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«FAMILY AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations Melbourne — 3 May 2013 ...»

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Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations

Melbourne — 3 May 2013


Mrs A. Coote Mr F. McGuire

Ms G. Crozier Mr D. O’Brien

Ms B. Halfpenny Mr N. Wakeling

Chair: Ms G. Crozier Deputy Chair: Mr F. McGuire Staff Executive Officer: Dr J. Bush Research Officer: Ms V. Finn Witnesses Brother J. McDonald, deputy province leader, Brother B. Brandon, executive officer for professional standards, and Mr S. Wall, co-executive officer, professional standards office, Christian Brothers.

3 May 2013 Family and Community Development Committee 1 The CHAIR — Good morning, everybody. In accordance with the guidelines for the hearings, I remind members of the public gallery that they cannot participate in any way in the committee’s proceedings. Only officers of the Family and Community Development Committee’s secretariat are to approach committee members. Members of the media are also requested to observe the media guidelines. I ask that you all have your mobile phones either switched onto silent or switched off. Thank you very much.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome from the Christian Brothers, Brother Brian Brandon, executive officer for professional standards; Brother Julian McDonald, deputy province leader; and Mr Shane Wall, co-executive officer, professional standards office. On behalf of the committee I welcome the three of you and thank you for your appearance this morning.

All evidence taken by this committee is taken under the provisions of the Parliamentary Committees Act, attracts parliamentary privilege and is protected from judicial review. Any comments made outside the precincts of the hearings are not protected by parliamentary privilege. Witnesses may be asked to return at a later date to give further evidence if required. All evidence given today is being recorded and witnesses will be provided with proof versions of the transcript. Please note that these proceedings are not being broadcast.

The committee has been requested, under our terms of reference, to look at whether policies and processes of religious and other non-government organisations and systemic practices have actually contributed to the abuse of children. We are looking at a number of areas in relation to theterms of reference and whether changes to our law need to be made, amongst other things, to prevent the criminal abuse of Victorian children in the future. We have a number of questions relating to your organisation, and then you will have an opportunity at the end of that session to make some concluding remarks.

I would like firstly to get a very brief overview. Thank you very much for the documentation that you provided to the committee earlier this year and also a further submission that you provided to us on Wednesday, where you outlined the Christian Brothers history. I would like to understand or clarify that you do work in two provinces or a province here in Victoria. Could you just explain briefly how the Christian Brothers operates here in Victoria?

Br McDONALD — Thank you, Madam Chair. We are in fact now one province, Oceania province, that takes in the whole of Australia, New Zealand, East Timor, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. In 1953, there was one Australasian province that was divided that year into two provinces, one encompassing Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia — that is, St Patrick’s province. Subsequent to that, in 1968, the Southern province I have just mentioned, the Victorian province, was divided into two. St Patrick’s province encompassed Victoria and Tasmania and a separate province was set up to encompass Western Australia and South Australia. At the same time, Queensland was separated from New South Wales; it took in Queensland and the Northern Territory. New South Wales, ACT and Papua New Guinea became a province; and New Zealand became a vice province. So the brothers have been in Victoria since 1868, just on 140 years.

The CHAIR — Thank you, and how many brothers are in Victoria currently?

Br McDONALD — There are 80 in Victoria at the moment. At our height, there were 340 in Victoria, and in our history there have been 1000 brothers in Victoria.

The CHAIR — Thank you very much. Now, in the introduction to the subsequent documentation that you

provided to us on Wednesday, you say you:

… acknowledge that in the past a number of our brothers sexually abused children.

You also go on to say:

Specific and credible allegations of child sexual abuse were brought against four Christian Brothers.

As Mr O’Brien highlighted on Monday in his question relating to another witness, he said:

The principal and grade 6 teacher was convicted paedophile Christian Brother Robert Charles Best. The grade 5 teacher was convicted paedophile Christian Brother Stephen Francis Farrell. The grade 5 teacher in 1971, before Farrell, was convicted paedophile Christian Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan. The grade 3 teacher was alleged paedophile Christian Brother Fitzgerald, who passed away before any charges were laid. The St Alipius Primary School chaplain and assistant Catholic priest was convicted paedophile Gerald Francis Ridsdale.

3 May 2013 Family and Community Development Committee 2 So it is evident that in the 1970s, when these men were teaching at St Alipius in Ballarat, there were paedophiles that were engaged in the abuse of children and, as I said, the chaplain attached was also a paedophile. It appears that the only person who was working at that time who did not offend against children was the sole female lay teacher. Could you explain to the committee why this extraordinary state of affairs was allowed to occur?

Br McDONALD — I have no adequate explanation for that. Madam Chair. It is certainly an accident of history. It was a terrible, terrible situation. The lives of young people were devastated by those who offended at St Alipius’s school in Ballarat. That is of great shame to us and a terrible, terrible thing to happen to victims.

Was there a culture that encouraged that? We do not have any evidence to believe so. I will talk, if you would like me to talk about the culture in the Christian Brothers, and I can refer to that a little later.

The CHAIR — I would like to just interrupt you there if I could, Brother McDonald, to say that to have any four members of a religious order working at one location where this amount of abuse actually occurred would suggest that there was a serious cultural problem. Are you suggesting that there was not?

Br McDONALD — There was no cultural problem known to us. The incidents of that abuse came to light many years later, and we have only the information that has come to us subsequent to that period. Whether those people were in contact with one another, we do not know. We have no evidence to suggest that they were not; we have no evidence to suggest that they were.

