Father Terrence Pidoto, like many paedophile priests in Victoria, managed to manipulate his way into the lives of underage altar boys and students. He befriended their parents, officiated their family’s weddings and, as a probation officer, he would often get the boys out of trouble with the police — making the boys indebted to him, in turn.
Pidoto used his position of power and authority to discourage the boys from reporting the ongoing sexual abuse. Pidoto was a man of God — who would believe a child over a “devout” Catholic priest?
In the end, some of Pidoto’s victims never saw justice served. Pidoto died in 2015 before he could be charged with child sexual abuse for the third time. Now, there are several people who will live their lives scarred, knowing Pidoto got the easy way out.
In this article, we shed light on Pidoto’s history and the series of events that led him to be held behind bars (however temporarily).
Pidoto’s history: how he started working with children
Terrence Melville Pidoto was educated up until the age of 15 at St Bernard’s College in Essendon, Melbourne’s northwest. He then worked with the Victorian Forest Commission for three years and completed his year 12 studies while working.
In 1964, Pidoto entered Melbourne’s Corpus Christi College to train for the priesthood. He spent his first four years at the seminary’s Werribee campus, where his roommate was Michael Charles Glennon (who was also eventually jailed for child sex crimes). Later, Pidoto transferred to the seminary’s new campus at Glen Waverley.
Pidoto and Glennon (among other students) had already started working with children. Pidoto and Glennon often travelled down to St Augustine’s Boys Orphanage in Geelong, where they provided “many hours in counselling, holding discussions and helping boys generally”.
Pidoto was ordained in 1971 when he was 26 years old. He was “on loan” for the Ballarat Diocese ministering in Donald, western Victoria, and later a chaplain at Melbourne’s Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.
In 1972, Pidoto became an assistant priest at St Bede’s parish in Balwyn North and acted as a part-time chaplain and “counsellor” at Marcellin College, a prominent Marist Brothers school in Melbourne.
The students were often sent one by one to have private “counselling” sessions with Pidoto — at this point, Pidoto himself said he had become very experienced at “massage” and had lost count of how many boys he had massaged in his career. Pidoto would massage the boys in their homes, at school and in his presbytery.
A former Marcellin College student said Pidoto would also hover around the school’s sports teams.
“Terry Pidpto hovered around the Marcellin sports teams and gave them massages. Every kid knew that Pidoto was touching kids and therefore the Marist Brothers knew. Pidoto once put his hands on my shoulders from behind, but I knew his reputation, so I escaped his clutches fast.”
Eventually, Pidoto also became a chaplain for the Scouts movement in Victoria and was heavily involved in their camps. Because Pidoto had a pilot’s licence, he would also take the boys flying. One of the boys’ sisters, “Ruth”, said she never liked Pidoto.
“I had brothers, aged 13 to 16. Terry Pidoto was always after them. He took them on outings including a flight in a light aircraft. I never liked Pidoto, he was a creep — but he was a priest of the church, so we gave him the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
“In 1997, we learned that Pidoto behaved intrusively towards these boys. One of my brothers, at the age of 21, came out as gay and said he had been conscious of his own gay orientation since the age of 13 [when he was associating with Pidoto].”
Pidoto formed a relationship with the police as a chaplain for Police Scouts
In 1975, Pidoto was posted at St Patrick’s parish in Kilmore where he also acted as a part-time chaplain at the Marist Brothers’ Assumption College. This particular school was also sport-focused, so Pidoto had more opportunities to “massage” the boys.
Around this time, Pidoto formed a relationship with the local police and became a chaplain for the Police Scouts. Pidoto was a probation officer and “looked after” the boys who got in trouble with the police, making them indebted to him.
This was especially advantageous if the offender attended Assumption College — he would offer to take the boys under his supervision and the boys would be let off with a warning.
When Pidoto faced the court, a police officer named Tom vouched for Pidoto. Broken Rites has suggested that this glowing character reference was given to protect the reputation of Assumption College — plus, it would be beneficial for any police officers who wanted to get their children into the college.
