The despicable paedophile priest you’ve never heard of
SHE was just 13 years old and a concert violinist prodigy when, wearing priest's clothing, John Philip Aitchison first raped her in the church after playing the cruellest of tricks on her.
Georgie Burg was a talented but vulnerable girl when the paedophile priest raped her on a church pew after violin practice.
Aitchison had sexually assaulted other children before he deliberately targeted Georgie, and his abuse would later make her abandon an international soloist career.
The trick he played to get her close enough to pounce on her was both calculated and cynical.
Aitchison told George that he could make God to materialise her beloved pet dog, which had been killed in an accident for which Georgie blamed herself.
It was just one of many betrayals.
Georgie would be abandoned by everyone including her own mother and Aitchison would get away with molesting children until she found the strength to put him in jail.
Even then until the last minute, church officials were promoting John Philip Aitchison as a trusted man of God and encouraging him to be with children.
The story of this despicable paedophile priest most people have never heard of, who molested children as young as seven, is also one of three different churches protecting him.
Right up until his imprisonment, as recently as 11 days after he was found guilty of repeatedly raping Georgie - he featured at a major Sydney church event promoted as "child friendly".
In truth, former Anglican Deacon Aitchison, now aged 67, has been sexually and indecently assaulting little girls and boys since about 1969.
But assisted by the church and the justice system, Aitchison has managed to fly under the radar as he destroyed children's lives.
In a string of court trials, judges have let him off gently dealt with probation or bonds.
One judge sympathetically described his "psychological imbalance", denied he was a paedophile and doubted the evidence of his child victims.
It was only in August, that Justice Michael Elkaim of the ACT Supreme Court declared Aitchison "unquestionably a paedophile".
In an almost unprecedented judgment, Elkaim cited Georgie's description of Aitchison as a "casual, commanding, authoritarian, and coolly arrogant" sexual abuser of children.
At the time of the verdict she could not be named, but Georgie Burg has decided to tell news.com.au her story and reveal her identity for the first time.
As Georgie Berg says, "He dehumanised me.
"And he got away with it for so long.
"I've been told I'm his eighth victim, but I know there are other victims out there."
Born in 1973 in Canberra, Georgie's parents separated when she was five years old.
For four years, from about the age of six, she was sexually abused by a male relative.
By the age of 13, Georgie's serious talent for playing violin had been recognised, but she was a "very serious, withdrawn and very quiet young girl".
She had never had a boyfriend, few friends and submerged herself in playing violin and with her beloved dog Lilly, a treasured 10th birthday gift.
"I had my animals and my music, that was it." she told news.com.au.
When Lilly was about two years old, she was run over on the road in front of Georgie, who blamed herself for calling the dog back and into the path of a car.
"She was an obedience dog and I called her," Georgie recalled, "I caused her death. Still today I believe it was my fault."
It was this sensitive young abuse victim, a year later still consumed with grief and guilt for the death of her dog, that Aitchison spotted in All Saints Anglican Church, at Ainslie in North Canberra.
He was a 35-year-old Oxford-educated rising young star in the Anglican Church; charismatic and well schooled in recognising susceptible children for him to abuse.
Georgie played violin at All Saints in the Canberra Youth Orchestra's rehearsal for an upcoming tour and met Aitchison at the morning tea afterwards.
Aitchison began showing the young violinist attention, discussing her music then saying she must come to the church and play him her competition pieces.
When Georgie obliged and played him a Mozart concerto she was practising for the Sydney Eisteddfod, he sat alone in the church, legs open with "a creepy look" on his face.
The traumatised young girl had stopped speaking following the death of her dog, and her mother had entreated Aitchison to help.
Georgie's sole means of outward communication was through her violin.
Such was her talent and her deep-seated emotion that her violin performances moved audiences to cry.
A meeting was set up with Aitchison in an office to discuss Georgie's distress over the death of her dog, and her subsequent emotional withdrawal which had worried her mother,.
Alone in the office with Georgie, Aitchison started asking personal questions, such as about her parents' divorce, and then said "has [male relative] you. Has he raped you?"
When Georgie wept, having never revealed that abuse. Aitchison told her, "You know God talks through me and you can trust me."
Then Aitchison asked, "How did it feel?" and kissed her on the cheek.
Shocked and confused, Georgie left but she was in turmoil because both her mother and Georgie had begun to trust John Aitchison.
