Our top stories
Black Collar Crime
Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related
By a Broken Rites researcher
The Broken Rites Australia victim support group has helped to obtain justice for a former altar boy who was raped by his Catholic parish priest, Father Kelvin Gerald Sharkey.
In the Wollongong District Court (south of Sydney) on 29 April 2010, Father Sharkey was sentenced to a minimum 15 months in jail after pleading guilty to the offences.
Sharkey belongs to the Wollongong diocese and he is still listed in the 2009-2010 edition of the annual Australian Catholic Directory as "Reverend Kelvin Sharkey", a "supplementary priest of the diocese". This means that he was no longer working in a particular parish but is still officially a priest of the diocese, even while he is in jail.
Some media reports incorrectly described Sharkey as a "former" priest -- on the incorrect assumption that the Catholic Church would not still have him in its priesthood.
Guilty pleaOn 16 November 2009 in the New South Wales District Court at Wollongong, south of Sydney, Father Sharkey pleaded guilty to one incident of buggery and two of indecent assault ("indecent assault" involves indecent touching). The offences began in 1969 when the altar boy was ten (Sharkey was then aged over 40).
These were not Sharkey's only incidents with this boy. These were merely the three incidents on which the judge will sentence Sharkey, who is now aged over 80.
Much of the abuse occurred in the parish church, as well as in the priest's house.
The victim reported the abuse to Broken Rites Australia in 2007, when he was aged 48. At the victim's request, Broken Rites arranged for him to have a chat with an appropriate police officer. Detectives then began investigating Sharkey.
This victim is not the only person who has complained about Sharkey -- he is merely the one whom the prosecution used for this court case.
The victim's storyThe victim, born in 1959, was a pupil at St John Vianney's Catholic primary school at Fairy Meadow (a suburb of the city of Wollongong) and was an altar boy for Sharkey at St John Vianney's church (next-door to the school).
The victim told police that Father Sharkey often helped him to get dressed for Mass and, while doing this, he would fondle the victim intimately.
The victim said the first serious incident occurred towards the end of the 1969 school year, when he was aged ten. One day, after Mass, Sharkey asked the boy to stay behind and help close the church. Sharkey then took the boy to a room in the church, where he sat with the boy and began touching the boy's genitals.
The victim said that Sharkey ordered him not to tell his parents, otherwise the whole family would go straight to hell. Sharkey allegedly instructed the boy to come again after school the next day because he needed more help in the church. The boy complied with this because he did not want anything to happen to him or his family. The victim said this sexual abuse happened many times while he was an altar boy for Sharkey.
In 1971 Sharkey was transferred to St Bernard's parish in Batemans Bay on the New South Wales Coast (this parish was then in the Wollongong diocese but now it is in the Canberra-Goulburn diocese). Some time later while visiting Wollongong, Sharkey saw the victim and demanded that the victim must go to Bateman's Bay during the school holidays, otherwise he would tell the boy's parents what the boy had "been up to". Therefore the victim visited Sharkey at Batemans Bay during the September school holidays of 1972, when he was aged 13. There, more sexual abuse occurred. Sharkey allegedly continued his threats about revealing what the boy had been up to. The victim told police he had to go back to Sharkey because he didn't want anyone to know.
The victim said that, eventually, when he was 16, he warned Sharkey that he would tell the police if Sharkey did not stop. In fact, however, the boy never went to the police at that time because, he says, he was too embarrassed.
The victim said that he kept all this buried for many years until his mother told him that his younger brother was also molested by Sharkey. Therefore, in 2007, the victim finally consulted Broken Rites and the police. Detectives then began an investigation of Sharkey.
How the case beganOn the afternoon of 22 August 2008, the media office of the New South Wales police announced that detectives had charged a Catholic priest with a series of child-sex offences, dating back almost 40 years. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Wollongong Illawarra Mercury named the priest as Father Kelvin Gerald Sharkey.
The priest, then aged 81, was issued with a summons to appear in Wollongong Local Court, New South Wales. The case came up for mentions in this court later in 2008.
Police said the original charges in 2008 included two counts of buggery and 10 counts of indecent assault (that is, indecent touching) involving one boy.
At first, Sharkey contested the charges. But eventually, when the case reached the District Court in November 2009 he pleaded guilty to three of the charges.
JailedHanding down the sentence on 29 April 2010, Judge Paul Conlon described the 83-year-old Sharkey's behaviour as a gross abuse of his position of trust.
"He rather cruelly secured the victim's silence by threatening that he would go to hell if he told his mother and father," Judge Conlon said.
Sharkey will be eligible for parole on July 28, 2011.
Broken Rites researchBroken Rites has ascertained that Kelvin Gerald Sharkey was born and raised in Melbourne. During the 1950s he trained for the priesthood at Melbourne’s Corpus Christi seminary (then situated at Werribee).
He was ordained in 1961 (by this time, he would have been in his early thirties) and he was recruited to serve in the Wollongong diocese in New South Wales. In the late 1960s he served in St John Vianney’s parish in Fairy Meadow, a suburb of the city of Wollongong. In 1971 he was transferred to the Batemans Bay parish.
In 1977 he became the first Parish Priest of Macquarie Fields and Glenfield (this parish is called "Mary, Mother of the Church") in the far-north of the Wollongong diocese, adjoining Sydney’s outer south-west suburbs.
In 1988 Sharkey, then aged 61, ceased having a permanent full-time parish appointment. However, right up until the charges were laid in August 2008, the Wollongong diocese continued listing Reverend Kelvin Sharkey in the annual Australian Catholic Directory as one the diocese's "supplementary priests". Priests in this category are often assumed to be available for casual or relieving or freelance ministry.
In the early 1990s, according to the directories for those years, "Reverend" Kelvin Sharkey (that is, still classified as a priest) was living in a unit in Warner Avenue, Wyong, north of Sydney.
In the directories from 1996 until 2009, "Reverend" Kelvin Sharkey was listed as living in Victoria, and his postal address was shown as a post office box number at Mordialloc, in Melbourne's south. According to documents obtained by a Fairfax journalist, his two-bedroom apartment in Mordialloc was owned by the trustees of the Wollongong Diocese. The unit was sold in early 2008 for $351,000.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference told a journalist on 22 August 2008 that Reverend Kelvin Sharkey was no longer living on church-owned premises in 2008.
Police travelled to Melbourne to interview Sharkey.
The investigation was begun by Lake Illawarra Detectives at their office in Warilla, south of Wollongong.
The Bishop of Wollongong (Peter Ingham) said in a media statement on 22 August 2008: "I express deep sadness concerning allegations of abuse by a retired priest of the diocese."
In his August 2008 statement, Bishop Ingham would not say if the church knew of the alleged offences or any other allegations against the priest or whether the priest had been sanctioned over child-abuse allegations, saying that it was inappropriate to make any further comment because the matter was now before the courts.
Meanwhile, anybody consulting the edition of the Australian Catholic Directory for 2009 and 2010 (published in mid-2009) will see Reverend Kelvin Sharkey still listed (on page 566) as a supplementary priest of the Wollongong Catholic diocese, although this time no address (not even a postal address) is given.