re-surfaced, both times, on the other side of the continent to work in West Australian parishes (in the Geraldton diocese in the 1970s and in the Bunbury diocese from 1994 to 2002).
The children in the West Australian court proceedings in 2002-3 were from two families. One of the mothers (“Susan”) contacted Broken Rites in 2002, early in the West Australian court proceedings, seeking advice about bringing the matter to the attention of other parents in New South Wales as well as Western Australia. Broken Rites advised Susan about how to have the court proceedings noted in the media while maintaining the privacy of the victims. At Susan’s request we also arranged for her to give interviews (discreetly, without names) to reliable journalists in New South Wales and Western Australia after the sentencing.
Susan said: “I want to know why Van Klooster was transferred from New South Wales to Western Australia. The Catholic Church owes me and my family an apology because of what had happened to my children.”
During the West Australian court proceedings, it was revealed that Adrian Van Klooster was a chronic alcoholic. Before leaving New South Wales in 1994, he had been in and out of hospital for alcoholism. The West Australian church authorities in the Bunbury diocese knew this but accepted him for ministry there, claiming that the alcoholism would not matter in the Bunbury diocese.
The priest’s background
Research by Broken Rites indicates that Adrian Van Klooster was born in the Netherlands, where at age of about 13 he entered a junior seminary (a high school for boys aspiring to become Catholic priests). His family migrated to Australia, where he continued his priestly studies in New South Wales. Ordained in 1966, he evidently belonged to the Wollongong diocese, just south of Sydney. It was here that he sexually abused a girl who he was supervising in a hostel for troubled young people. Van Klooster’s sexual behaviour towards this girl, in his role as a custodian, was a breach of professional ethics and was possibly (depending on the circumstances) a criminal offence.
Broken Rites has ascertained that Adrian Van Klooster took leave from the Wollongong diocese, and during the 1970s he was a relieving priest in the Western Austalia’s Geraldton diocese (north of Perth). In the 1979 directory of the National Council of Priests, we find him listed as the Parish Priest in charge of the Wickham parish (Our Lady of the Pilbara), near Port Headland, 1470 km north of Perth
The Geraldton diocese, one of the most remote dioceses in Australia, is about as far as it is possible to go from Wollongong, NSW. The reason for this trans-continental switch in the 1970s has yet to be explained.
Broken Rites finds that Adrian Van Klooster was listed again in the Wollongong diocese in the 1980s and until 1993, including at Berkeley (St Mary’s parish in the city of Wollongong) and Rosemeadow (Our Lady Help of Christians parish, near Campbelltown, south-west of Sydney). However, it is possible that he may have had absences from parish work in those years. For example, in the 1988 Catholic directory, he does not seem to be listed in any parish, but merely as "chaplain (part-time)" for the "Christian Family Movement" at 1 Charmain Place, Ambarvale NSW (near Campbelltown). The word "Family" includes children (in the Wollongong diocese, Van Klooster was noted for having a special interest in children's groups).
In 1994, he went “on loan” from Wollongong to the Bunbury diocese in the south of Western Australia, where his parishes included Mandurah (Our Lady of the Assumption parish), Katanning (St Patrick’s parish) and (from 1997) Leschenault (Christ the Living Vine parish, in Australind).
In February 2002, Adrian Richard Van Klooster was charged in court with indecently dealing with children who had stayed overnight at his parish house in Australind earlier that month. At this hearing, he was remanded on bail and was not required to indicate yet whether he would be pleading guilty or not guilty. Van Klooster’s boss, Bunbury bishop Gerard Holohan, immediately issued a public statement in defence of Van Klooster. Bishop Holohan, who took over the Bunbury diocese in 2001, said: “I do not understand fully what the charges [against Van Klooster] mean, though I have been told that they are at the lesser end of charges of this nature." Holohan claimed that Father Van Klooster was a victim of the accumulation of negative media images about priests. He said: "The current situation is coloured because the charges against Fr Adrian stir in people´s memories the crimes of other people and priests. Leaving aside completely Fr Adrian, whose innocence or guilt has to be decided by a court, it has to be acknowledged that, among the many convicted of sexual crimes against children, sadly there have been a few priests."
At a later court hearing (in the District Court in Bunbury in January 2003), Adrian Richard van Klooster, pleaded guilty to indecently dealing with five children, four incidents of indecently recording children and one count of possessing child pornography.
The incidents occurred over two weekends in February 2002 when two mothers entrusted two boys and three girls aged from six to 12 to Van Klooster's care at his house overnight house at Australind in the Leschenault parish.