Some time after that, again in the empty church, Georgie was playing Bach's partita (a plaintive piece in a minor key).
"It was pretty sad," Georgie said, "I was sad."
Aitchison was sitting in his favourite pew, third from the front, and beckoned her over and they sat in silence until he asked about her dead dog Lilly.
"Would you like to see her again," Aitchison asked, "I know a way you can see Lilly again.
"If you look there and pray to God you will be able to see Lilly again."
Aitchison pointed to a shadowy point above the altar and pulled Georgie on to his lap and pulled down her underpants.
"He made me lean forward right over the pew in front and put my hands together to pray," she said.
Aitchison began raping Georgie, who told him that seeing her dog wasn't working.
Aitchison got angry and mentioned her male relative and said words to the effect of "it's not like you have not done this before".
As her raped her, Aitchison muttered something like, "Please God forgive me".
It was now dark outside and Georgie's mother was waiting outside in the car.
Aitchison was right behind Georgie and told her mother that the girl had not played very well and needed to try a bit harder.
"Mum looked back at me and said, 'Oh Georgie' … it was so unfair."
Afterwards, there was blood and pain and Georgie redoubled her efforts to practise violin.
The second rape occurred several weeks later, before Christmas 1987.
"It sounds crazy that I would want to go anywhere near (Aitchison)," Georgie told news.com.au.
"But he was Mum's friend, I didn't have a dad and Mum said he was a really lovely bloke and he was becoming part of my family.
"He was the voice of God, and apart from the rapes and molestations he was very nice to me."
Again, Georgie was practising her violin at All Saints, struggling with a difficult new technique (down bow staccato) in secret to try and impress her teacher and her mother.
Aitchison came into the church and took her across to the church hall, ostensibly to make use of its better acoustics.
Inside the hall, Aitchison raped Georgie behind the curtains as she tried "to be as limp as I could. I am sure he did not use any protection".
Georgie, her mother and younger brother moved to a new house, in Canberra's inner south.
Georgie loved her new bedroom and the swimming pool at the back of the house.
But Aitchison came calling and had forged a closer bond with Georgie's mother, who he would later describe in letters - after he was accused of the rapes - as demanding and with a "tremendous ego".
But as he courted Georgie and her mother, Aitchison talked about "bonds of trust" and repeated his cynical line, "God talks through me".
HE GOT ANGRY AND SAID GOD WOULDN'T FORGIVE HER
His first assault of Georgie at the house occurred when he hurried Georgie's mother and brother out on an excursion.
When they were gone, Aitchison violated the girl by rubbing his hands inside her swimsuit.
Rape ensued soon after on a sofa in the TV room while Georgie was watching a TV show about animals.
"I remember counting up to a really high number. Some really bad things happened … because it took so long.
"I think he made me do things to him. I now remember it in dreams and I wake up screaming.
"This incident is the one where I wake up from a bad dream and I am sure (Aitchison) is standing beside my bed.
"I always feel like throwing up, like there is something in my mouth and I am choking on it."
But the next rape Georgie remembers as "the most unpleasant of them all"
I FOUGHT BACK.
During the assault, Georgie remembers Aitchison "shook me as if he was furious with me … we both knew this was rape".
"I fought him hard and had bruising on my arms afterwards," Georgie said. "I think it was the only time I fought back and I am proud that I fought back.
"I remember fighting him off … saying that I was going to tell Mum … that I was not going to do this anymore.
"He started telling me how disrespectful I was being and that there was no way God could forgive me for everything I had done.
"He said, 'You've had carnal relations with your (male relative) Georgie, do you realise what that means in the eyes of God?'
"He said words to the effect of, 'Don't try and tell me that you didn't enjoy that'.
"He finally threatened to go to the police about myself and my [male relative]. I knew my mother was terrified of (that)."
The final rape took place in Georgie's bedroom, when he came in seeking sympathy for "having a hard time" and having to say goodbye.
This was before Aitchison's promotion to his own parish at Bombala, NSW, which happened in 1989 after his bishop had been informed of the sexual assaults of Georgie.
I PRETENDED I WAS DEAD
"While he was raping me … I pretended I was dead," Georgie said.
"I really wanted to be dead and I thought if I held my breath maybe it would come true and then I could be with Lilly again."
Georgie had no idea that her mother had written to the Bishop Dowling of Goulburn and Canberra or that the church knew of the rapes and did nothing.
