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Melbourne priest freed on sex assault charges

A priest who sexually abused a schoolboy and said celibacy was to blame for his indiscretions walked free from the Melbourne County Court yesterday after being given a suspended sentence.

The Age reports that Judge Fred Davey described 71 year old Fr John Barry Gwillim as a model priest, popular with his flock at St Peter's Church in East Keilor and a gifted arranger of hymns.

But, continued Judge Davey, Fr Gwillim met the 15 year old boy for sexual encounters in his car, in a motel room and at his presbytery during late 1979 and early 1980.

Judge Davey said Fr Gwillim was unlikely to reoffend and wholly suspended his sentence of two years and eight months.

"In any event, you will serve another sentence, the sentence of a disgraced priest whose good works will be forgotten," he said.

Fr Gwillim left St Peter's in 1999 and has since worked as a relieving priest. He is on sick leave from the archdiocese.

Fr Gwillim pleaded guilty last week to five counts of indecent assault on a child under 16 and four counts of gross indecency with a child under 16.

Judge Davey said Fr Gwillim had not used his position to influence the boy, who initially did not know he was a priest. He said that Fr Gwillim had otherwise led an exemplary life.

Melbourne Archdiocese Vicar General Monsignor Les Tomlinson said Fr Gwillim had been formally stood down when the charges were laid. He said he will not be restored as a practising priest but there are no plans to formally remove him.

In July, he told police: "If we could do away with celibacy this would all go away. It was the sort of thing (where there was) a lovely slice of cake and I bloody well ate it."

Meanwhile Pope John Paul II stressed the need for celibacy on Monday when he said that scandalous behaviour among priests must be "confronted and corrected".

He said: "(Priests) are called to be detached from material things and to devote themselves to the service of others through the complete gift of self in celibacy."

"Scandalous behaviour must at all times be investigated, confronted and corrected," he told an audience with visiting Sudanese bishops in an apparent reference to recent sex scandals that have shaken the Church.

Priest walks free on sex assault charges (The Age 16/12/03)
Pope says "scandalous" priests must be confronted (Reuters 15/12/03)

No jail time for priest, 71 (Herald-Sun 16/12/03)
Child molester priest a disgrace: judge (Ninemsn/AAP 15/12/03)
Priest on abuse charges escapes prison sentence (ABC 15/12/03)

16 Dec 2003