News

Sunshine vicar suspended, faces court on child porn charges

Archbishop Freier sends message to parishioners after vicar is granted bail until his next court hearing in October

By Mark Brolly

August 6 2017 

Bishop Philip Huggins has delivered a message from Archbishop Philip Freier to the parishioners of Holy Apostles parish in Sunshine after their vicar was charged last week with child pornography offences.

Bishop Huggins, whose Oodthenong Episcopate includes Sunshine parish, led Sunday services at the parish on 6 August after the Revd Philip John Murphy was stood down with immediate effect three days earlier upon being charged.

Fr Murphy, who has been Vicar of Holy Apostles only since earlier this year, appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 4 August to face five charges of transmitting child pornography using a carriage service and five charges of using a carriage service to cause offence. He was released on bail and is to face Melbourne Magistrates’ Court again on 27 October.

Archbishop Freier’s letter said that he greeted the parishioners “with sadness” following Fr Murphy’s arrest.

“I have no doubt that you will be as shocked as I was to learn that, on Thursday, your Vicar the Rev’d Philip Murphy was arrested and charged with child pornography offences,” Dr Freier wrote. “This apparently followed police searches at Holy Apostles Church and Vicarage.

“In accordance with the procedure in section 44 of the Professional Standards Uniform Act of the Diocese, I have suspended Mr Murphy from his duties, with immediate effect.

“On account of this suspension, Bp Philip Huggins is with you this morning as you draw close to God, who knows suffering and brings solace during this difficult time. Mr Murphy is, of course, entitled to the presumption of innocence but because of the seriousness of the charges he faces will remain suspended until this matter is resolved by the courts. Arrangements will be made for a locum ministry for Holy Apostles during this time.”

Archbishop Freier assured parishioners that the Melbourne diocese would cooperate fully with police in any further investigation that was needed.

“Please pray for all concerned in your parish as well as the people in the parishes of Benalla, Fitzroy and East Burwood where Mr Murphy has served.”

He signed off his letter with the words “Grace and peace in Christ Jesus”.

Fr Murphy, 52, was priested in the Diocese of Salisbury, England, in 1992 and worked in the UK until moving to Australia in 2001, where he also had worked the Diocese of The Murray in South Australia. From 2013-15, he was Chaplain of St Paul’s Anglican College in Hong Kong.

The offences were allegedly carried out late last year and early this year. The arrest followed a 12-month police investigation into online child exploitation.

The Age and the Herald Sun reported on 4 August that Magistrate Peter Reardon approved bail on condition that Fr Murphy did not use any social media, online dating websites or file-sharing software.

But Mr Reardon approved an application to vary the bail conditions to allow Fr Murphy access to phone messaging application WhatsApp to keep in contact with friends overseas.