(Victoria Police would charge the late Bishop Owen Dowling with soliciting a male off-duty cop for prostitution in Bendigo, but the charges were later dropped.)
Nor did she know she was suffering post traumatic stress disorder.
"Violin was a smokescreen. I began to fail at everything. I dropped out of school.
"I was in tremendous danger at this point."
When Aitchison disappeared off to Bombala, Georgie's mother never spoke of him again.
At the age of 15, Georgie became perhaps the youngest Australian to be awarded the prestigious Associate of Music Australia.
By Year 11 at school, Georgie had become a highly accomplished violinist and toured Europe with the Canberra Youth Orchestra, and disclosed the rapes to a sole friend.
She won the prized position of recitalist in the Queensland Youth Concerto Competition.
"This was a huge year for me. I was under a lot of pressure to perform," she said.
"People would tell me that I would make them cry as my music was so emotional.
"It was the only voice I had.".
In Year 12, Georgie had a nervous breakdown.
"I couldn't get John out of my head. I couldn't be a solo violinist," she said.
"When I told Mum she said you either do this or you leave. She kicked me out of home."
Thereafter began a disastrous rollercoaster for Georgie.
She repeated Year 12, stole food from garbage cans, put on 30kg so as to feel "invisible", and lost 30kg.
She believed she could only be a violinist, but then she couldn't be one because of its association with her abuse at the hands of Aitchison.
Georgie began studying for a Bachelor of Music in performance violin, and on her 21st birthday in 1994 attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills and rat poison.
She was alone, and three days later came to, groggy but alive.
In the same year, her mother forced her to confide in a priest she had become close to after falling out with the Anglican Church after Georgie's abuse.
Georgie was still unaware of the secret exchanges between her mother and Anglican officials.
Reluctantly, she told the priest about Aitchison.
The priest (who, at the time of publishing, is still alive) stood up for Aitchison, describing him as "very confused … in pain … hasn't he suffered enough?"
He continued on, saying: "You could get a man into terrible trouble with these sorts of accusations … think very carefully.
"Honestly, would it not just be better for you to ask God's forgiveness?"
Soon afterwards, Georgie's mother stormed into her bedroom and called her "a slut and a whore and accused me of breaking up the family".
Georgie left the house the next morning. It was the absolute disintegration of her biological family, and she was made to feel she was to blame.
When she was 22 years old, something good happened to Georgie.
She met a 26-year-old country boy named Phil Burg who was not remotely interested in whether she played violin, just interested in her.
They married in 1988 and have since had a son and two daughters.
Having a family gave Georgie an excuse to abandon her music degree and put down her violin.
But while violinists she had matched in talent went on to become international soloists, Georgie became an administration assistant.
Phil found out early in their relationship what had happened to Georgie, her frequent nightmares an indicator to the trauma which lay within.
"I'd wake up screaming but after a bad dream he'd give me a hug and say, 'Just relax, it's all okay'," Georgie said.
"My husband saved me.
"For a long time, I really thought he'd just disappear, that he'd hit a point and say, 'You need professional help'."
Phil Burg stuck by Georgie, their children grew up and when Mia turned 13, the age Georgie was when Aitchison first raped her, she couldn't keep it all a secret any longer.
After emailing the Catholic Church abuse site Broken Rites, and getting no reply, Georgie finally managed to contact the Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn's professional standards team.
When a tentative Georgie revealed only her abuser's initials, the diocese's director of safe communities Celia Irving knew exactly who she was talking about.
The Australian Federal Police had launched Operation Attest to investigate historical sexual abuse in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
It was now April 2015 and in the next six months police would sit Georgie down for 12 hours and interview her, and the diocese would reveal devastating news.
The letters between her mother, Aitchison and Bishop Dowling told Georgie a bitter truth.
The diocese told her, "We know these will rewrite the narrative of your life but we feel we can't hold them any longer."
The letters talk about a six-year-old being abused and how to keep it a secret.
"They knew about what my (male relative) and about what Aitchison had done to me,"
Georgie told news.com.au.
"Not one person ever checked on my welfare. Not one person checked to see if I was okay."
But Georgie says the letters "gave teeth to the investigation" into John Aitchison.
She had lost contact with her mother, never being able to forgive or forget her mother's unprecedented attack and the words she called Georgie.
