A classic case: The church protected Father Stockdale, thus putting children at risk
The Catholic Church sheltered Father John Stockdale for 31 years in parishes in northern Victoria while he committed sexual crimes against boys. Parishioners complained about Father Stockdale being a danger to children but these warnings were ignored. The church “just didn’t want to know” about Stockdale, victims say. Publicly, Father Stockdale upheld the strict morality which the church imposed on all lay Catholics. Privately, Father Stockdale was going to a gay club to have casual sex. On New Year’s Eve in 1995, Fr Stockdale was found dead in a sex cubicle at the “Club 80” gay venue in Melbourne. The church then gave him a pious funeral, but (with help from Broken Rites) the church’s hypocrisy about Stockdale was soon exposed.
A Victorian man (“Joe”) told Broken Rites in August 1994 that, when he was an altar boy 20 years earlier, he was molested by Father Stockdale. Broken Rites advised Joe to report the crime to the Victoria Police sexual offences and child abuse unit. Joe was slow in contacting the police and, when the police finally learned about Stockdale’s activities, the priest was dead.
The church inserted a death notice in the Melbourne “Herald Sun” on 4 January 1996, saying that Fr John Stockdale had died “suddenly” in Melbourne. A fellow priest told parishioners that Stockdale had had a heart attack.
Nine months later (with help from Broken Rites), the full circumstances of this death were revealed. The Herald Sun” (7 September 1996) reported that Father John Stockdale’s death occurred about 11.30 PM on 31 December 1995 — New Year’s Eve — in a sex cubicle at Club 80, a “men-only” club in Collingwood, Melbourne.
At Club 80, patrons retire to these cubicles to have random, anonymous sex. In fairness to Club 80, Broken Rites acknowledges that this club is not just about sex cubicles. It also has rooms for first-run movies (including art-house, not just porn, movies), plus areas for reading, socialising and refreshments. The club was advertised as “for men only”.
Broken Rites research has ascertained that Fr John Peregrine Stockdale was born on 29 October 1938 in Kilmore, Victoria, and was ordained on 28 June 1964. By the time of his death at age 57, he had ministered for 31 years in the Sandhurst diocese (centred at Bendigo) in northern Victoria. His early parishes included the “Founding of the Holy Cross” parish at Moyhu (near Wangaratta) and St Therese’s parish at Kennington (a Bendigo suburb). In 1975-76 he was at St Brendan’s parish, Shepparton. He was later the Parish Priest (in charge) at St Joseph’s in Beechworth and finally at St Mary’s parish in Inglewood-Marong (west of Bendigo).
Stockdale had an active sex life while purporting to uphold the church’s traditional “moral” teachings, which include “no sex outside marriage”, “no homosexuality” and so on.
The “Herald Sun” said Father Stockdale “appears to have pulled off the perfect double life.”
Broken Rites is not making an issue of Stockdale’s liking for males. For all we know, he may have abused girls as well as boys. The issue is his abuse of children (children who were in his custody) which is a crime. Stockdale’s colleagues (and superiors) in the diocese, who knew about Stockdale’s abusive behaviour, were being negligent (and complicit) in allowing Stockdale to be turned loose upon the altar boys.
The victim “Joe” (born 1962), who phoned Broken Rites 17 months before Stockdale’s death, told us that he had been an altar boy for Stockdale in a Bendigo parish. In 1974, aged 12, he went with Stockdale on an outing to Lake Eppalock in central Victoria.
Joe did not want to go, but his parents insisted, saying that the priestly influence would be good for the boy. It was freezing at the lake, but Stockdale made Joe strip off for a swim. Joe refused to go in the water, so Stockdale chased him, caught him and forced him to lie on the ground, face down. The naked priest then rubbed his penis against Joe’s body — an action that the courts would classify as a crime of indecent assault.
Joe could not tell his parents what Stockdale had done because they held priests above suspicion. The boy just told them that he did not want to go anywhere with Father Stockdale again. Years later, a former altar boy told Joe that Stockdale had also been indecently assaulting other altar boys.
