Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Letterfrack - Sexual Abuse of Children By Christian Brothers

Q. I see. Can we move on now to a matter which is of primary interest to the work of this Commission and that's part 3 on the allegations of abuse. You start in this section of the submission by dealing with the issue of awareness of sexual abuse?

A. Yes.

Q. In the course of that you say that the admonition not to fondle pupils as used in the text, that's the Constitution of the Christian Brothers, was meant to warn brothers against any kind of physical contact that could be construed as showing favouritism or inappropriate affection. You say that "fondle" didn't have a sexual connotation at the time?

A. Yes.

Q. Can I just ask you to look at a document that's gone up on screen there. This is the 1962 Constitution of the Christian Brothers. Do you see rule 85 there?

A. Yes.

Q. It says: "Whilst the brothers should cherish an affection for all the pupils especially the poor, they are forbidden to manifest a particular friendship for any of them. They must not fondle their pupils." And its continues. You say that wouldn't have had a sexual connotation at the time?

A. No.

Q. I am just wondering why it's under a heading at the top of the page of "Chastity"?

A. Chastity and the vow of chastity was linked with the whole question of a brother's availability to all people. We talked this morning about friendships that were particular rather than widespread so any form of particularity with regard to a relationship between a brother and a group was intimately linked with the idea that a person who takes the vow of celibacy or chastity was available to all people in a general and equal way rather than focussing on one or two. It's in that sense -- I mean the current dictionaries would not have a sexual connotation in it.

Q. I accept that, but here you have the reference to not fondling their pupils under a chapter which is headed "Chastity" and I am just wondering if in that context it was understood to mean something else?

A. My understanding is it wasn't.

Q. I see. You then say that the fact that the rules of the congregation specifically highlighted the need for vigilance and the code of behaviour indicates the authorities at the time believed that sexual abuse was a possibility and that precautions needed to be taken. You point out I think that sexual abuse of a child was a rare occurrence?

A. Yes. I think looking back over the files of the congregation there are instances by individual brothers in isolated incidents where there was child abuse so they were obviously aware that there was a danger of child abuse in any institution.

Q. You say: "That the issue of child abuse was something which was sure to initiate an immediate response from the authorities once the matter was drawn to their attention." What did you mean by the authorities?

A. The Christian Brothers.

Q. You didn't consider the civil authorities, the Garda Siochana?

A. No. It doesn't seem in the 30's, 40's and 50's when the incidents of child abuse came to the attention of the brothers, this was seen as a moral failure on the part of the brother. Strange as it may seem it wasn't primarily judged as a crime, it quite obviously was a crime.

Q. That's what I was going to suggest to you. Clearly any form of indecent assault is a crime. If for example the local postman molested a child behind a garage I would be, I suggest, unthinkable even in those days that the matter wouldn't be reported to the civil authorities to be investigated. What made the religious different, why would it be just a moral issue for the religious but a criminal issue for people who weren't in the Christian Brothers?

A. When I am talking about it as a moral issue I would say that for the Christian Brothers and maybe for a lot of religious orders, I would say it was a fairly widespread thing. Looking at it now it should have been reported to the authorities.

Q. Of course, but was it because of the issue of scandal, was that what they were more preoccupied about?

A. It may have been. It may have been that, it may have been that the whole question of sexual abuse and reporting of it anywhere by the postman or anyone, I am not sure how widespread it was that the civil authorities were informed about any sexual abuse, I am not sure.

Q. I think you may take it that there were plenty of criminal trials going on in the various decades of the twentieth century involving indecent assault and buggery and issues like that?

A. As I say the only reason I can see where it wouldn't have happened is if they considered it more as a moral issue than a criminal issue.

Q. Yes. When you speak of the procedures in place to deal with the matter, the Order seems to be talking about dismissing a brother from the congregation or giving him a canonical warning or transferring him or issues of that nature?

A. Yes, the normal procedure in the case of an incident of child abuse, if a brother was not a professed member of the congregation and he transgressed in any serious way the rules of the congregation he would be dismissed. Brothers were dismissed for instances of abuse, but also for all sorts of other things that we would consider not that serious at the moment and they would have been dismissed. If a brother was finally professed he was given a canonical warning and he was transferred from the scene of his crime. The basis of that was this whole theology of sin and occasion of sin. If you move the person from the occasion of sin then he would be less inclined to re-offend. Now, we now that that is not the case. If abuse was repeated the finally professed brother was dismissed or usually dismissed or else advised to seek canonical dispensation from his vows and that sometimes happened.

Q. Do you think the steps taken to deal with issues of sexual abuse were adequate?

A. I think when there was an incident of child abuse and it came to the authorities they took action immediately. Judged today, I would say it wasn't adequate. Judged then -- one thing I can say is they didn't try to cover it up. They removed the person from the scene and they tried to ensure that he wasn't involved in another set-up, but unfortunately that did happen.

