Elmer was first charged in 1997 with 69 counts related to the indecent assault of 12 boys at the orphanage. The next year he admitted to 12 counts of indecent assault. He was sentenced to five years in prison, with a minimum of three years and four months.
In 1976, he was removed from his post at the Cecil Street orphanage, where he had been responsible for up to 40 children at a time, days after a visiting welfare officer complained to the head of the home that he had “interfered with” boys there.
In a letter to the orphanage’s superior, the Provincial of the Christian Brothers, Brother Patrick Naughtin, wrote a week after the complaint: “I have interviewed Br Elmer and discussed this position with him. He is clearly aware of the serious nature of his actions and I took pains to point out his legal and moral obligations in the matter. It seems to me extremely unlikely that there will be any recurrence of what had happened.”
He suggested delaying any announcement of Elmer’s transfer in “consideration for his reputation which would undoubtedly be harmed by a sudden transfer at this time”.
Yet later that year the order promoted him, making him principal of St Joseph’s Primary School in Warrnambool.
They moved him from Warrnambool in 1981 after more allegations were made of abuse at St Vincent’s, then in 1988 sent him to Tanzania to set up a new Edmund Rice school (named after the order’s founder). He left Africa after yet more accusations surfaced, and was sent to the United States in 1995 for treatment at a centre for paedophile priests.
Since his release from prison in the early 2000s, Elmer has lived in a Brunswick property owned by the Christian Brothers. He was placed on ‘restrictive ministry’ and was employed by the order in an administrative role. He is now retired.
The church has received at least 22 claims for redress in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse by Elmer.
Catholic Church Insurance documents show the order knew that a number of victims had alleged that other clergy had participated in the abuse by Elmer. “Five of the claims indicate that there were allegations regarding multiple alleged perpetrators.”
CCI refused coverage for the Christian Brothers for any claims in relation to allegations against Elmer after June 20, 1976, due to their “prior knowledge” of his offences.
The lawyer for one of Elmer’s victims said his guilty plea was “bittersweet” for her client, who attended on Monday to hear his abuser admit his actions.
“Our client has lived most of his life feeling like he would never be believed and finally he has been vindicated,” Kimberley Allen from Shine Lawyers said.
”One positive is that by exposing the extent of Elmer’s abuse, it can now be called out and the church held accountable. What happened to those children was avoidable.
“Our client finds it disgraceful that the Christian Brothers knew children were being harmed by Elmer and they continued to just move him around…
“Seeing this convicted paedophile put behind bars will help victims find closure, but the church must now also be held to account.”
Shine Lawyers is pursuing civil action against the state of Victoria and the Christian Brothers on the the client’s behalf.
Care Leavers Australia Network executive officer Leonie Sheedy said Elmer’s case showed how minors in care were treated as lesser than other children.
“They were deemed to be second-class citizens who were never believed by police, the religious or child welfare,” Ms Sheedy said.
“We truly are the children of the damned,” she said, quoting another care leaver’s recent comments in dismay at the Christian Brothers’ treatment of children who were abused in Catholic institutions.
The Christian Brothers declined to answer The Age’s questions about Elmer, citing “ongoing legal proceedings”.
In 2016, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard 853 Australians had claimed child sexual abuse against one or more Christian Brothers, with 75 per cent of victims under the age of 13 and 98 per cent of them male. The church had paid out more than $37 million in compensation, averaging $64,000 per victim.
St Vincent’s orphanage closed in 1997. It was home to more than 6000 boys over 140 years.
Information provided by the Catholic Church to the royal commission showed it had received 114 claims of sexual abuse at the home, the highest number of any Catholic institution in Victoria.
The Age revealed in September that the order had sent two Christian Brothers – Kenneth Paul McGlade and Donald Paschal Alford, both now deceased – from Victoria to the US in the 1980s and ’90s to run a Connecticut church-run boys’ home, where they were each accused of sexually assaulting children.
Lawsuits have been lodged over the past year by 24 former students from the Mount Saint John Academy in Deep River in relation to abuse allegations involving McGlade and Alford.
McGlade was also accused of sexually assaulting a boy at St Joseph’s in Warrnambool.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or beyondblue 1300 224 636.
Debbie Cuthbertson is a senior writer and Saturday chief of staff at The Age.
Simone is a crime reporter for The Age. Most recently she covered breaking news for The Age, and before that for The Australian in Melbourne.
Farrah Tomazin is a senior journalist and investigative reporter for The Age, with interests in politics, social justice, and legal affairs.
Chris Vedelago is an investigations reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.