Our top stories
Black Collar Crime
Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related
By a Broken Rites researcher
The Catholic order of Christian Brothers appointed one of its Brothers to be in charge of a school after he had been found sexually abusing boys in an orphanage, an Australian court has been told.
Christian Brother Rex Ignatius Elmer appeared in the Melbourne County Court in September 1998. A Broken Rites representative was present in court, supporting the victims.
Brother Rex Elmer belonged to the Victoria-Tasmania province of the Christian Brothers, having joined the order in 1961 when he was 16. In 1971, after teaching in various schools, he was appointed as principal of a Catholic primary school in the South Melbourne area and began living at St Vincent's Boys Home, which was situated nearby in Cecil Street, South Melbourne.
The offencesAt night, from 1971 to 1976, Elmer was in charge of one or other of the dormitories at the orphanage. In several of those years, he had a dormitory containing younger boys, aged 7 to 12.
At night, Elmer would sexually touch boys under the blankets for his own gratification, the court was told. Sometimes a boy was forced to masturbate Elmer, the court was told.
Elmer (born on 1 December 1944) was charged with 61 incidents, including buggery and indecent assault, involving 13 boys, aged between seven and eleven. Each victim told the police that he was sexually abused by Elmer about once or twice a week for a year or more. One boy was assaulted on his tenth birthday.
The Christian Brothers administration hired a leading Melbourne Queen's Counsel to defend Elmer in court and to oppose the victims. This barrister was expensive but he proved to be a good investment for the Christian Brothers. He managed to get the case against Elmer scaled down considerably, resulting in a plea bargain.
The prosecution agreed to drop the buggery charge and Elmer pleaded guilty to one incident of indecent assault (that is, indecent touching, which is a less serious charge than a penetration charge) on each of 12 boys.
As stated by Judge Thomas Neesham during his sentencing remarks, the boys were helpless. Most were wards of the state and had nobody who would believe them. The judge said that one boy, who arrived at the orphanage in 1974, tried to complain to the orphanage administration about Elmer but was reprimanded.
Another boy dared to tell his parents but they were "devout" Catholics. The boy told police: "My father slapped me across the face and told me I was telling lies" because Christian Brothers would "never" molest boys.
The judge commented: "It is little wonder that all the victims have scars to this day."
Elmer's careerEarlier, during submissions by the prosecution and the defence, more information emerged. In 1976, another boy told his parents about Elmer and was believed. But the Christian Brothers withheld this complaint from the police. The Victorian province of the Christian Brothers then appointed Elmer as principal of St Joseph's primary school in Warrnambool, in south-western Victoria, where he taught Grade 6 until 1981.
Later, after more complaints surfaced about Elmer at St Vincent's orphanage, the Christian Brothers sent him to teach in the village of Sinon in Tanzania, East Africa, where the Christian Brothers (also known as the Edmund Rice network) were developing a school. Elmer's absence from Australia put him out of the reach of Australian police. He stayed in Tanzania until 1993.
In 1993, after still more complaints surfaced, Elmer was given an expensive trip to the United States to have a stay the St Luke Institute for pedophile Catholic clergy — twenty years too late. On returning to Australia, he was given administrative duties at the Christian Brothers Victorian headquarters in Parkville, Melbourne, until the police finally caught up with him.
JailedJudge Neesham said that he was sentencing Elmer only on the charges which were presented for sentencing. He said that while he must sentence on the evidence before him, he would be loath to infer that the absence of evidence proving further offences meant that none had occurred.
Elmer, aged 53 when in court, was sentenced to five years' jail, with parole after 40 months.
Other victimsThe victims in the court charges were not Elmer's only victims — merely those who signed a statement for the police. Outside the court, a welfare worker told Broken Rites that he had a list of Elmer victims much larger than the list that was given in court.
One of Elmer's victims was "David", born on 1 March 1968. David was at St Vincent's orphanage from age 5 to 16, together with two older siblings. David alleged that Elmer molested him when he was aged 7 and 8. After being discharged from the orphanage at 16, David lacked adequate support services. He gravitated towards sex-industry opportunities in Melbourne and Sydney, becoming a prostitute to other males. At the time of the 1998 court case, when he was aged only 30, he was terminally ill with AIDS.
It is alleged that David's siblings "Peter" and "Mark" were also sexually assaulted by Elmer. By the time of the court case, Peter (the second oldest) had taken his own life with a drug overdose.
These tragic stories are typical of the experiences of disadvantaged boys at orphanages run by the Christian Brothers (and also the Marist Brothers and the St John of God Brothers) around Australia.
FootnoteThe police investigation into Rex Elmer was conducted by the Sexual Crimes Squad of the Victoria Police. The main investigator was Detective Senior Constable Tracy Leitch.
The St Vincent's Boys' Home building, now occupied by a Catholic welfare agency, is situated at 237 Cecil St, South Melbourne (between Napier and Raglan Sts). The building is still there and can be viewed from the street.
When convicted, Brother Elmer was living at a Christian Brothers residence in Brunswick, Melbourne.
After his release from jail, Brother Elmer continued to be a member of the Christian Brothers and was given a role in the Christian Brothers' administration.