As well as sliding around on the floor naked with the children, in olive oil and shampoo, the priest took pornographic photos of the children, using a digital camera. And he took 37 images after placing the naked children on a photocopy machine.
The offences came to light when one of the mothers was told by one of the older children.
On 12 May 2003, Judge Mary-Ann Yeats sentenced van Klooster to eight years jail. Six years of this was for the offences against the five children in the overnight stay at his house. The judge imposed an additional, separate (and cumulative) two-year sentence for the pornography charge because some of 17 images of child pornography, under the heading “Parish Business”, found in Van Klooster's computer files, were of children other than the five victims.
[The identity of these other children in the pornographic pictures was not discussed in court. It was not clear whether or not these children were from any of Van Klooster’s parishes.]
Judge Yeats said Van Klooster, grossly breached the trust of five children, their mothers and grandmother and the community.
She said van Klooster was an alcoholic whose quest for intimacy had not been, and could not have been, fulfilled in the priesthood. She said Van Klooster's early attempts to blame alcohol and the children for the offences in police interviews undermined other signs of remorse.
The judge referred to Van Klooster’s admission about having sex with a girl in his custody in the Wollongong diocese, 30 or 40 years earlier, and she said she found this information disturbing.
[At the sentencing, the priest’s full name was given as Adrian Richard Peter John Van Klooster.]
Mother’s trust was betrayed
The mother of three of Van Klooster’s victims told her side of the story in a victim impact statement, tabled in court, and also in interviews with the media (arranged by Broken Rites) after the sentencing. Until the children’s overnight stay in February 2002 this mother had trusted him so much that she told him of the sexual abuse she herself had experienced as a child. She also told him that her late mother and brother had been sexually abused.
In her victim impact statement, this mother wrote: "Adrian knew that my greatest fear was that my own children would become victims and constantly reassured me that I could break this cycle. When Adrian took it upon himself to abuse my children he already knew the lifelong effect that this would have on them, having witnessed it in me."
The mother wrote that since Van Klooster's abuse, her children had become distrusting and disturbed. The younger children showed abnormal sexualised behaviour and frequently experienced nightmares, acted uncontrollably or sobbed for no reason.
"I had frequently told my children that Father Adrian is God's right-hand man," the mother wrote. "We all loved, trusted and believed in God and Father Adrian with all of our hearts; maybe too much. But now my children tell me that God can't really exist or doesn't really love them because he has let this happen.
"Now we know we will never let ourselves love another person in this way again."
After the jailing, this mother told the media she was grateful for support of family and friends. She said she was relieved that community members who had supported Van Klooster after he was charged would now realise that he was a pedophile.
On 23 February 2003 (after Adrian Van Klooster pleaded guilty), the “South Western Times” newspaper in Bunbury, published an interview with Bishop Peter Quinn, now retired, who had been in charge of the Bunbury diocese from 1982 to 2001. The paper said that Quinn had arranged for Van Klooster to transfer from Wollongong to Bunbury in 1994.
The paper quoted Quinn as saying that Father Adrian Van Klooster was an alcoholic who had battled to cope with his drinking problem since arriving in Bunbury about 1994.
Quinn admitted that he and other senior Catholic clergy knew of the priest's chronic drinking problems but decided he was still capable of leading the Leschenault parish. The church had arranged for Van Klooster to attend Alcoholics Anonymous after being in and out of hospital for his drinking problem.
Quoting Bishop Quinn, the newspaper said it was believed that Van Klooster was drunk when he smashed his car in 2003 but the incident had not been reported to police. Bishop Quinn said Van Klooster's alcoholism had not been enough reason to remove him from the parish. He said: “We had him obtain care with Alcoholics Anonymous and we thought that was sufficient. We thought it would put him on the straight and narrow but obviously that was not the case.''
After the sentencing, one of the mothers (“Susan”) gave an interview to the Wollongong daily “Illawarra Mercury” (arranged by Broken Rites). Susan said it was impossible to believe that Adrian Van Klooster was offending for the first time when he sexually abused her children. She said it was inconceivable that such a man would offend for the first time at age 59.
“You don't wake up at 59 and start abusing children,'' she said. She urged any residents of the Wollongong diocese who were uneasy about the dealings they had with Van Klooster in the 1980s and 1990s to contact police or Broken Rites.
Susan said she wanted to know more about why and how Van Klooster was moved from the Wollongong diocese to Western Australia.
Susan is grateful for the help she received from Broken Rites.
Footnote, April 2008:
Van Klooster's jail sentence in 2003 was for crimes committed in Western Australia's Bunbury diocese, south of Perth, in 2002. But these were not Van Klooster's only victims — they were merely the families that contacted the police.