It was front page news in 1964. Dominic Ganino, a 15-year-old schoolboy, was found lying face down on swampy ground under a fallen tree near the old Courage brewery in Broadmeadows. The body was partially covered with rushes and weeds in an effort to conceal it. Despite being on the school wrestling team and a soccer player, he had been overpowered and killed. The autopsy said that he was not only asphyxiated but sexually assaulted.
Five days later, a blue comb -“ which police believed might have been dropped by the killer -“ was discovered a few metres from the body. Then, the trail went cold.
There was another shock in store for the students and staff of Fawkner Technical School. A few weeks later, one of Ganino’s classmates and a fellow altar boy, committed suicide.
Not far down the road from where Ganino’s body was found lay the North Fawkner presbytery, where Father Arthur Kevin Ryan, the parish priest, lived. In a bungalow at the back of the presbytery lived Robert Blunden, a church worker and part-time caretaker, who, it turned out, was molesting the altar boys in the presbytery grounds and at the Smiths Beach holiday camp at Phillip Island.
There has been renewed interest in Blunden’s activities since it was revealed that he molested boys at the same Phillip Island holiday camp where Dr George Pell allegedly molested another 12-year-old boy. Pell has vigorously denied these allegations.
Last month The Sydney Morning Herald reported a strange twist in the Blunden case. Ganino’s best friend claimed that one of the policemen involved had told him that when the murder investigation was re-opened in 1996, he had gone to see Pell at the Melbourne Cathedral. When asked about Fr Ryan’s whereabouts, Pell allegedly informed them that the priest had passed away and was thus unavailable for questioning.
Pell and a spokesperson for the Melbourne archdiocese denied that he was approached by police.
Further investigation by the Star has confirmed that it was not Pell who was approached. According to Gavan Knight, who retired from the police force on the grounds of ill-health in 1999, neither he nor his partner Michael Leedham ever approached Pell. Rather, Knight made representations to Monsignor Denis Hart, the then vicar-general (and now archbishop of Melbourne), who indeed told Knight that Ryan had sadly passed away.
He was in fact very much alive and living in Essendon, where he lived until earlier this year, a fact clearly denoted in the 2002 Catholic Directory.
Monsignor Christopher Prowse -“ the current vicar-general -“ says he is bewildered by the allegation that Archbishop Hart was in any way involved even though he previously told the Herald that usually it would have been the vicar-general, not the archbishop, who would deal with such police inquiries.
It’s ridiculous, he says. To say that Dr Pell or Monsignor Hart -“ as he then was -“ would have said that Father Ryan had passed away is completely absurd.
Father Ryan had only just retired, and he was still a well-known priest, and his address, as you know, was printed in the Directory, even up until this year. So, I think that allegation is without foundation.
Another reason why it’s so ridiculous is that he was such an eminent priest. He had Pastor Emeritus after his name, which means Distinguished Pastor. It’s an honorific. It’s like an OBE of the Catholic world.
The police did eventually find Ryan, who made a statement to police later in 1996. Knight claims that he felt there was a very strong case against Blunden, who admitted buggering and otherwise molesting various children to police, but denied murdering Ganino when asked about it by homicide detectives. A police spokeswoman later told The Age that Blunden had been eliminated as a suspect, but that the investigation was ongoing.
Ryan claimed in his statement that he had learnt of Blunden’s abuses only in 1968, whereupon he banished Blunden from the presbytery and notified the then archbishop, James Knox, who, according to police, chose not to inform them of Blunden’s behaviour.
But, according to Ganino’s friend, both Ryan and Blunden were asked to leave the parish in 1964 when parents complained to the archdiocese about the molestation of their children.
It is unclear to whom the parents complained. Archbishop Justin Simonds is dead, and (Bishop) Leo Clarke -“ the then vicar-general -“ claims to know nothing of any abuses which may have occurred at the Yarraville parish.
By 1968, Archbishop James Knox had assumed office, but both he and Bishop John Cullinane, the then vicar-general, are now dead. Archbishop Knox’s private secretary, Monsignor James Murray, who is now stationed at the Convent of Mercy in Newtown on Melbourne’s outskirts, says that he knows nothing of it.
I certainly knew Father Ryan quite well, Murray says. We were in the seminary together, but I can’t recall him ever speaking to me about such a matter. Whatever approach he made -“ if he made one -“ was obviously made directly to Archbishop Knox. It didn’t come through me. It would certainly stand out in my mind if that had been the case, I should think.
Ganino’s friend and fellow altar boy claims that he was repeatedly abused by Blunden close to the spot where Ganino’s body was found. He says he tried to report Blunden as a possible murder suspect at Russell Street HQ in the 60s when he was 15 years old, but that he was simply brushed aside.
Pasquale Ganino -“ Dominic’s 84-year-old father -“ is still desperately seeking answers. He knows that the assaults generally took place in Blunden’s car and says that Dominic -“ who was being taught to drive by Blunden -“ refused to attend Mass the Sunday before his death, but that he would not say why.
Blunden was convicted in 1998 on 27 charges of indecent assault and buggery and sentenced to three years jail, but he died before he could be incarcerated.
Father Kevin Eaton was the assistant priest at St Matthews in 1968 when he was approached by the mother of two boys who alleged that Blunden had abused them both in the bungalow at the back of the presbytery.
It is unclear what Eaton did in regards to this allegation and he declined to speak about it when telephoned for comment, but the boy’s mother -“ who declined to be named -“ alleges that Blunden continued to molest them both for at least two years after she told Eaton about it.
Eaton, too, gave a statement to police in 1996 when the Ganino investigation was re-opened. He told police that Blunden continued to visit Father Ryan.
Ganino’s friend concurs, saying that Blunden would turn up unannounced at various church functions, and was like the unwanted guest whom you just couldn’t get rid of.
As in life, so it is in death. For the Catholic Church and for many of his victims, Blunden seems to remain a problem that just will not go away.