Christian Brother acquitted, not cleared

Sophie Tarr

A Sydney judge has found a Christian Brother not guilty of a string of child sex offences but says he believes the man did abuse a teenager three decades ago and that the Catholic Church’s handling of historical allegations failed the victim.

On Thursday morning, as he prepared to acquit Christopher Rafferty and send him from the dock a free man, Judge David Frearson said he believed the 65-year-old was a sexual predator whose abuse drove a former pupil to thoughts of suicide.

In an extraordinary verdict delivered in the Downing Centre District Court, Judge Frearson found the veteran teacher not guilty of six sexual and indecent offences that were alleged to have been committed against a student at St Patrick's College in Goulburn in the 1980s.

He said the evidence against the accused did not meet the high bar required in criminal trials, in which specific incidents must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

“I accept that (the complainant) genuinely believes he was sexually assaulted by the accused at the college, and I accept that at some point he was,” Judge Frearson said.

"The Crown has to prove in these cases the particular incident that is said to support the count on the indictment.

"It is not sufficient for the Crown to establish some sort of sexual contact."

During Brother Rafferty's judge-alone trial earlier this month, the teacher of 43 years was asked under oath if he had had any sexual contact with the student.

"None whatsoever,” Brother Rafferty replied.

But Judge Frearson said he believed the accused man was untruthful and he did not accept his account of a telephone confrontation with the complainant’s wife in 2004.

"According to (the complainant’s wife), she said to him, ‘You ruined my life. How would you like it if I ruined yours?',” Judge Frearson said.

“The accused said, ‘It was not me.' He asked her how much money she would like and she said she wasn’t interested in money, she was interested in making sure he wasn’t teaching … she said he was stuttering and stumbling, and he said ‘All right, I won't teach', or words to that effect.”

The judge was also critical of the Catholic Church’s response to allegations made by the complainant, noting that the man had spoken out in 1999 but police were not alerted.

In 2012, Brother Rafferty was brought before the Church's Towards Healing program and forced to stop teaching while a months-long investigation took place, his trial heard.

But when that probe failed to uncover wrongdoing by Brother Rafferty, he was able to return to work until his arrest in 2015.

"It is apparent that the allegations were managed in-house, in a way that precluded police scrutiny of them,” Judge Frearson said on Thursday.

“The complainant was clearly diverted, which was not in his interests, ultimately, not in the public interest - but was probably in the interests of the Church.”