3 June 2024

Lawyer's search for Wollongong victims of paedophile priest Adrian Van Klooster

| Zoe Cartwright
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A woman sits on the floor and holds her hand out in a stop gesture

A woman has launched a claim against the Catholic Church after a lifetime of PTSD caused by childhood sexual abuse. Photo: File.

A victim of a paedophile priest who served in Wollongong has launched a claim against the Catholic Church.

Adrian Van Klooster was a Father with the Catholic Church from the 1960s until he was jailed for child sexual abuse in 2003.

Shortly after his release in 2017, Van Klooster was jailed again for the possession of child pornography.

A Wollongong woman, who has launched a claim under a pseudonym to protect her privacy, says Van Klooster sentenced her to a lifetime of anguish after he sexually abused her in her West Wollongong home and at church when she was five to seven years of age in the early 1970s.

Her lawyers have asked other Illawarra victims of Adrian Van Klooster to come forward and strengthen her claim.

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Samuel Sheppard, who is handling the case for Judy Courtin Legal, said it was not uncommon for it to take decades for victims to realise it was abuse that had occurred, and to be able to talk about it.

He said their experiences could be even more traumatic when the offender was a trusted, respected member of the community such as Van Klooster.

“A lot of people don’t really know how to talk about it, for child victims it’s not uncommon for it to take 30 years for them to be able to disclose what has happened to them,” Mr Sheppard said.

“We’ve heard from a number of people that only have good things to say about Van Kloosten.

“A lot of child sexual offenders are master manipulators and are very charming.

“This case is black and white – Van Klooster is a convicted child sexual offender. His role as a priest afforded him a lot of power and a lot of opportunities to offend against children.

“Our client’s parents trusted this priest and invited him to their home for regular dinners.

“He was considered an upstanding member of the community who officiated masses. He was very well respected and used that respect and trust to abuse our client. It is horrific.”

Mr Sheppard’s client has suffered from PTSD for decades. After she completed her tertiary studies, she was only able to work in her profession for a year before her mental health made it impossible to continue.

She has struggled with anxiety, alcohol abuse and often finds basic daily living tasks difficult.

Her claim rests on whether the church knew – or should have known – Van Klooster was sexually abusing children in the 1970s.

Van Klooster moved between parishes in the Illawarra and Western Australia during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Mr Sheppard said court documents from Van Klooster’s 2003 trial indicated he had at least one other female victim in Wollongong in the 1960s or 70s, connected to a hostel for troubled youth.

Mr Sheppard suspects there may be more.

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“Our client has lived a very blighted life since the offending,” Mr Sheppard said.

“She wants justice and accountability, and she wants to be compensated for the disastrous effects this has had on her life.

“She wants to hold the institution who allowed this paedophile priest out into the community accountable.

“They didn’t vet him properly, he was given roles that encouraged him to visit family homes and that enabled him to offend and continue offending.

“Where other victims can help is to show that the church either knew about Van Klooster’s offending and failed to act, or they ought to have known he was a danger to children and failed to act.

“If there are other victims who were offended against around the same time as our client and are willing to give a statement and possibly be a witness, that will help us to demonstrate the church knew, or ought to have known about this.”

If you were a victim of Father Adrian Van Kloosten in the Illawarra, please contact Mr Sheppard on (03) 9521 2265 or at [email protected].

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