Bigamist Kiwi priest busted in Australia

Last updated 09:49 06/08/2014
Alec Stevenson
CONVICTED: Alec Stevenson outside court in Canberra.

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Alec Stevenson joined the priesthood after watching droplets of rain create ripples as they fell into water.

But Stevenson, 70, failed to think about the painful ripple effect his actions would cause when he illegally married two women over four decades, after moving to Australia.

Stevenson was handed a suspended jail sentence in the ACT Magistrates Court on Tuesday for two counts of bigamy.

The 70-year-old wed his first wife in his native New Zealand in 1962.

He walked out on her and his three children and came to Australia in 1970 to start a new life. The pair never divorced.

Stevenson remarried in 1974 and, after that marriage ended in divorce, wed his third bride in 2002.

But he never told the women he had been married before, or that he had any children.

Stevenson pleaded not guilty to the two charges of bigamy but was found guilty in the Magistrates Court in June.

During the trial, the court heard Stevenson had become a priest with the Liberal Catholic Church upon moving to Australia.

The church does not enforce celibacy. He trained as a formal celebrant, which included learning the legal workings of marriage, and presided over three wedding ceremonies.

Stevenson, who represented himself, argued his offences were an honest or reasonable mistake, a defence against the Commonwealth crime of bigamy.

But Magistrate Beth Campbell, in finding Stevenson guilty in June, said it "beggared belief" the offender had failed to recognise that the same documentation needed to legalise a marriage would not be required to end one.

On Tuesday, Commonwealth prosecutor Katrina Musgrove said Stevenson's crimes had not been spur of the moment offences, extending over decades.

Musgrove said the offender had shown no contrition, had little insight into the affect it had on the victims, and attempted to minimise his behaviour.

Stevenson apologised to his wives and said he accepted responsibility for his "selfish and defensive behaviour".

"I didn't take the ripples into account," he said.

Campbell sentenced Stevenson to six months jail, to be fully suspended upon entering an 18-month good behaviour order with a $500 surety.

Campbell said she had taken into account the nature of marriage in constructing the sentence.

But said the sentence did not include judgment on Stevenson's moral decision.

"When two people marry they not only make a private commitment, but a public commitment ... which carries a significant number of publicly protected legal rights and obligations.

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"There is a public aspect and consequence to marriage."

Campbell said legal complexities included property rights, government benefits, and immigration.

- Canberra Times

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