Georgie's mother had moved to a very isolated part of Tasmania. She was dying of cirrhosis of the liver in late 2016 when Georgie believes she took her own life.
At least that's what Phil Burg was told by a family member who claimed Georgie's mother had done so after finding out her letters would be used in the forthcoming child sexual abuse trial of John Aitchison.
The Royal Commission into institutional child abuse interviewed Georgie for five hours, but failed to slot Aitchison into a public hearing because there were "too many like him".
Before Aitchison would go to trial in the ACT Supreme Court, a lawyer convinced Georgie to take a civil action for compensation over her abuse, which she won.
She signed a nondisclosure agreement as to the payout.
In a moving statement for the civil case, Phil summed up the damage that Aitchison's abuse had inflicted on his wife.
"Georgie … is prone to self sabotage and not following through with … key career opportunities that have opened up for her," he said.
Phil listed brilliant opportunities which she undermined, such as an audition with the Australian Chamber Orchestra which Georgie flew to Sydney for, but could go through with it.
She repeated this with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra auditions.
Finally, Georgie went through with an audition with the State Orchestra of Victoria, was immediately given a contract and played as a first violinist for around 18 months.
He described her physical aversion to classical music and churches, how she rips off her fingernails, her expectations of personal betrayal and difficulty in forming close friendships.
"She has few if any people she can confide in beyond me. I think she is probably very lonely," Phil said.
The four years it has taken to bring Aitchison to justice has brought Georgie's terrifyingly real nightmares to the surface, when she feels certain Aitchison is inside her family home.
Then there are the daytime frights, which Georgie finds hard to talk about the "slimy and dark" place to which her head goes.
"I am completely awake. I have to find a confined space, like under a bed or a corner," she said. "I have to rock, I cannot seem to help it. It slowly calms down, the slimy feeling goes and I am okay again."
Aitchison's trial began in April this year, with 44-year-old Georgie sequestered - like child witnesses - in a remote room.
For two full days she gave graphic evidence, punctuated by breaks for the spontaneous nosebleeds and bouts of vomiting which took hold of her.
Crown prosecutor Trent Hickey told the court Aitchison had a sexual interest in children, and called two men who were molested by him when they were young.
Aitchison's lawyer James Lawton argued his client was homosexual and only interested in boys.
For the jury's verdict, Georgie could not cope with being in the courtroom, in case it found him not guilty.
But after less than half a day's deliberation, the jury returned, and it had not believed the accused.
Aitchison sat with his eyes downcast as the jury delivered a unanimous verdict: guilty of 13 charges - five of sexual intercourse with a young person and seven of acts of indecency on a young person.
Prison officers handcuffed Aitchison and led him off to the cells.
Five months later, and having spent that time in prison, Aitchison returned to court to be sentenced.
In the dock, John Aitchison sat with greasy hair, shabby clothes and a downcast look affected, the prosecution reckoned, to evoke pity from the judge.
Justice Michael Elkaim sentenced Aitchison to a maximum nine years' prison.
He risked a possible maximum of 14 years, and has since abandoned a planned appeal.
With a minimum of five years, Aitchison will be eligible for parole in 2023.
Georgie credits her husband as heroic and her children, whose lives were changed by her abuse, as inspirational and supportive.
Her children have acquired an interest in justice and the law.
Georgie has begun a criminology degree and hopes to become an institutional criminologist.
If it had not been for her, John Aitchison would still be free and flying under the radar.
In recent years, even after he was charged with child sexual abuse, he played at the Pitt Street Uniting Church as a celebrated church organist in the company of children.
"The Uniting Church employed him well after he was charged with his crimes against me," Georgie said.
"Either they knew he was a twice convicted paedophile, or didn't do any basic background checks.
"They've allowed him to work with choirs with women, and likely children.
"As recently as two weeks ago, their Facebook page has a statement about the Royal Commission findings.
"None of the three denominations (Anglican, Catholic, Uniting Church) has ever said anything publicly about Aitchison's crimes at all.
"They definitely have never said anything about my case, let alone any of the other survivors."
Georgie lives with debilitating physical and mental trauma from her abuse.
She cannot attend funerals or weddings, because entering a church makes her want to vomit.
Her potential career as an international violinist was destroyed. She still has her treasured violin, named Jack, but cannot play it. To this day, Georgie cannot listen to the Mozart concerto which preceded Aitchison's first rape.
