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Accused ... Robert Fuller.
A 54-year-old Sydney Catholic priest has been arrested and charged after allegedly attempting to groom detectives who were masquerading as a 13-year-old girl, sending them a series of sexually explicit chat-room messages.
Police allege they posed as a 13-year-old girl on the
internet to catch Robert Fuller, a priest of three decades
standing and the parish priest of All Saints at Liverpool for
six years. Prior to that he was the parish priest at a Punchbowl
They allege he sent chat-room messages between July and August, and even tried to arrange a meeting to engage in sexual activity.
Police arrested Father Fuller in a car park at Parramatta, in western Sydney, at 12.30pm yesterday, and later charged him with grooming a person under the age of 16.
He was refused bail and appeared in Parramatta Local Court today, where he sat silently throughout the hearing.
Magistrate Peter Miszalski, police prosecutor Sergeant Kai Penninkilampi, and defence lawyer Greg Walsh all agreed it was a strong case.
In opposing bail, Sergeant Penninkilampi said Father Fuller being on bail could pose a risk to the community.
He also said it didn’t matter if Father Fuller lived away from children.
"The defendant has shown an absolute preparedness to travel wherever and whenever to contact [the presumed girl] and I would submit it doesn’t matter where he lives."
In a police document tendered during the hearing, it was alleged that, between July 21 and yesterday, Father Fuller had communicated with a person on an online messenger service, Yahoo7 Messenger, who he thought was a 13-year-old girl.
In fact the other person was an investigator from the Sex Crime Squad’s Child Exploitation Internet Unit.
Father Fuller used two names during the conversations - "rr" and "rogers_2468" the document stated.
There were a total of 25 conversations between the priest and the investigator, the court heard.
"During the communications the accused was sexually explicit with the [investigator] with a view to grooming and procuring 'her' for sexual activity," the document stated.
The accused masturbated in front a of a web camera and encouraged the presumed girl to masturbate, the document read.
"The accused ... states he is concerned about getting into trouble because of her young age.
"During five of the conversations the [accused] activated his web camera and his face was captured by investigators."
Eventually a meeting was arranged with Father Fuller near Parramatta Park and he was arrested by police nearby.
Mr Walsh said that Father Fuller would not present a risk to the community and could live in a holiday apartment owned by the Catholic Church in Terrigal, while he went through the court proceedings.
Another priest would live with him and no internet connection would be allowed at the flat, Mr Walsh said.
The church was also willing to offer a $25,000 surety on Father Fuller's behalf.
In granting bail, Mr Miszalski required Father Fuller to surrender his passport, not approach points of international departure, not to use the internet or approach children or places where children congregated and to be supervised at all times.
The matter will next be heard in October.
During yesterday's operation, police also seized laptop computers, documents, photographs and a mobile phone from the presbytery at All Saints Catholic Parish on George Street.
Three schools, including a primary school and separate boys'
and girls' colleges, are next to the presbytery.
A Catholic Education spokesman said Father Fuller was not on the teaching staff at either school.
"The internet can be a great tool for children. However, social networking sites can be potentially dangerous for children if they are left unsupervised," he said in a statement.
"Regular online operations are conducted by detectives at the Child Exploitation and Internet Unit in an effort to detect online sexual predators.
"The role of parents however, is crucial with assisting in the prevention of child internet exploitation."
The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell said: “This is appalling and distressing news. I share the concern and alarm of parishioners, and particularly of parents and the school community. I can assure them that the safety of children in our parishes and schools is paramount, and the Archdiocese will co-operate fully with the police in relation to this and any other investigation into abuse at anytime.”
Father Fuller was ordained in 1979 after studying at St Columba's College
at Springwood, then St Patrick's College at Manly. He was appointed parish
priest for Liverpool in 2003 and has a bachelor of theology from the
Catholic Institute of Sydney.
- with AAP