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Cover-up left paedophile to prey on Vic altar boys

Reporter: Heather Ewart

As the Anglican Church in Queensland continues to weather a storm over its handling of allegations of sexual abuse and the Governor-General contemplates his future over his role in that saga, the 7:30 Report has unearthed details of another church scandal in Victoria.

It is a shocking story of abuse of boys by an Anglican priest in a small country town, a story that carries with it the now-familiar theme of denial that protected the perpetrator and enabled him to continue to prey on new victims.

It raises questions about obstruction of a police investigation that is now being probed by the Ethical Standards Division of the Victoria Police.

And in its wake there is a trail of bitterness and broken lives, and once again a sense of betrayal by the church.

Heather Ewart has this exclusive report.

HEATHER EWART: This could be a quiet Sunday morning in any country town.

But Seymour, population 6,000 and about 100 kilometres north of Melbourne, is different.

For almost 40 years it's harboured a terrible secret that's wrecked lives and split the community.

MALE RESIDENT: Horrendous.

I've worked on many cases over the years, obviously.

This one is the only one that's actually made me physically sick.

FEMALE RESIDENT 1: I've got to live in this town.

Other families have to live in this town.

This wrong has to be righted.

FEMALE RESIDENT 2: It's caused a lot of bitterness, a lot of hurt, friendships being broken.

HEATHER EWART: It all began at the Anglican Church in Anzac Parade, with the arrival of Father Alan Sapsford in 1966.

For the next 30 years, he was the parish priest here and was widely regarded as a great family man who encouraged youth into the church.

But he was leading a double life, preying on young altar boys, making them his sexual victims.

FATHER PAUL WALLIKER, RETIRED ANGLICAN PRIEST: My gut reaction is there's at least 30, at least 30, but it could be any figure from there to 100.

I'm sure that there's a number of people who have committed suicide.

It's remarkable that there are a number of suicides or unexplained deaths amongst former servers from Christ Church, Seymour.

HEATHER EWART: Detectives at the local police station thought so too, and last year began asking questions.

Anger in the town was building and statutory declarations were collected from local priests, parishioners, and two of the victims who alleged repeated sexual abuse.

In late September, Father Alan Sapsford was arrested and charged.

You know, or knew, the mother of one of the victims --


HEATHER EWART: ...who is no longer alive.

What did she tell you?

DOT BROCK: She told me on a parish camp away that her son had been sexually abused by Alan Sapsford and that he was a paedophile, and I saw the dreadful hurt and the anguish in that lady for some time.

She told me that it had happened in the vestry, that it had happened in the parish office while his wife and children were actually watching television in the lounge room.

HEATHER EWART: Was that shocking to you?

DOT BROCK: I was horrified, absolutely horrified that this man that many, many people trusted, had read Gospel, stories to us, had been doing this to a young boy.

HEATHER EWART: That young boy went on to become an Anglican priest himself, and after years of secrecy named Alan Sapsford to the church hierarchy in 1996.

REVEREND ALAN SAPSFORD, JULY 1996: "The tragedy is the past cannot be undone" --

HEATHER EWART: ... Father Sapsford said, in his letter to Bishop Richardson of the Wangaratta diocese.

REVEREND ALAN SAPSFORD, JULY 1996: "I am deeply ashamed and revolted by my own filthy behaviour."

HEATHER EWART: Father Paul Walliker was asked to counsel the victim.

HEATHER EWART: Then a compromise was cobbled together, that for the parish's purposes, Father Sapsford would be retiring for ill-health reasons, instead of the truth being disclosed.

Well, why did that happen?

FATHER PAUL WALLIKER: There was some intervention by the then Archbishop of Melbourne who would not believe the situation.

The Archbishop had been given copies of all the material.

The upshot of that was that Archbishop Raynor, the Archbishop of Melbourne, gave Alan Sapsford a limited licence to operate in one parish in Melbourne, but Alan subsequently used that as an entrance to be able to work all over the Australian church.

HEATHER EWART: Which meant he was still going to be a danger to other boys in various parishes?

FATHER PAUL WALLIKER: That's correct, yes.

HEATHER EWART: The Archbishop at the time, Keith Raynor, is now retired and living in Adelaide.

He's on holidays and could not be contacted for comment.

The then-Bishop of Wangaratta now lives in England.

But those left behind to pick up the pieces here in Seymour are furious the matter was never made public and that local parishioners were left in the dark.

This mother of a victim doesn't want to reveal her identity, and for this report is going by the name of Stella.