Apart from the nightmares, she has problems with intimacy. She has no contact with her brother, has few friends and does not trust anyone. She is afraid of dying in case there is life after death or she goes to hell, where in the future she might face her abusers.
She cannot believe in God and feels the church hates people like her. She dreads going to sleep.
But Georgie wants the world to know about Aitchison and to reach out in case, as she believes, there are other survivors of his abuse.
She wants his outrageous actions not to go unmarked.
Aitchison did not destroy Georgie, but his dehumanisation of her meant "you cannot live and you cannot die as a complete human being".
She said the inaction of church officials and the actions of Aitchison "stripped away hope".
"He's a career paedophile … but (by the end of his trial) everyone wanted justice for this guy," she said.
"The proudest moment of my life, apart from getting married and having children, was when I read my victim's impact statement to the court in front of him.
"I didn't think I would be able to do it.
"But I did and I said 'how dare you for doing this to my family' and he opened his eyes.
"He never thought I would come forward, but he opened his eyes and he knew this girl without an identity was not afraid any more."
the Anglican Church Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn did respond saying that after Aitchison's 1992 conviction, it began caring for known survivors.
It has also reviewed his file after reports in 2008 that Aitchison had molested children [believed to be two sisters] while in England.
The Diocese said it had apologised to Georgie and had issued a media release about Aitchison following his conviction.
"While the late Bishop Owen Dowling was aware of risks posed by Mr Aitchison, the Diocese was not aware of any specific victims until they came forward in 1991," the Diocese told news.com.au.
Georgie agreed she had received an apology, but questioned the Diocese's claims it didn't know about any abuse before 1991, citing the letters exchanged by her mother.
Regarding Aitchison's employment a an organist in more recent times, a spokesman for the parish of the Anglican Christ Church St Laurence said no background check was made because it was a National Trust event at a Uniting Church.
"Aitchison was not performing a clergy role," the spokesman said, "However, future events for the newsletter will be scrutinised more closely."
News.com.au has sought responses from the Uniting Church about Aitchison working at a church "child friendly" event.
- If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence or sexual assault, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). For help with depression, please see Beyond Blue .
- Know anything about John Philip Aitchison or other abusers? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
REVEREND JOHN PHILIP AITCHISON: TIMELINE OF A CHILD ABUSER
October 18, 1950 - Born in Adelaide
Late 1960s/early 1970s - Bachelor of Arts at Australian National University.
1969 or 1970 - Allegedly indecently assaults 8-year-old boy MD and his sister EM, 7, in Canberra.
1973 - Indecently assaults boy, 10, in Wangaratta, Victoria. Pleads guilty in Wangaratta Magistrates Court, and is placed on probation.
1975: Moves to England, works as cathedral musician, studies divinity at Oxford University.
1980: Gets married.
1986: Returns to Australia. Completes theological studies at St John's College, Morpeth and St Mark's, Canberra.
1987: Ordained a Deacon of the Anglican Church
1988: Ordained a priest.
1989: Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Owen Dowling, learns of Aitchison's sexual abuse of Georgie via a series of letters.
Late 1989 - Aitchison promoted to rector of St Matthias' Church, Bombala.
1991 - Charged with indecent assault on a boy, 12 dating back to 1987.
1991 - Returns to England with a scholarship to study his PhD at Cambridge University. On this or Aitchison's previous time in England, he allegedly assaults two young sisters.
December 17, 1992 - Sentenced in NSW District Court to a three year good behaviour bond for assaulting the 12-year-old boy, HG. Judge Moore finds Aitchison "in the grip of a deep psychological imbalance … and not some paedophilic aberration".
19 July 1996 - Convicted in the ACT Supreme Court by Judge Gallop of two indecent assault offences of HG between 1988 and 1991. Judge Gallop notes previous offences of oral sex and digital anal penetration of the victim and sentences Aitchison to a maximum three years' prison, with an 18 month minimum sentence.
October 1996 - Indictment for the 1969/70 Canberra assaults on MD and EM are stayed in the ACT Supreme Court.
December 1996 - Pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse with boy under the age of 16.
April 2018 - Convicted for five charges of rape and eight acts of indecency between 1987 and 1989 against Georgie Burg and incarcerated in Alexander Maconochie Correctional Centre.
August 2018 - Sentenced to a maximum nine years, with a minimum five years.