Q. I wonder is that correct, that they didn't try and cover it up. If they didn't report it to the civil authorities, who would know if a brother was moved quietly to some other part of the country or gave up his vows?

A. Yes, well in terms of the public authorities they wouldn't have revealed anything like that. In terms of a congregation and in terms of taking action they weren't prepared to allow it to happen, say nothing, and not reveal it to anyone within the organisation. When I say cover-up, I am talking about covering up within the organisation itself.

Q. Yes, but you don't think that the expression cover-up implies keeping something within the organisation and not to go beyond that?

A. Yes, I think it could be understood that way.

Q. I think there was accepted an awareness that there could be sexual activity between the boys themselves?

A. Yes. I think there are a number of references in the visitation reports which talks about improper conduct.

Q. Yes.

A. I refer particularly to 1940 and 1941 where it mentions that immorality exists so much among the boys and so on.

Q. This wouldn't have been peculiar to St. Joseph's in Letterfrack?

A. No, it wouldn't. Probably in a lot of boarding schools, not necessarily reformatory or industrial schools, that was always the danger.

Q. Yes. There is an issue then that is raised about a member of lay staff who was dismissed --

A. Yes.

Q. -- after a complaint of sexual abuse was made against him?

A. Yes, that's true. That was in the mid-30's and also towards the end of the 30's one of the workers was also dismissed. Some of the women who were involved in the laundry and so on, it was more maybe what was considered inappropriate at the time for the boys. It came to the notice of management that the boys were uncomfortable with it and therefore these people were asked to leave.

Q. So far as a member of lay staff was dismissed for improper behaviour, improper sexual behaviour, is there any record that that was reported to the civil authorities?

A. No, I wouldn't say it was.

Q. But the issue of scandal to the Christian Brothers, that wouldn't have been affected there, why I wonder then was that not reported to the Garda ?

A. I am not sure why. There is no indication in the documentation, at least I can't remember seeing any indication why that wouldn't have been notified to the police.

Q. Do the records available to the Christian Brothers show that a brother who was known to have abused children could have been moved to another institution with access to children?

A. I think if we went through each of the cases we would see that in some cases that did happen.

Q. Yes. Why was that?

A. Well, I think I would prefer to wait until I go through each of them rather than deal with it now.

Q. Just bear with me for a moment please. Dealing with the issue of sexual abuse by brothers on pupils, you have already told the Committee that there was no evidence this was systemic?

A. Yes.

Q. You then make reference to examination of archival documentation, do you see that on page 81?

A. Yes.

Q. This shows that lapse of time and change in leadership personnel and the transfer of files from the Generalate in Ireland to the new Generalate in Rome created a situation where some brothers were sent to Letterfrack despite committing incidents of abuse prior to being stationed there?

A. Again, I am not sure if you are not going to go each individual?

Q. I will go through some of them certainly.

A. Maybe in general I would just say this: Up to the late 60's our province administration and the whole congregation administration was in Ireland so both of them was there. Then the administration for the entire congregation moved to Rome and with that a transfer of archival material. Every effort was made that the Irish material would stay in Ireland and the beyond Ireland material would go to Rome, but we discovered over the last couple of months that some material had gone to Rome which properly should have stayed in Ireland. Again we will see which of those documents we discovered as we go through each case. The second thing is that leadership in the congregation took place every six years. You could have a leadership grouping of six brothers who would be there for a six year period and the following six year period you could have a completely new team and certainly twelve years beyond you have a completely new team. What seems to have happened is that the new leadership team that came into power, when they were looking at personnel they weren't aware that a team twelve years previously had dealt with the case. They obviously didn't examine the files carefully enough to see was there a problem and that unfortunately was a failure of the system.

Q. Yes. The problem was one known to exist I think certainly from 1941 onwards?

A. Yes.

Q. In 1941 there is visitation report referring to a brother. "It is alleged that his relations with the boys are immoral and if the statements that I have got from boys and which I now submit to the Brother Provincial are true he has been living in a most depraved, unclean and gravely immoral life for years. So bad are the charges that I could not conscientiously allow him to remain with the boys any longer. Availed of the fact that he got a fit on the day that I arrived to send him to the O'Brien Institute for a 'rest'." What was the O'Brien Institute?

A. The O'Brien Institute was an institute for orphaned children. In fact he was sent there for a very short period before he was dismissed from the congregation.

Q. Just before deal with the issue of his dismissal. So I understand you correctly, his behaviour was so bad that the author of this felt he couldn't be allowed to remain with boys any longer and he was then sent to an orphanage, albeit for a short time, is that what you are saying?

A. It is, but what would appear he was there for a month.

Q. Let's leave aside how long he was there. Do you think that that is extraordinary?

A. Well, I do. I think it's extraordinary if he had any contact with people. I am presuming that he had no contact with the young people there, but I think it's extraordinary that he was sent.