Pidoto left Kilmore in 1978 and went on to work at:
- St Clare’s parish in Box Hill North
- St John the Baptist parish in Clifton Hill
- St Pius X parish in Heidelberg West
- St Edmund’s parish in Croydon (Father Jack Gubbels was abusing boys in this parish).
In 1988, Pidoto was promoted to be in charge of one of the diocese’s most remote parishes, the Sacred Heart parish in Yea, 80km northeast of Melbourne. He was out of sight and unsupervised until he was eventually contacted by police in 1997.
It has been said that the parish was often full of young people including drug addicts and Scouts. An ex-parishioner told Broken Rites:
“I visited Pidoto at Yea and he had a boy in his presbytery. Pidoto said it was a homeless youth who he was looking after”.
While Pidoto was at Yea, he was considered a good citizen — in fact, in 1993, he was named “Citizen of the Year” for the town and in 1996, he celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination. Positive articles about him appeared in the Yea and Kilmore newspapers, and these articles were seen by “John”, a former altar boy for Pidoto at Kilmore.
John was just 10-years-old when Pidoto started indecently assaulting him. Pidoto abused the boy during “massage” sessions that occurred over a period of 18 months between 1977 and 1978.
It is alleged that Pidoto massaged John’s genitals and on three separate occasions, Pidoto penetrated John’s backside and the boy needed medical attention afterwards.
Pidoto was a friend of John’s parents. He would visit their home and take John into his room, lock the door and massage John on a table. Later, Pidoto admitted to using lubricant but denied any sexual assault.
John was too scared to tell his parents about the indecent assault because of Pidoto’s priestly status. It wasn’t until John was in his 20s and started having marriage problems that he told his wife what had happened. She encouraged him to get counselling and contact the police. To his surprise, the police had already had complaints about Pidoto from two males from the Yea parish.
The Melbourne Diocese had also set up an in-house system for complaints. They received half a dozen complaints from former altar boys and students about Pidoto, so in 1997, the Melbourne Diocese announced that Father Pidoto had been placed on administrative leave until the police investigation had been resolved. He was also removed as a Scouting chaplain.
In April 1999, Pidoto was to be summoned and charged regarding eight incidents and three complainants — John, a male from Yea and a male from Marcellin College. Eventually, the complainant from Yea dropped out of the court case.
Pidoto’s barrister suggested to the jury that John was “making up” the abuse against Pidoto to get compensation from the Catholic Church. However, John has not claimed compensation from the church — he only wanted Pidoto to stop working with children.
“I’m a different person to what I might have been had I not been abused”
In June 2007, Pidoto faced the County Court for the abuse of seven teenage boys.
One of the victims (known only as Roger) was anally penetrated by Pidoto at St Bede’s parish in Balwyn North. Roger was just 14-years-old at the time of the abuse.
Another victim (known only as Sam) was targeted by Pidoto between 1982 and 1983. Sam was 13-years-old when Pidoto officiated Sam’s sister’s wedding. On several occasions after the wedding, Pidoto drove Sam to a local park and masturbated himself and then masturbated Sam. On another occasion, Pidoto anally penetrated Sam.
Both Roger and Sam submitted impact statements to the court in 2007. Sam said he struggled to maintain both personal and professional relationships and had previously struggled with substance abuse.
“It’s quite hard to trust people. I didn’t really like myself growing up. I always put myself in abusive situations including drugs and alcohol,” Sam said.
“There will never be closure because I’m a different person to what I might have been had I not been abused.”
Judge Ross Howie found Pidoto guilty of all 11 charges. He took into account the victims’ permanent emotional scarring and the fact that Pidoto showed absolutely no remorse for what he had done.
“These were the premeditated, intentional acts of an ordained priest of the church, a person trusted by the boys concerned and by their families as a representative of what they regarded as the highest good,” Judge Howie said.
