December 1, 2010
In the witness box Spillane described himself as a modern priest, joyful and enthusiastic, a man at ease with families and kids, a hugger and kisser, happy to play a game of tennis and celebrate a home Mass. His victims recalled him bringing his clarinet and Edith Piaf LPs when he came to dinner. His favourite Piaf song was, one victim said, "the one about no regrets".
The Crown prosecutor, Brad Hughes, told the jury: "He would not have been within a bull's roar of these girls if he hadn't been a priest." There was evidence that he had an eye for a broken family, a husband and wife in conflict, a sick mother or an absent father.
He would appear uninvited.
Mrs A found him on her doorstep in a bush town four or five times. She was a pillar of the parish; her husband was in rehab; her boys had been at St Stanislaus. "I always welcomed him."
He was convicted of two counts of sexually assaulting Mrs A's 11- or 12-year-old daughter. One morning, Spillane put her on his knee and touched her vagina.
When the child sprang from his clasp, he held her by the throat, thrust against her and pulled down her pants. At that point her younger sister appeared in the kitchen to see Spillane "pushing my sister up against the oven and she was struggling and he let go when I ran in and she grabbed me and we ran out of the house and I was terrified. He was hurting her."
Next year he will face charges involving the girl's two brothers.
Spillane was a gregarious, heavy-set, 36-year-old with pale red hair when the Vincentian Order brought him down from the bush in 1979.
His job was to lead the priests and brothers at the Vincentians' compound in suburban Marsfield. Within months he was also acting parish priest in the order's local church.
He liked to play with the children at the order's primary school before the bell rang for class. "They would come running up and take me by the hand and come up and, you know, give me a hug," he told the court. "It was just a very open and welcoming joyful moment for them and for me." In answer to his counsel, Philip Boulten, SC, he told the court he touched children "on their shoulder, perhaps on their head and on their hand. I'd allow my hands to be available to them."
During confession he would invite children as young as eight to sit on his lap. "It was my pastoral approach,'' he told the court, "to break down the barrier between the fearful God and the loving God." One former penitent gave evidence of him holding her tightly on his lap as he nuzzled into her neck. "What I felt was some little kisses."