Q. Yes. We know that in 1954 there was another incident involving a brother and there is a letter from Br. Murphy to the Provincial saying: "I am very sorry to have to inform you that -- and he names the brother -- has been dealing immorally with two boys. I have asked him about it and he has admitted it."

A. Yes.

Q. Do we know what happened this particular brother?

A. Yes. The brother was dismissed from the congregation and he left in that year.

Q. I don't propose to go through individual brothers. You have named individual brothers --

A. Yes.

Q. -- in the submissions and you have said what has happened to them. For example, on page 84 you deal with a brother you refer to as Br. Y?

A. Yes.

Q. He had been "dealing immorally with two boys" and you describe what he had been doing. You say he was dismissed from the congregation and left in August 1954. You say this demonstrates how quickly the authorities acted when a complaint was brought to their attention. By authorities again I think you are talking about internal authorities?

A. Yes.

Q. There is no question of the civil authorities being notified?

A. No.

Q. On page 85 of your submissions you talk about Br. P who had been in the O'Brien Institute in 1960 and two boys made written statements to the Superior complaining of abuse. Was that in the O'Brien Institute?

A. That was in the O'Brien Institute.

Q. The Superior forwarded statements to the Provincial Br. Mulholland asking him to change Br. P to a day school and this was done. He was sent then from the orphanage to a day school and then he was sent as Superior to Letterfrack in 1971?

A. '73.

Q. Sorry, I beg your pardon. No, he remained until '73, I think.

A. Sorry, yes, '71, you are right.

Q. How could that have happened, that he was sent from an orphanage to a school and then on to Letterfrack which was a residential institution for boys having been reported of being involved in sexual impropriety?

A. As I say in the comment there, the leadership team that dealt with the incident in the OBRIEN INSTITUTE had been replaced in 1966, the event had happened in 1960. Now, there was one member of the original team who remained there who should have remembered. I am not sure why he didn't remember. I am just conscious that there was one member there. His personnel file appears not to have been consulted so it was a rather bad decision.

Q. Yes. You have other examples, I don't want to be tedious and go through them all, but there are other examples you cite there of brothers who had allegations made against them or who admitted there was some truth or complete truth in the allegations and they stayed working in schools or in Letterfrack and so on, isn't that the position?

A. The position was that if a brother was working in an institution, and I would refer you maybe to No. 6 on page 85, and wherein the institution he had a complaint the judgment seems to have been that if we move him out of an institution there is less danger in a day school. Now, by today's standards if any person is accused of child abuse and found to have abused a child he is not permitted to have any contact in any circumstance with children. At the time it seems the judgment was that an institution was too dangerous because they were with them all day and that it was less dangerous in a day school, which I think is rather fallacious.

Q. Do you think that in let's say the 50's and 60's the atmosphere in Letterfrack would have been conducive to reporting by boys of incidents of sexual abuse?

A. Well, I do. Looking at the incidents, for instance the one on page 84 where Br. Y had a complaint, the boys immediately went to the brother and told them. I was talking to a brother two days ago who was in charge of the Legion of Mary group and he said, "look, if the boys had anything that they wanted to talk about, they certainly would have talked about that." I refer to the Garda investigation into Letterfrack in the 60's. It says the boys were not aware of any physical or sexual abuse occurring. So sexual abuse of its nature is a very secretive crime.

Q. Well, there is one particular brother, I think he is referred to as Br. BT who has been convicted of the most serious sexual assaults?

A. Yes.

Q. Is it the position that the complaints against him arose sometime later, not while the boys were in the school?

A. Yes. In fact with Br. BT when he was in Letterfrack there was never an allegation of any form of abuse against him. In fact, looking at the visitation reports most of the visitation reports with regard to his work was generally praised so in fact during the time it seems that abuse was taking place unknown to the authorities.

Q. Yes, but what I want you to consider, and I am inviting you to agree if you wish, that tends to suggest that there wasn't an atmosphere which was conducive to boys reporting while they were there?

A. It does.

Q. Wasn't the same true of the other brother who was convicted of sexual offences?

A. Yes, the two brothers who were convicted of sexual abuse, at the time when it happened there was no reporting. I am not sure what the reason for that is.

Q. Can I suggest one to you: Back at that time if a child was to complain that a member of a religious order behaved in such a gross fashion would they not be told to wash their mouth out and go to confession or something like that?

A. Well, I am just looking at the history of the complaints that did come to the knowledge of the authorities and in each case where there was a complaint brought to the knowledge of the authorities they took action so I have no doubt that if any suggestion of child abuse emerged and people learned about it they would have taken action. I think generally sexual abuse, there is fierce pressure on the person being abused to keep it a secret and often they can be threatened, I am talking about current cases. It is of its nature a secret or hidden crime and that's tragic really.

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