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Bishop speaks up for character of convicted principal

A convicted pedophile jailed on four counts relating to indecent dealings with an 11-year-old girl was given a pre-sentencing character reference by the Catholic Bishop of Cairns, James Foley.

In it, the bishop said the man, the girl's former school principal, was most unlikely to pose a future risk and while he could not excuse his behaviour, he was an otherwise good citizen, devoted father and loving husband.

The reference was one of 28 given to the Cairns District Court and taken into account by Judge Sarah Bradley in August when she sentenced the man to 18 months' jail, suspended after four months.

After receiving about 150 letters in a petition, State Attorney-General Rod Welford appealed against the sentence, saying the offences constituted a serious breach of trust and abuse of power and deserved a tougher sentence.

During the appeal, the court heard the former principal, then 43, had contacted police and confessed to the offences.

The appeal was dismissed, with the Court of Appeal hearing the references, including several from Education Queensland colleagues and parents at the school, that said that in the nine years the offender had been principal, he made a great contribution and was highly regarded in the community.

Hetty Johnston, director of child protection group Bravehearts, said it was dangerous for Bishop Foley to claim the former principal was unlikely to reoffend, "especially if he has no training in the area".

But Bishop Foley last week stood by his reference and said the fact the man voluntarily underwent therapy and that he would not be in a position of trust with children in future made him confident of his opinion.

He said the man's deep concern for the victim, overwhelming remorse and the fact no other case had come to light supported his view the man was not a "classic" pedophile.


Diocese of Cairns

2 Jun 2003