A saintly image
After Stockdale’s death, the Sandhurst diocese gave him a grand, pious send-off — a Pontifical Requiem Mass in the Bendigo Cathedral. Stockdale was buried on 5 January 1996 in the Bendigo Cemetery.
The diocese also promoted an image of Stockdale as a saintly man. On 22 March 1996 the Melbourne “Herald Sun” published a glowing obituary article about Stockdale. The article, which was contributed by the church authorities as a public relations exersise, noted particularly his involvement with children. It said “Father Stockdale … never missed an appointment with parish schools. He was also a special a friend to several families who chose to teach their children at home”.
The article identified Stockdale as a traditionalist who “continued to celebrate the Mass in Latin”.
After Stockdale’s death, Joe contacted Broken Rites again and asked us to publish his 1994 account of Stockdale’s 1974 indecent assault. Joe said that, if the public had been informed about clergy sexual abuse 20 years before this, he might not have become a victim.
Joe added: “I am amused by Stockdale’s image as a traditionalist. Presumably he would have publicly upheld the church’s traditional teaching about having no sex outside marriage and also the rule about priestly chastity. The hypocrisy is staggering. The description of Stockdale in the ‘Herald Sun” obituary article makes you wonder about those traditional stories about the holy lives of the medieval saints.”
The church was warned
A former altar boy (“Michael”) told Broken Rites in 2011 that he was indecently mauled by Stockdale at the age of ten at St Brendan’s parish, Shepparton, in 1976. Michael says that he told Shepparton’s senior priest (Monsignor A.J. Bones) in 1976 about Stockdale’s offences but Bones became angry with the boy for “telling lies about a priest” and ordered the boy to remain silent about the matter. That is, the highest Catholic Church authority in Shepparton (Monsignor Bones) did not want to know about Stockdale’s child sex-abuse and was covering up for Stockdale. The Catholic Church allowed Stockdale to continue as a priest for a further twenty years, thereby putting more children in danger.
While in Shepparton, Stockdale was the “chaplain” to the local Catholic boys’ secondary school, St Colman’s (then conducted by the Marist Brothers), where he had easy access to teenage boys. The risk to these children apparently did not worry Stockdale’s boss, Monsignor Bones. (St Colman’s later merged with the Sacred Heart girls school to become Shepparton’s prestigious Notre Dame College, which has since grown with help from Government funding and which now attracts non-Catholic students.)
It is interesting that Stockdale’s last parish (until 1995) was Inglewood-Marong because one of his predecessors there (in 1975) had been the notorious child-sex criminal Father Gerald Ridsdale. (In Ridsdale’s time, Inglewood parish was in the Ballarat diocese, but now it has been merged with the Marong parish in the Sandhurst diocese.)
That is, some time after the parishioners of Inglewood got rid of Ridsdale, the hierarchy inflicted another hypocrite on the town.
The victims quoted, above, in this Broken Rites article, are just a few examples of Stockdale’s work.
A senior “Herald Sun” journalist told Broken Rites that, after the paper’s September 1996 story about Stockdale’s secret life at Club 80, the paper received several phone calls from readers offering further information about sexual abuse by Father John Stockdale in parishes.
Since 1996, additional victims of Stockdale from various parishes have contacted Broken Rites. Thus, Broken Rites compiled a list of Stockdale’s parishes, which included Wangaratta South, Moyhu, Wodonga, the Bendigo Cathedral, Kennington, Shepparton, Beechworth, Marong and Inglewood.
One of Stockdale’s victims in Bendigo had his life so badly impacted (by the church’s breach of trust) that eventually (on 22 July 2010) he died by hanging himself. Broken Rites has interviewed a woman who was the partner of this Bendigo victim. Thus, the church’s sexual crimes (and the church’s cover-up) can have an impact on whole families, not just on the victim.