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Father John Ayers – Salesian Child Abuse

Pre-dinner drinks, recitation of prayers, and celebratory nights were some of the practices of the Salesians of Don Bosco, a congregation of Catholic brothers and priests established in 1859 to train underprivileged children in the priesthood and human development. In the 20th Century, something sinister began to erupt. It has remained a sensitive and controversial topic till today. 

At Rupertswood College, a mansion owned by the Salesians and a boarding school for young boys, several vulnerable children were repeatedly abused by Father Jack Ayers. Father Ayers joined the Salesian Order as a priest in the 1950s and taught at Rupertswood College in the 1960s. Father Ayers’ reputation precedes him as he had reportedly committed child sexual abuses in Adelaide before joining the Rupertswood College. He also left a trail in Engadine, near Sydney, in the 1970s after leaving Rupertswood for BoysTown, the infamous Salesian home for disadvantaged boys. 

According to one of the victims, Roy, with whom the Salesians had settled out of court, he was abused repeatedly by Father Ayers when he was aged 12 and 13. Roy could not tell anyone about the abuse, not even his mother, because he thought no one would believe him. The priests had built an image of piety and celibacy. So, Roy endured suffering, damages, and injuries from the assaults until he decided to challenge the Salesians. 

About 40 years later and in his fifties, Roy sued the Salesian headquarters for breach of duty and claimed damages for the loss he had suffered. The Salesians denied liability but settled out of court to protect the brand name of Rupertswood as an excellent Catholic school. They paid Roy $45,000 and signed a deed with him as evidence of the settlement. The deed read as follows: “in order to avoid the cost, expense, and inconvenience of litigation, the parties to this deed have agreed to settle the claim.” 

Father Ayers was never prosecuted, let alone arrested. In the 1990s, the Salesians transferred Father Ayers to a seminary in Samoa, an Island. Some say this was a “deportation” to keep him away from children. Others say this was to keep him away from the Victoria Police. Curiously, Samoa had no extradition treaty with Australia. So, when the Victoria Police began an investigation in 2011, they could not prosecute Father Ayers despite the evidence they had gathered against him. Due to his location (now in a nursing home and Samoa) and deteriorating health, they were unable to bring him to a court in Victoria.

Father Ayers passed away in 2012, aged 83. Roy will probably need counselling or therapy for a huge part of his life. Roy’s story is exemplary of the challenges experienced by victims of child sexual abuse.

If you or someone you know would like to talk to one of our historical sexual abuse specialists, for free and in confidence, about your legal options, please feel free to either complete the form below with the best way and the best time to contact you, or you can call us on 02 9283 5599.

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