A Catholic girls’ school in Melbourne’s north has apologised to former students after an internal investigation found some staff in the 1990s ignored complaints about the inappropriate behaviour of two male teachers.
- An internal report found two male teachers touched Catholic schoolgirls inappropriately in the 1990s
- The report found complaints by students at the time were summarily dismissed by the school
- Our Lady of Mercy College has now apologised for “suffering and harm” caused to former students
Fourteen former students came forward to assist the investigation commissioned by Our Lady of Mercy College in Heidelberg (OLMC).
Many of them said a teacher at the college, referred to in the investigation report as JLR*, touched girls inappropriately and made highly inappropriate comments in class.
“JLR would enter the change rooms while they were changing and would openly compare students’ breasts during class,” a summary of the investigation report said.
According to the report, students reported his behaviour to senior staff and one former teacher complained to the school’s then principal, Sister Beth Calthorpe.
“They recall Sr Calthorpe being dismissive of what they had to say,” the report said.
Sr Calthorpe could not be interviewed as part of the investigation because of ill health.
It was unclear if JLR faced any disciplinary action because his personnel file could not be found by investigators.
The investigators spoke to one former student who said she had been touched inappropriately on multiple occasions by another teacher, Graham Partington.
“She asserts she brought Mr Partington’s actions to the attention of a former teacher, who summarily dismissed the former student’s claims,” the report said.
Partington has since been jailed for historical child sex offences in an unrelated case from the 1970s and 80s involving two girls who were not students at Our Lady of Mercy College.
College praises ‘tremendous courage’ of former students
The school commissioned the investigation after three former students came forward early last year with complaints about JLR’s conduct.
It was led by former Australian Federal Police officer Simon Davies, who runs a private investigations firm and is listed as the director of professional standards for the Jesuits, a Catholic society founded in 1540.
“It is reasonable to conclude that several concerns about the behaviour of Mr Partington and JLR were brought to the attention of senior OLMC staff; however, it appears little, if any, action was taken,” the report said.
In a statement, Our Lady of Mercy College principal Judith Weir said those who had come forward had shown tremendous courage.
“Today we affirm the independent investigator’s conclusion and offer our unreserved apologies for the suffering and harm that was caused to these former students,” the letter said.
Ms Weir said the investigation report documents “numerous instances” of “highly inappropriate physical contact”.
She said investigators had been in contact with Victoria Police and several reports of alleged criminal activity had been made.
Our Lady of Mercy College was founded in 1910 and currently has about 1,200 students in years 7 to 12.
It is overseen by the Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Former principal has dementia, unable to comment
The statement of apology and an executive summary of the investigation report were emailed to parents and former students this morning.
Ms Weir declined to comment further when contacted by the ABC.
A spokesman for the school said the former principal, Sr Calthorpe, was in the dementia ward of an aged care facility and was unable to comment.
He said none of the teachers investigated or the senior staff members highlighted in the report remained at the school.
Read the investigation report’s executive summary and the statement from Our Lady of Mercy College.
*JLR is a randomly assigned pseudonym and not the teacher’s initials.