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Published: 26 May 2020
Author: Alyssa Lewis

Profile: The paedophile priests of Holy Family Primary

From the outside, Holy Family Primary School and Doveton Parish seemed to be your regular primary school and parish throughout the 1960s to late 1990s.

Looks can be deceiving.

For almost half a century the school was a place of nightmares for vulnerable students who were abused by a number of priests from the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

This blog profiles some of those priests who headed the notorious Doveton parish and who destroyed so many lives.

Notorious paedophile priests who headed up the Doveton parish located on the same property as the Primary School included Father Thomas O’Keefe, Father Victor Rubeo and Father Peter Searson. They had access to vulnerable students and allegedly had the opportunity to teach students religious education and even the responsibility to oversee some aspects of the school.

Father Thomas O’Keefe: The ice cream man

Father Thomas O’Keefe had a longstanding career with the Melbourne Archdiocese. He worked throughout many parishes around Melbourne, including the Doveton parish in the early 1970s.

There are allegations against Father O’Keefe while he was at Doveton. Most of his alleged victims were students at the Primary School. Broken Rites Australia reports that Father O’Keefe was allegedly known for his notorious behaviour of showing children pornographic magazines and grooming children by providing them with soft drinks and icecream1.

It is reported that after investigation into Father O’Keefe by Broken Rites Australia, the Melbourne Archdiocese apologised to some of Father O’Keefe’s victims2.

In submissions made to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (‘the Royal Commission”), in particular Case Study 35 regarding the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, it was said that Father Thomas O’Keefe was committing sexual offences against children as early as 1961.

RCT has previously and continues to act for clients who allege abuse by Father O’Keefe.

Father Victor Gabriel Rubeo: The repeat abuser

It is alleged by Broken Rites Australia that the Catholic Church harboured Father Victor Rubeo for three decades while he committed child abuse in the Melbourne Archdiocese. There are allegations of child sexual offences against him from as early as the 1960s.

Father Victor Rubeo was at the Doveton parish from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. He was suddenly removed in approximately 1984 after allegations of an affair with a female parishioner.

In 1996, Father Rubeo pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting two boys in the 1960s when criminal proceedings were brought against him. Prior to his death on 16 December 2011, he was supposed to face the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on approximately 30 child sex abuse charges.

RCT have previously and currently act for clients who allege abuse by Father Rubeo at the Doveton parish, while they attended the Primary School.

Father Peter Searson: Abused until put on leave

Father Peter Searson headed the Doveton Parish from approximately 1984 to 1997. By the time he arrived at the Doveton parish, Father Searson had already allegedly engaged in sexual acts against vulnerable victims. There are allegations from as early at 1974.

It is alleged that the Catholic Church ought to have known about Father Searson’s misconduct from approximately 1982. Specifically, and in accordance with the Royal Commission’s Final Report following Case Study 35 (“the Final Report”), when meetings were conducted by advisers of the Catholic Church in relation to Father Searson’s misconduct. The Royal Commission found that “...the case of Father Searson is remarkable in terms of the volume of complaints against him and the number of Church personnel to whom they were made to”3.

The Royal Commission found that senior representatives of Catholic Church, including Archbishop Little, Monsignor Doyle and Cardinal George Pell knew or ought to have known about numerous complaints against Father Searson but failed to act upon them. The Catholic Church admitted to the Royal Commission that the appointment of Father Searson to the Doveton parish was wrong4.

The Royal Commission heard that Father Searson had strange relationships with the children at the Holy Family Primary School. Submissions were made to the Royal Commission in relation to Father Searson sexually abusing students while he was appointed at the Doveton parish.

The Final Report states that Father Searson was removed from the Doveton parish when Cardinal George Pell placed him on administrative leave. This was as a result of Father Searson being charged by Victoria Police for physically assaulting a young boy who attended the Primary School.

Conclusion

Father O’Keefe, Father Rubeo, Father Searson and many more priests of the Catholic Church grossly overstepped boundaries by abusing children. They were all placed in positions of trust, around vulnerable children. They took advantage of their positions of power and authority and committed abuse. Their acts have ruined the lives of many.

It is shocking that the Church let such behaviour continue for so many years. Had the Church investigated the complaints made to them and conducted regularly checks on at least the abovementioned priests, the abuse against some of their victims may have been avoided or at least mitigated. Hopefully the Royal Commission has made the Catholic Church reconsider its practices and procedures for the future.

1. Broken Rites Australia, Research the Catholic Church.
2. Submission to Parliament
3. Commonwealth, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Report of Case Study 35. Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, 29.
4. Commonwealth, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Report of Case Study 35. Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, 15.

We at RCT Law believe there are many other victims of horrific abuse which occurred at Holy Family Primary School and the Doveton parish. If you were mistreated, you can contact RCT for a consultation with one of our expert abuse law lawyers on 1300 366 441.

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