The cover-up at St Agnes Primary: How Catholic Education protected a paedophile
“It has been confirmed that you have been touching the private parts of bodies of girls at this school …while at this point in time we don’t intend to press charges we must warn you we have witnesses…”
With the reading of this statement to a paedophile teacher on November 29, 1982, the cover-up of more than a decade of child sex abuse at St Agnes Catholic Primary School in Matraville was complete.
The abuse of girls by school teacher and netball coach Michael Drew had just been erased with the collaboration of some of the highest officials in Catholic Education.
The Herald has obtained a copy of the confidential dismissal statement read by the then headmaster, William Joseph Rooney, which allegedly provides written proof of how teachers and officers from Catholic Education discretely removed Drew without contacting police.
The document, which was highlighted during a recent civil court case involving Drew, is likely to send a shudder through the Catholic Church’s educational section as it potentially provides proof of the offence of misprision of a felony – the covering up of a crime.
From the late 1970s to 1982, Drew had sexually abused St Agnes schoolgirls, including one pupil who was so traumatised by abuse she attempted suicide in 1979 by overdosing on tablets she stole from the school’s dispensary.
Drew was convicted and jailed for numerous sex offences in 2013 after one of his victims approached police in the late 2000s.
But 34 years before, he escaped sanction after a coterie of officials and teachers enabled him to resign from his position at the school where he had been caught.
This year, five of Drew’s victims took legal action against the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which administered the school, and other individuals allegedly involved with the school.
During the proceedings the dismissal statement was highlighted as providing proof of the cover-up of Drew’s abuse which occurred after “consultation” with the Catholic Education’s then director, Brother Walter Simmons.
“Because of the seriousness of these acts, after consultation with the Director of Education, Br. W.X. Simmons, I have no other alternative as your employer but to summarily dismiss you for misconduct,” says the statement.
“Whilst at this time we don’t intend pressing charges against you we must warn you that we have witnesses that include the children involved and their parents.
“This will be treated as highly confidential matter be (sic) me. All the staff will be told is that you have left the school.”
Porters Lawyers principal Jason Parkinson, who is representing the victims, called for police and the Royal Commission to investigate whether a crime has been committed.
Br Simmons died in 2000 but the dismissal document and information uncovered by the legal action action names others associated with Catholic Education who were allegedly aware or involved in the decision not to report Drew to the police.
The victims had alleged in October 1982, when Rooney was headmaster he received a complaint from a parent about a pupil’s dress being lifted up by Drew.
Rooney was then alleged to have given Drew a warning and a booklet titled: “How to protect yourself. The danger of allegations”.
The Herald understands that in the pleadings for the case the defendants have admitted this action by Rooney.
Rooney, who continued to work as a principal for Catholic Education until 1992 and then later went on to work as a primary education consultant for Unicef Bhutan and Laos before becoming an academic English teacher at UTS Insearch, declined to comment when contacted by Fairfax on Friday.
He is among a number of former Principals and others allegedly associated with the school or the order being sued by the victims for allegedly failing to stop the abuse and to dismiss Drew and provide appropriate counselling.
Among the former principals named as defendants are the late Sister Julian Sharah, SisterAncilla White and Rooney.
The victims have also alleged that in 1980 Sister Julian witnessed a student from another school come into St Agnes school grounds and accuse Drew of sexually abusing children at the school and that Sister Julian was supposed to have interviewed children about this and then told them not to tell anyone.
It is understood the defendants denied any such claims on the grounds Sister Julian left the school the year before. They have also denied that any of the other school’s principals were aware of the abuse prior to October 1982.
The victims had alleged that in November 1982 over the space of several days several parents complained to Rooney and a representative of the Catholic Education Office about Drew touching their children’s private parts.
Rooney then sacked Drew and read him the dismissal statement, according to the victims allegations.
The defence has admitted that the statement was read but denied that Mr Rooney ever said “criminal charges would not be pressed against” Drew.
The Herald sought response from allegations to the order of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Catholic Schools executive director Dr Dan White said it was accepted that the claims made by the former students of St Agnes were genuine.
He was unable to respond in detail because of legal proceedings but compensation claims were “well progressed” and a “just outcome” to support victims ongoing healing and recovery, appeared “close at hand”.
Drew, 59, is serving six years and six months jail for the offences that included committing an act of indecency on a girl under 16, six counts of sex with a person under 16 and 12 counts of assault.
A judgment is expected to be entered on Tuesday in each of the victims favour in the NSW Supreme Court.
Sr Elizabeth Little, Congregational Leader of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, said she acknowledged with deep sadness and regret the suffering that victims had endured as a result of Mr Drew’s actions.