Her son was also an altar boy, molested by Alan Sapsford from the age of nine.

Do you feel betrayed by the church about this and the way it handled it?


I believe that had we known sooner in 1996 or before 1996 - and I am well aware that the church hierarchy were aware - as parents we could have taken the action on our own and gone to the police, and our children would have been spared.

THE RIGHT REVEREND DAVID FARRER, BISHOP OF WANGARATTA: With hindsight it might well have been handled differently.

I think my predecessor took the action he believed to be right at the time and was very decisive in that way.

But I think with our current knowledge, we might have done things differently, yes.

HEATHER EWART: Why on earth did the Archbishop at the time that all this surfaced do as he did?

Does that make you very angry?

FATHER PAUL WALLIKER: Um, no, because I've seen it happen far too often before.

I've seen the church deal with people on the basis of who they know and who their friends are in high places, and if you have the right friends, then you're safe, and if you're not, well, you get hung out to dry.

HEATHER EWART: Stella feels she and her son and many others were left to hang out to dry.

When her suspicions about Father Alan Sapsford began to surface last year, she asked her son if the priest had ever touched him.

STELLA: He was very quiet at first.

Then he became agitated and said, "Mum, never.

"Never, mum, never."

Then his eyes filled with tears and he started to get more agitated, became angry and started going around the house and calling him "a bastard".

"That bastard, they've got to get the bastard".

HEATHER EWART: By this time, a small group of parishioners had had enough and decided to take matters into their own hands, demanding that the current bishop call for a church inquiry at the highest level.

For several years now, Father Paul Walliker had known the truth about Alan Sapsford, since he'd counselled the first victim to come forward - the one that's now a priest.

FATHER PAUL WALLIKER: I guess the thing is the denial by the church to actually take action, the denial of the church to actually say, "Look, we have wronged.

"We've done things wrong.

"We need to fix this up."

HEATHER EWART: But before a church inquiry could bring down its findings, the police had stepped in.

The parish of Christ Church had divided down the middle - half in support of Alan Sapsford and half against.

Intimidation began.

Tell me about the harassing phone calls?

DOT BROCK: Well, I know there's been several.

Some have been -- rather foul language used, threats.

STELLA: I can't describe to you how it feels, for instance, to be yelled at, called names, called a slut, that my children deserve it, he was a good man.

HEATHER EWART: Stella went to the police last year, not only to talk about her son, but to complain about intimidation and physical threats to her family.

There were two detectives she trusted, but she struck a hitch whenever she tried to contact them.

STELLA: When I was making telephone calls trying to leave messages, I was thrown off the scent.

HEATHER EWART: Who threw you off the scent?

STELLA: It was a man.

I believe his name is Lance Marke.

He would give me the run-around.

HEATHER EWART: Why would Lance Marke want to block this?

Do you have any reason now?

STELLA: I now know that he was friends with Alan Sapsford.

HEATHER EWART: Detective Sergeant Lance Marke is in the criminal investigation unit in Seymour.

Word spread around town among parishioners and the victims' families to be careful if they were going to ring with complaints and he answered the phone.

A police spokesman in Melbourne has confirmed there have been allegations about the way the investigation was conducted.

Those allegations are now being examined by the police Ethical Standards Department.

The trial of Alan Sapsford was set to start next month, but he died unexpectedly in March.

He's buried at Avenel, close to the parish where he spent most of his working life.

The funeral was held not in a church but in the local hall, and the bishop was denied entry by the family.

The police still hold a thick file on Alan Sapsford, with written evidence and confessions of his abuse.

Some of the parishioners, victims and their families feel they've been denied justice.

At least one victim has told me he wants compensation from the church and has written to the Bishop of Wangaratta seeking a meeting.

That hasn't happened yet because the Bishop says the victim concerned is working through lawyers, so the church too needs to follow legal channels.

THE RIGHT REVEREND DAVID FARRER: My preferred procedure is to find an independent person - we have access to independent people - to investigate any such situations and we will look at them with sympathy with the advice of somebody who is quite independent, both from the church and the individual.

HEATHER EWART: As for those parishioners who have dared to speak out, they have one overriding hope - that the church hierarchy sits up and takes notice.

STELLA: It's a criminal act and it has to stop, and it has to stop in all churches, not only this one.

DOT BROCK: It needs a big broom and it needs to be swept clean so we can feel safe in a church.

FATHER PAUL WALLIKER: My motive is very simple - I don't want this ever to happen again.

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