Trials and appeals timeline
- February 2000 — Judge Campbell of the Melbourne County Court granted a separation of trials — a different jury for each complainant. This means that each jury thinks there is only one complainant.
- While waiting for his trial, Pidoto lived with the Columban Fathers and his living costs were paid for by the Melbourne Archdiocese.
- February 2001 — Pidoto was sentenced to three years in jail (eligible for parole after 18 months) despite the seriousness of his crimes. The Marcellin College victim decided not to go ahead with another trial, satisfied that Pidoto would be behind bars.
- Father Michael Shadbolt of the Doveton parish set up “the Catholic Priests Anti-Defamation League” after hearing Melbourne Radio 3AW host, Neil Mitchell, express sympathy for John. Father Shadbolt published a letter to the editor in the Herald Sun attacking Mitchell for not presenting “the church’s side” of the story.
Mitchell then called Father Shadbolt and allowed him to present “the church’s side” on air. The next day, Mitchell allowed John to tell his story on the air. In subsequent talk-back segments, listeners phoned in and denounced “the church’s side” of the story.
- May 2002 — Pidoto’s legal team argued that inadmissible evidence had been given at the 2001 trial and a retrial was ordered. Pidoto was released from prison. He had only been jailed for 15 months.
- 2005 – 2006 — Pidoto’s release from prison was covered heavily by the media, prompting several new victims to come forward. Pidoto tried to delay or stop the new trial from going ahead, claiming he had health problems like sleep apnea. The County Court rejected his procrastination attempts and a retrial was booked for June 2007. Pidoto pleaded not guilty.
- June 2007 — Judge Ross Howie sentenced Pidoto to seven years and three months with a minimum of five years before becoming eligible for parole. Judge Howie also ordered for Pidoto’s name to be added to the Register of Serious Sexual Offenders.
- December 2014 — Pidoto completed his jail sentence at Ararat in western Victoria. He was released but Victoria Police detectives immediately charged him with additional child sexual offences after more of his victims contacted the Victorian Police sex-crime squad. The case went through preliminary procedures in the Melbourne Magistrates Court — he was charged with 15 counts of indecent assault committed against eight young boys.
- November 2015 — Pidoto was due to appear in Melbourne County Court but the victims never received justice. Pidoto died from health problems before he could face court.
Arson attempt at St Bede’s Church in Balwyn North where Pidoto worked as a priest
Image: The Age
In March 2016, St Bede’s Church in Balwyn North was broken into in the early hours of the morning. The intruder broke a window and poured accelerant around the church’s altar but no fire was lit. The intruder fled when the church’s alarm system was activated.
The intruder, who is believed to be a victim of clerical abuse, was arrested and questioned but released without being charged.
The attack on St Bede’s Church was one of many arson attacks on churches between 2015 and 2016. In 2015, St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dandenong was torched by an arsonist — the church was one of eight linked to paedophile priest Kevin O’Donnell who abused children throughout his 50-year career.
Image: The Age
The St James Church in Brighton, a heritage-listed building, was nearly destroyed in 2015. St James was linked to paedophile priest, Ronald Dennis Pickering. St Mary’s in St Kilda East was also set alight the same night — another church where Pickering worked.
The arsonists clearly had a motive. All of the churches that were attacked were linked to paedophile priests. Pidoto worked at St Bede’s as an assistant priest in the 1970s, suggesting the arsonist, in this case, was a victim of abuse.
The flames that engulfed St James Church are a poetic representation of the rage that many victims of abuse still hold inside them. These individuals are still suffering — but claiming compensation is a healthier step in the right direction.
At Kelso Lawyers, we conduct the largest number of compensation claims in New South Wales and offer our services Australia-wide — we will listen to everything you say with a compassionate ear and do everything in our power to achieve the compensation you deserve. We will ensure you get the maximum possible payout for the abuse you experienced in childhood.
Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme.
Feature Image: The Age