Findings of the review into the movement of former Jesuit brother Victor Higgs

On 17 December 2018, the Australian Jesuits announced the appointment of The Honourable Marilyn Warren AC QC, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, to review the movement of former Jesuit brother, Victor Higgs, from Adelaide to Sydney and committed to publishing Chief Justice Warren’s findings. 

In the years leading up to the appointment of Justice Warren, Higgs was convicted of child abuse offences at Jesuit schools in both South Australia and New South Wales dating back to the late 1960s and 1970s. Higgs left the Jesuits in 2001.

We received Justice Warren’s report on Friday afternoon and now share her conclusions:

  1. At least three complaints were made to the then Rector, Fr Frank Wallace SJ, regarding Higgs’ conduct at Athelstone.
  2. The substance of at least some of these complaints was conveyed to the then Provincial, Fr Francis Peter Kelly SJ, prior to Higgs’ movement.
  3. The fact of these complaints was a factor in the decision to move Higgs from Athelstone to Riverview in 1970.

It is with much sadness and contrition that I acknowledge and apologise for our failings with respect to these events some 50 years ago. 

I thank those who gave evidence to the Review. I appreciate that going over these matters can itself be a traumatic experience. I also thank the Honourable Justice Marilyn Warren AC QC and counsel assisting the Review for their expertise and commitment to helping us better understand what happened.

I hope these findings help bring those impacted by the actions of Higgs at both Athelstone and Riverview, and who have lived their lives in the shadow of the pain that it caused may, in some small way, come closer to healing and closure.

We continue to hold those who have been abused in our hearts and in our prayers and extend to them our unwavering support. We are deeply ashamed and sorry.

In the spirit of openness and transparency we are contacting all survivors who gave evidence to the review to seek their permission to release the report in its entirety.

The abuse of any child is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the value and mission of the Jesuits.

The Jesuits and our Jesuit schools are united in our commitment to child safety and have implemented best practices to foster a child-safe culture to best protect those in our care. These measures include initiatives to encourage and listen to student voices, treat any report of abuse seriously, believe those who come forward with reports of abuse and the introduction of a publicly available code of conduct clearly setting out required behaviours. 

We will continue to review in detail Justice Warren’s report, the reasons for her findings and any actions that may need to be taken as a result and strive to ensure that our schools provide not only safe but nurturing environments for the children they serve.

Brian F. McCoy SJ

Provincial, Australian Jesuits