A Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing Fremantle schoolboys in the 1980s, he was also known for kissing and touching younger members of his flock in another southern Perth parish in the 1970s.
Most important points:
- More people have come forward to tell about Father Damian Barker’s bizarre behavior
- Many say they saw Father Barker kissing young children on the lips
- Some commented that his overly affectionate behavior was highly unusual for the time
This is just one of the revelations that come out after Perth man Travis Adams came forward this week with his story of alleged sexual abuse by Carmelite Father Damian Barker.
Adams is suing the Victorian Carmelite Fathers and the Christian Brothers for failing to protect him and other boys from alleged abuse by Father Barker at CBC Fremantle in 1984 and 1985.
Many people contacted the ABC to share their experiences of observing and receiving Father Barker’s kisses on the lips, hugs and caresses while they were students.
Some commented that Father Barker’s overly affectionate behavior was inconsistent with the social norms of the time, where many fathers did not even hug or kiss their sons.
This included a man, who could not be identified by name, who said he knew Fr Barker as his local priest at Hilton’s Mount Carmel parish in the early 1970s.
He said Father Barker’s “feeling sensitive” behavior toward elementary school-age boys and girls was in full view of the community.
“He would grab them, hug them, kiss them on the lips,” he said.
“He shamelessly did it in front of parents and other children.”
He said Father Barker would invite himself to families’ homes for dinner “and you couldn’t say no.”
But after his no-nonsense father observed the priest’s physical interactions with children, he warned the priest never to be near his children again – and they were left alone.
The priest later left the parish, although it is not known where he moved to.
“I am 100 percent sure that because of his behavior he was removed under a cloud,” the man said.
But he was surprised to learn later that Father Barker showed up at CBC Fremantle in the 1980s.
“He was definitely a complete pedophile,” he said.
Yallingup man Matt Muir recalls that Father Barker’s behavior toward students at CBC Fremantle was not right within months of meeting him in 1986.
‘Alarm bells were ringing’
He attended primary school on the Tuckfield St campus, which has since been demolished.
“Being from a Catholic background and other numerous parishes, knowing the brothers and working with priests, it wasn’t the kind of behavior I really appreciated or thought was correct,” he said.
“And I immediately looked at it and the alarm bells immediately started ringing.”
He said that Father Barker was not teaching at the school then, but often appeared during recess, lunchtime and when they were waiting for the bus.
“Apart from the behavior on the playground – the boys kissing, that sort of thing – we used to have to take a bus from Tuckfield St to Fremantle to get to the train station,” he said.
“And all the students would line up and Father Barker would come out to see all the students.
“Not only did he kiss them, he pulled up their shirts and touched their navels and chest inappropriately.”
Questions must be answered
Mr Muir said he believes Father Barker’s estate should now be investigated after Mr Adams came forward with his allegations.
“It has to be transparent and it has to come out,” he said.
Another man, who attended CBC Fremantle from 1982 to 1988, recalls Father Damian’s behavior as “textbook care, both of us as young people and of those responsible for protecting us.”
In an email to the ABC, he said Father Barker insisted on kissing them on the lips as “a sign of God’s divine love.”
“My biggest standout memory was an occasion at a public event outside school hours and in a location where [Fr Barker] came up behind me and stroked my neck,” he wrote.
A former student teacher at CBC Fremantle in the 1980s said he remembered Fr Barker as “friendly, sociable and an integral part of the school”.
He said he enjoyed his two-week practical training, where the chaplain came up to him first and introduced himself.
But he said Father Barker’s overtly affectionate behavior with his students was strange.
“He made physical contact with the boys,” he said.
“He would hug a child and kiss it in the face.”
The ABC has asked the Carmelite Fathers (Victoria), the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, CBC Fremantle, the Christian Brothers and Edmund Rice Education Australia for more information about Fr Barker.
None of them wanted to give details.
Both the Carmelite Fathers and the Christian Brothers said they could not comment, given Adams’ civil suit.
They ‘should open the books’
CBC Fremantle director Domenic Burgio reached out to school families on Tuesday to let them know about Adams’ civil claim and the ABC’s story, but did not name Father Barker.
“It is critical that we honor the survivors and victims of institutionalized abuse by doing our utmost to recognize that abuse in the first place, provide the best possible comfort, and take steps that seek to [to] ensure that child abuse and covering up never happen again,” he wrote.
McGowan Secretary of State Dave Kelly, a former CBC Fremantle student, has called on Catholic Archbishop Timothy Costelloe to be more transparent about historical child sexual abuse by priests.
“He should open the books,” he said.
“Tell us which pedophiles have worked in these schools, and make it just that little bit easier for victims to come forward.”
Archbishop Costelloe declined to comment.