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Black Collar Crime
Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related
By a Broken Rites researcher
Broken Rites has researched Father Rex Brown, who died in 2005 after spending much of his career as one of the most senior priests in the Lismore Catholic diocese in northern New South Wales. In Queensland in 1996, he pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography. But, according to police, he was lucky to escape more serious charges in both New South Wales and Queensland.
In 2007 the Lismore diocese accepted a complaint from one of Rex Brown's New South Wales victims (let's call him "Edgar" — not his real name) and agreed to sign a deed of settlement with Edgar. Broken Rites knows about Edgar's case because he had previously sought our support.
Recruited as a priestPaul Rex Brown (usually known by his middle name, Rex) was born in the mid-1930s and attended school with the Marist Brothers (now Trinity Catholic College) in Lismore. When Brown was in his early teens, Bishop Patrick Farrelly of Lismore recruited him as a potential future priest and sent him to a "junior seminary", St Columba's College, Springwood, in the Blue Mountains, where he completed his School Leaving Certificate, together with other future priests. After studying for the priesthood in Rome, Brown was ordained for the Lismore diocese in 1959 and soon became prominent in northern New South Wales. He served as the diocesan secretary and, from 1973, he had the title of Chancellor of the diocese.
Brown, who was then based at St Carthage's cathedral, had oversight over the whole Lismore diocese, which extends from Port Macquarie to the Queensland border, including the towns of Kempsey, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Lismore, Byron Bay and Tweed Heads.
Complaint about child abuseAbout 1981, a family complained to the Lismore diocese (but, unfortunately, not to the police) that Rex Brown had sexually assaulted their son. The diocese's "solution" was to transfer Brown from the cathedral but (as usual in such cases) it retained him in the ministry, appointing him to a parish at Kyogle and later at Tweed Heads, thus inflicting him on more potential victims. Despite his child-abuse, the diocese appointed Brown to the senior position of Episcopal Vicar supervising other priests in parishes in the diocese's north.
At St Joseph's parish in Tweed Heads, near the Queensland border, he made his presbytery into a drop-in centre for boys, including some boys from a local refuge for homeless youth — Futcher House, Tweed Heads. (Futcher House is pronounced as in "future".)
At Tweed Heads, Brown would often choose a homeless boy to live with him in the presbytery as his sexual partner. One such boy was "Edgar", who told Broken Rites in 2007: "Father Brown enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, which was evidently financed from church sources. He generously supplied us boys with cigarettes and alcohol."
Edgar’s story is told later in this article.
Retired to QueenslandAbout 1986, when he was in his early fifties, Brown was facing possible criminal charges. The church authorities arranged for him to take indefinite leave from the Lismore diocese, while still remaining on its list of "supplementary" priests.
He moved across the Queensland border to a private address at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast. Broken Rites has researched Brown's addresses in old annual editions of the Australian Catholic directories. In 1988 he was listed in an apartment at 3 Nineteenth Avenue, Palm Beach. In 1994 it was an appartment at 1374 Gold Coast Highway, Palm Beach. In 1995 it was an apartment at 56 Tallebudgera Drive, Palm Beach. These places are all near Burleigh Heads, which is within the Brisbane Catholic diocese.
Still calling himself "Father Brown", he participated in church congregations (as a "retired" priest) on the Gold Coast, particularly in Palm Beach, which was part of the Burleigh Heads parish. Meanwhile, the Lismore diocese continued to list Brown in the Australian Catholic Directory as one of its "supplementary priests" (that is, still available for freelance ministry, such as relieving other priests and engaging in "youth work").
It is not clear why Rex Brown found it necessary in his fifties to take early "retirement" from full-time appointment in Lismore diocese parishes. A former youth worker, who observed Brown's activities in the early 1980s, told Broken Rites in 2007: "It was not normal for the church authorities to remove a priest merely because of child abuse. Insiders from the Lismore diocese believe that the diocese was glad to see Brown leave the diocese because his expensive lifestyle was a drain on church funds. Some of his big spending was to silence his victims."
ConvictedEarly in 1996, Queensland police (from the Juvenile Aid Bureau at Surfers Paradise) investigated Brown for complaints regarding boys on the Gold Coast. Raiding Brown's Palm Beach residence, the police found child pornography featuring boys. The police then prosecuted Brown on the child pornography charge, although more serious charges might have been more appropriate.
In Southport Magistrates Court (Queensland) on 27 March 1996, Paul Rex Brown pleaded guilty regarding the child pornography, and magistrate David Hogan fined him $300. The conviction was reported in the Gold Coast Bulletin on 2 April 1996 and the Lismore Northern Star on 3 April 1996.
