ACT News

Former Marist Brothers principal "not sure" if sex acts against children were a crime

A former Marist Brothers principal was "not sure" as late as 1989 that committing a sex act against a child was a crime, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard on Monday.

sutton
sutton Photo: Supplied

John Holdsworth, who left the order in 1999, went to a meeting between Gregory Sutton and the father of one his victims who had committed suicide.

The youth, identified as ADO, had told his elder brother that Sutton had molested him shortly before taking his own life.

On learning this, the youth’s father sought a meeting with Sutton, who was then in Sydney, and asked Mr Holdsworth to attend to curb any violent impulses he might have.

Sutton, who had been close to the youth's family, had assisted them with the funeral arrangements.

Advertisement

Mr Holdsworth, who did not take part in the meeting between the father and Sutton, said the father told him Sutton had admitted the abuse during their conversation.

Sutton had been sick in bed when they arrived (at Hunters Hill) and the youth's father went to his room.

" [ADO’s father] told me he wanted to confront Sutton and asked me to go with him," he said.

"Sutton was sick in bed. I waited in the living room while [ADO’s father] spoke to Sutton.

"When he came out he said he had the information he was looking for... Sutton had admitted that he had interfered with ADO," he said.

Mr Holdsworth said he had told the youth's father what happened at his meeting with the Provinicial Brother Alexis Turton, and that he had approved of this. He said ADO's father said that Sutton "needed some form of counselling or other help". 

"My impression was that ADO's father did not want any further action. I did report the matter to the Provincial and I considered that [ADO’s father] would let me know if he did want further action taken," he said.

He had not put it to ADO’s father that the matter could or should be referred to the police and subsequently embarked on his own amateur investigations without advising Brother Turton or other senior Marist Brothers.

Mr Holdsworth said one of the reasons for his sleuthing was the possibility, raised by [ADO's father], that there may be another victim of the abuse.

"It didn't enter my head to involve the police at that point [after a boy had taken his own life as a result of abuse]," he said. "I saw it as serious but I'm not sure about the criminality."

"Do you mean you didn't know it was a crime [to molest a child]?," Royal Commission Chair, Justice Jennifer Coate asked.

"I'm unsure, it could well be the case. I'm unsure of that," Mr Holdsworth replied.

The former Marist Brother was also unsure if, in 1989, he was aware that children were at risk of predatory sexual behaviour by adults.

"I really can't put a time line to it [when he became aware of that]," he said.

Justice Coate asked him his age at that time.

"50 something, 54," he said.

"Did you read newspapers or watch television?" Justice Coate asked.

"In some measure," Holdworthy said. "I might have turned to the sport first."