Let me say that when we look at the times in which those people were in Ballarat, there is not a big overlapping time. There was an overlap of one year with two of them, so they were not all operating in the school at St Alipius all at the one time. And they did not live with Ridsdale; they were separate from Ridsdale. I know there have been suggestions that there was collusion between them and Ridsdale. They did not live with him at all. Whether they communicated is unknown to us, but we have no evidence that they did.

The CHAIR — Where did they live? Where were the brothers were living? Could you confirm?

Br McDONALD — The brothers lived at St Patrick’s, Ballarat, and they served from there not only St Patrick’s College, Ballarat, but at St Alipius school and St Paul’s school.

The CHAIR — Do you think it is possible that the congregation was infiltrated by paedophiles?

Br McDONALD — I have no evidence to say that. We have had evidence before this committee, I believe, that has suggested — and I fully subscribe to it — that total institutions do attract, consciously or unconsciously, people who have paedophilic inclinations and tendencies. The culture of the Christian Brothers was, I would say, spartan and somewhat repressive at the time when these people to whom you have referred joined the congregation. You were taught to be tough. We were taught to have little connection with family. For instance we did not go to funerals, weddings or family celebrations. It was a culture that was based on a moral code of ‘Thou shalt not’, so the culture in religious life when these people joined, certainly when I joined, was repressive to that extent.

Did paedophiles consciously or unconsciously find their way into the Christian Brothers? It is clear that some did. When does a person become a paedophile? I do not know the answer to that, but people were admitted to religious life from their early teens to their late teens. Does one know that one is a paedophile as a teenager? I do not know the answer to that, but the literature would seem to suggest that patterns of behaviour develop a bit later. Inclinations that an emerging adult has an attraction to somebody as many as five years younger seems to me from the literature to be the point at which danger signs or red flags arrive — when somebody is interested in another person of the same sex five years or more younger.

The CHAIR — Could I also get clarification from you of where the priest at the time, Father Ridsdale, was living?

Br McDONALD — I am sorry, I missed your question.

The CHAIR — Could you also confirm to the committee where Father Ridsdale was living at the time the three brothers that have been mentioned — — Br McDONALD — I cannot confirm that. I believe though that he was living in the presbytery attached to St Alipius school. I can be corrected on that, I just do not know.

3 May 2013 Family and Community Development Committee 3 The CHAIR — You just highlighted some areas of paedophile behaviour and acknowledged that the perpetrators can be very good at concealing their activities. It seems rather extraordinary that nobody noticed what was going on with these individuals. Can you comment on that?

Br McDONALD — Yes, I can make some comment on that. I believe the leadership were not trained in those days to know what the signals for paedophilic behaviour were. This was at a time when the whole of society was coming to grips with this thing. There has been an emerging understanding of paedophilic behaviour — what are the signals, what is the psychosexual profile, et cetera. That has come to light years and years later. Certainly at that time I think religious superiors would not have been educated along those lines. But there were things in our rules — ‘A brother should never be alone with a boy’. There is a Latin tag, noli me tangere, which means ‘Don’t touch’.

The CHAIR — Those rules were in place, but the committee has heard evidence on multiple occasions that there were complaints made and all that seems to have been done was that these people were moved around. If you are saying that there was direction from the leadership, why then did they move these people on, and can you confirm that that is correct?

Br McDONALD — It is true that there were some mistakes made and they have had devastating consequences on victims. I cannot defend, and I will not try to defend, the indefensible. Leadership made some mistakes.

The CHAIR — As in moving those people on?

Br McDONALD — As in transferring those people. But remember, in the main the knowledge of their offending did not come to us until much later. There was knowledge about Farrell.

The CHAIR — But I am talking about the complaints that people tried to make at the time when these children — they were children at the time — were trying to make a complaint and nothing was done except that the perpetrators were moved on by the very leadership you are describing.

Br McDONALD — We do not have any records of those complaints being made at the time other than with two people.

The CHAIR — Is that because you did not keep the records?

Br McDONALD — I believe not.

The CHAIR — Believe not — that they were not kept?

Br McDONALD — All of our records have been made available to you, the records where mistakes were made, and we can find two situations in which mistakes were definitely made. I will never try to defend that;

that is indefensible. But we can find only two where we had prior knowledge, and I believe it was because of the whole understanding of paedophilic behaviour. It was treated as a moral failure, then eventually it came to be understood as a psychosexual dysfunction. With all of that, it is a crime. It has always been a crime and it always will be a crime.

The CHAIR — That is right.

Br McDONALD — And a terrible crime that has ruined lives.

The CHAIR — It is a crime, that is right. Thank you.

Br McDONALD — We know that and we knew that and every leader of the Christian Brothers should have known that.

The CHAIR — Thank you, Brother McDonald.

Mr McGUIRE — I will take you through the process a little bit more just so we understand. Were there any processes in place at the time the offenders entered the congregation to determine their suitability for being a brother — that is, the life of a brother and the rigours that you have defined as spartan and repressive?

3 May 2013 Family and Community Development Committee 4 Br McDONALD — Thank you, Mr McGuire. Yes, there were processes; they were very rudimentary processes. When I joined the Christian Brothers you had to have a letter of referral from your parish priest, you had to have good health, average intelligence and good motives. That was the screening system way back then.

When I applied to go to teachers college I did a spelling test of 10 words and that qualified me for a teachers college scholarship, plus the marks I got when I matriculated. It reflects, I suppose, the kind of screening that went on across the whole of the community. That was what it was back then.

Mr McGUIRE — Just to take that further — — Br BRANDON — I think that was state teachers college?

The CHAIR — Brother Brandon, would you like to say something?

Br BRANDON — I think it was state teachers college?

Br McDONALD — Yes, that was state teachers college.

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