Detectives told Broken Rites in 1996 that Brown was lucky to get off with merely a conviction for pornography. One detective said: "It is like the 1920s when the FBI could not catch the United States gangster Al Capone for serious crimes but he eventually got convicted in 1931 for income-tax evasion."
According to detectives in 1996, Brown was once a Scoutmaster, which is a cause for concern.
Even after his pornography conviction, Brown still frequented a Catholic congregation in Palm Beach. In 2002, a Palm Beach man contacted Broken Rites saying: "I heard that Brown had a conviction for pornography, so I went around to the Palm Beach church, where I saw Rex Brown's name on a notice board about being involved in something. I checked with the parish priest, who confirmed to me that, yes, Rex Brown does come to this parish and that he is a retired priest."
Buried with church honoursBrown died on 30 June 2005. At the time of his death, he was still listed in the Australian Catholic Directory as a "supplementary priest (retired)" of the Lismore diocese. He was given a Requiem Mass in St Carthage's Cathedral, Lismore, and was buried, with honour, among his fellow priests in the East Lismore cemetery.
After the funeral, a senior priest from St Carthage's Cathedral wrote a glowing, sanitised tribute to Father Rex Brown in the newsletter of Trinity Catholic College, Lismore, where Brown had been a pupil. The tribute ended: "May he be embraced in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity." The tribute gave the impression that Father Brown was a high-achieving priest, presumably a model for other boys to follow.
A victim’s storyIn February 2007, a victim (let us call him "Edgar" — not his real name) contacted Broken Rites, inquiring about Father Rex Brown. Edgar has asked us to publish his story:
"I was born in May 1967 and grew up in western Sydney. My father was an alcoholic and drug addict. When I was 13, I ran away from home. In 1982, when I was 14 and still homeless, I went to the Futcher House youth refuge, in St Joseph's parish in Tweed Heads.
"The Tweed Heads priest, Father Rex Brown, persuaded me to leave Futcher House and live at his presbytery. The diocesan administration in Lismore knew that Rex Brown had me living at the presbytery and they turned a blind eye to this. Rex Brown still had friends in high places in the diocese.
"A youth worker at Futcher House, named Luke, tried to talk me out of moving to the presbytery but, unfortunately, I did not take his advice.
"I did various jobs around the presbytery, including counting the money collected from local parishioners at weekend Masses.
"At the presbytery, on a daily basis, after dinner, Father Brown would encourage me to drink with him and would get me drunk. He would sit me on his lap, cuddle me and touch me on the genitals. He would get me to masturbate him. Eventually he forced me to perform oral sex on him. He ejaculated which made me feel sick.
"Father Brown kept an open house at his presbytery for boys aged about 14. He was a big spender and he seemed to have access to plentiful supply of church funds. He would always offer us smokes and alcohol. He would take us to fancy restaurants. He would take me to Brisbane occasionally and we would stay in a motel.
"Other church people knew that Brown was molesting me. At one time a Marist Brother was staying at the presbytery. And another priest was living there, although he was out a lot.
"Father Brown also used to molest a homeless boy named Mark, two years younger than me, from Sydney, who was living at Futcher House. After a while, Mark suddenly left the parish with a lot of money and returned to Sydney but he threw himself under a train and committed suicide. This was reported in the newspapers. A brother of Mark's had previously died in the same way — under a train. I felt responsible and embarrassed for not having the guts to report the cruelty that Father Brown inflicted on Mark and me
"I left the presbytery in 1985."
Impact on the victim's lifeEdgar told Broken Rites how his personal development was disrupted by Father Rex Brown:
"Father Brown encouraged me to drink alcohol. He himself was a big drinker. He would drink first thing in the morning and he would drive a car (with me as a passenger) when he was drunk. He would also let me drive his car and would make me run errands for him. His drinking set a bad example for me. I developed a problem with alcohol myself.
"My education was not looked after as Father Brown insisted I stay with him and I was not encouraged to go to school. These were wasted years, at a crucial stage in my life.
"I have been unsuccessful at maintaining a relationship.
"My complaint is not merely about what Father Brown did with his hands but also against the church culture which prevented me from reporting Father Brown's sexual abuse of me. I am complaining about this culture of cover-up.
"The church had a responsibility to ensure that someone like Father Brown was not foisted on me and also to make sure that the offences were not covered up. The church owes me an apology."
The church confessesIn March 2007, Edgar contacted the church’s professional standards office. The PSO hired an assessor to examine Edgar's complaint. On 24 September, the church's Queensland director of professional standards (Rowena McNally) wrote to Edgar: "The assessor's finding is that your complaint has been upheld."
The Lismore diocese then signed a deed of settlement with Edgar.
Edgar then set about repairing his life, by beginning a course of study to improve his employment prospects.