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Vic ex-priest jailed for boys’ abuse

Posted by on 02/05/2019

A former Catholic priest who sexually abused three Victorian schoolboys made one of his victims kneel before him and beg forgiveness.


James Patrick Jennings, 81, will spend the next four months behind bars after assaulting the boys while a priest at Bendigo’s St Vincent’s College in the 1960s.

Jennings preyed upon the young boarders, working out in which dormitory they slept and when they would be alone, the Victorian County Court heard.

After assaulting one of the boys, Jennings said the victim “owed” him.

He told the boy he had committed a sin and made him kneel beside him to beg forgiveness.

Judge Wendy Wilmoth said Jennings’ actions were hypocritical and cruel.

“It was gross manipulation of a young boy’s emotions and a cruel exploitation of his religious faith,” she said.

The judge said Jennings used his position of power and authority to exploit the boys.

His crimes not only involved a gross breach of trust but an awareness they were very wrong.

One victim carried the secret of abuse with him for 33 years.

“He still feels exploited, humiliated, ashamed and embarrassed,” the judge said.

Another victim told another priest about the abuse but nothing was done.

Judge Wilmoth said the boys did not tell their parents, fearing they would not be believed.

They also did not want to disappoint their parents, aware of the sacrifices made to send them to the school.

Judge Wilmoth said Jennings appeared to be in denial, telling a psychologist: “It’s 50 years since these things happened”.

He even blamed his victims for falsifying the charges for financial gain, despite having no evidence to justify the claim.

Jennings left the priesthood in 1966 and his offences did not come to police attention until 2009.

He was jailed on Wednesday for three years, but two-and-a-half years of the term was suspended.

The judge took into account his community contribution and noted his age and health would make jail more onerous.

The sentence takes into account two months Jennings served in jail before his sentencing, meaning he will serve four more months.

Jennings, from Tasmania’s Huon Valley, was in February found guilty of five counts of indecent assault against the three boys.

He was acquitted on a sixth charge of indecent assault.

He is now registered as a serious sex offender for life.

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