New historic claims against school priest

• An image of Father Damian Barker at one of CBC Fremantle’s primary school camps in 1984. More students are emerging to allege he abused them.

RUMOURS about the “creepy” behaviour of a chaplain at the centre of abuse claims at CBC Fremantle circulated for years, a number of former students have confirmed to the Herald.

The old boys network was buzzing this week after classmate Travis Adams went public over the sexual abuse he claims Carmelite Father Damian Barker subjected him to at the Catholic school’s now-demolished primary campus on Tuckfield Street (“Former WA Christian Brothers student claims sexual abuse,” ABC online, August 16, 2022).

Mr Adams has launched legal action against the Carmelite Fathers (Victoria) and the Christian Brothers who ran the school, claiming they failed to protect him from Father Damian’s abuse in a lockable confessional and school camp.

Father Damian attended the primary school between 1983 and 1985, and the alumni from that era includes a who’s who of the Fremantle business community.

Two other former students the Herald has spoken to indicated they were also abused, but are still considering whether to go public with their stories.

Others said that while they weren’t personally targeted, they witnessed the priest kissing boys on the mouth, touching himself under his frock in religious classes and making them sit on his knee.

which priest you’d go to confessional with, and I made sure I didn’t choose him because he had a reputation as a hugger,” one told the Herald, asking not to be identified.

Another said he’d always thought it odd how often Father Damian seemed to be at the home of one his classmates, though the priest seemed to pay more attention to the boy’s older brother.

“He seemed to ingratiate himself with the family,” he said.

The former student said his father had been involved in the school and was once informed by a senior staff member about a major altercation between Father Damian and another staff member over an incident at one of the school camps. They had been drinking together.

“He was going to knock his block off about some incident.”

Mr Adams told the ABC it was abuse at a camp that prompted him to reveal what he’d been suffering to his mother, who removed him from the school.

Father Damian addressed his own interest in the camps in CBC’s 1983 annual with his introductory message.

“I have made it a point 

to go with the boys on their camps and I think the feature of each camp has been our Campfire Masses and the boys’ spontaneous prayers of the faithful (Intercessions?),” Father Damian wrote.

One of the students said Mr Adams’ recollection of the priest “reeking” of acohol tallied with his memory.

“One of the rumours that was very prolific at the time was that he was an alcoholic,” he said.

“When he left there was a rumour that he went to a drying out centre or something like that.”

Several students remembered Father Damian as having a “vibrant personality” and being very popular, though others remember “seeing him walk into class was very intimidating”.

“CBC Fremantle with Father Damian. Dark times,” said another.

Despite the stories now emerging about Father Damian, the old boys were full of praise for CBC’s other priests and lay staff, while several have since put their own children into the school and say they have great faith in current principal Dominic Burgio.

Mr Burgio addressed the allegations against Father Damian in an email to CBC’s alumni on Wednesday.

“I hope this email finds you well – our community wellbeing is always our priority and it is with this in mind that I write to you about recent media stories. The reports refer to the case currently before the courts that involves a former priest who served as chaplain to the Christian Brothers College Primary School on Tuckfield Street in the early 1980s,” Mr Burgio wrote.

“Child safety should be the most important feature of any community and it is a tragedy that this safety has not always been extended to all young people. You can rest assured that CBC Fremantle is committed to the safety of our students and all of our child safety practices exist to ensure the most vulnerable of our boys are protected.

“We cannot change what happened in the past, but it is critical that we honour the survivors and victims of institutionalised abuse by doing our utmost to acknowledge any abuse in the first instance, provide solace as best we can, and put in place steps that try to ensure child abuse and covering up never happens again.

“If the media coverage has prompted any concerns in relation to historical sexual abuse at any institution, I urge you to contact Edmund Rice Education Australia, the police or myself. All matters are taken very seriously and passed on to the relevant authorities, and we also encourage all victims to seek assistance through the National Redress Scheme.

“The Royal Commission showed us that many people who are the victims or survivors of child abuse have suffered in silence. I commit to you that you will be believed, that you will be supported, and that you will be provided with the opportunity to be empowered to speak up.”

In a separate statement released to the Herald, Mr Burgio noted that CBC commissioned a significant artwork illustrating the college’s “acknowledgement of the deep pain inflicted on the survivors and victims of abuse in Christian Brother’s schools” and commitment to providing a safe environment.

“The water feature is etched with a formal written apology, first issued in 2017, 

to the survivors and victims of sexual abuse by members of the religious community and lay staff,” he said.

“We don’t shy away from the past. We cannot change what happened, but we can make sure it never happens again.”

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