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Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Sexual abuse in Letterfrack


The Provincial did not conceal his disquiet. Having set out a transcription of the anonymous letter, he wrote to Br Piperel: These recurring warnings are causing me grave anxiety. Taken in connection with what did happen between you and boys on a previous occasion there is quite justifiable cause for all my anxiety. Has anything wrong, such as is described in the above letter, taken place between you and a boy, or boys? The matter is so grave, and is fraught with such serious consequences to you, to the Institution and to the Congregation, that I require you to be very open and candid with me. Please let me have a letter from you by return.


In the course of a three-page, handwritten letter, Br Piperel set out his defence. He began by recalling that a Visitor had mentioned the matter to him previously and that it was only when the Visitor had left that he remembered the occasion. The inference was that, following receipt of the first letter, the Provincial asked the Visitor to raise the matter with Br Piperel in Letterfrack, and the latter had denied any knowledge of it.


His explanation was that, three weeks previously, one of the boys in the School brought him a message from the Gardaí in Letterfrack village: While I was wording a reply the boy remained in the room, and as I wanted him to understand the message he was quite close to me while I was writing. After finishing I told the boy to re-arrange the desks, which were out of order after the Drawing. All this took only about seven or eight minutes ... After dinner I met this same boy and he brought with him another boy whom he stated was calling him names because he was doing messages for me to-day. Although the door of the schoolroom was open the boy looked through the partition while I was writing the message. I asked him why he called the boy names and he stated he only did that to get the other boy into a row. He then stated that he had been quite mistaken and I punished him. Both boys were emphatic about anything having happened. I can understand other boys exaggerating on this and probably making some statement to some individual in the premises.


Br Piperel claimed that one of the lay staff in the School had a motive for having him removed from the Institution and would have been pleased to get him into trouble, thereby implying that he was the anonymous friend of the School who had written to the Provincial.


The Brother’s reply should have given rise to even greater concern on the part of the Provincial, but instead it seems to have been taken as a complete refutation of the charges of impropriety. The mystery in the case was how the letter of response could have given any reassurance.


At the time of the complaint, Br Piperel had been in Letterfrack for some eight years and he continued his career there for another four years. Thereafter, he served in three further industrial schools over a 10-year period. The records contained complaints about the Brother’s work and attitude in these institutions but did not record incidents of sexual impropriety. His last posting was to a day school in Cork in the 1950s, where his career as a teacher came to a dramatic end as a result of a complaint.


This matter came to the attention of the School when an influential medical specialist told the Superior that a colleague was troubled because his nine-year-old daughter was being accompanied home from school by Br Piperel, who would wait near the School for her. The girl’s father had spoken to the Brother but he maintained that he was not doing anything wrong. The nuns in the School, a local teacher and parents were also concerned about the situation, which was not confined to this particular child. The doctor told the Superior that the girl’s father was going to report the matter to the Gardaí if the situation continued, and the Superior sought an immediate transfer, which was granted. Br Piperel remained in the Congregation until his death nine years later.


In their Opening Statement, the Christian Brothers recorded the facts about this Brother in summary form, noting that he ‘was given the opportunity to explain himself and give his interpretation of what happened’. They commented: It is not clear why Br Piperel was moved around from institution to institution despite being a danger to the boys. There is no detailed account to indicate what discussion took place about the matter, nor any indication as to why such a decision was taken.


This Brother had a history of improper behaviour towards boys. The Provincial took the anonymous complaint seriously and he behaved appropriately in expressing his anxiety and urgently seeking a response from the Brother. The records did not indicate whether the Provincial notified the manager of any school to which he was subsequently posted.


Br Piperel was one of three Brothers mentioned by an ex-resident of Letterfrack, Noah Kitterick, who wrote to the Provincial of the Order in 1953 alleging serious sexual and physical abuse. Notwithstanding the information the Congregation had, which should have alerted them that the allegations of Mr Kitterick were consistent with this Brother’s history, no acknowledgement or investigation of Mr Kitterick’s complaints was made. It was asserted by the Congregation that the failure to deal with Mr Kitterick’s allegations was because of ignorance that such behaviour could possibly have occurred. However, the documented records make such an assertion implausible.


It is significant that this anonymous letter writer did not feel able to speak to the Resident Manager, Br Troyes, who was in charge during two other serious episodes of sexual abuse in Letterfrack.


The explanation offered by the Brother was entirely unsatisfactory. The Provincial’s conduct put the interests of the Congregation, the Institution and the Brother ahead of the welfare of the boys, which demanded that the issue of sexual abuse be confronted. The Congregation’s submission that ‘it is not clear why Br Piperel was moved around from institution to institution despite being a danger to boys’ was an inadequate response to a serious lapse on the part of the Leadership at the time. Br Piperel was not the only Brother transferred in such manner and circumstances.


In 1939 the Provincial again had to deal with a case of sexual misconduct, this time involving an ex-pupil who was subsequently employed in the School and was in charge of some of the boys. On 20th July 1939, Br Leveret, the Disciplinarian in Letterfrack, wrote to the Provincial, Br Corben, complaining about the sexual activities of Mr Russel: You may remember when you called to Letterfrack some time ago my drawing your attention to improper conduct carried on between the young man ... Since your visit, the individual concerned has repeated this misconduct and the attention of the Superior was directed to the matter by the Sub Superior. The latter incident happened towards the end of May. Since then no action has been taken to have the fellow removed. I am now relieving my conscience by again bringing the matter under your notice. If there be a repetition of the misconduct I shall feel that I did my part in trying to have things put right. I now consider that I am no longer obliged to make any further representation on the matter.


The Provincial wrote to the Resident Manager, Br Troyes, on 23rd July 1939 to ascertain what was going on: You will remember that when you were here some months ago I spoke to you about the undesirability of keeping [Mr Russel]–in your employment. You told me that though he had been admittedly implicated in immoral practices with the boys he was now reformed. I have quite recently been informed that he has since reverted to his immoral conduct and that a complaint to this effect was made to you last May. I shall be thankful if you will kindly let me have the particulars of the charge that was made against Russel and to what extent, if any, you found he was guilty.


The Sub-Superior, Br Vernay, replied on behalf of the Superior on 25th July 1939: I have known Russel for upwards of seven years and I know that whilst he was in the school as a pupil and that whilst he was out he bore an unblemished character all the time. He has possibly been guilty of a misdemeanour in his contact with the boys but this lapse would be due to an inadvertence rather than any serious notion of guilt on his part or on the part of the boys. The whole thing seems much exaggerated and points to a campaign against Russel rather than to a desire to correct an evil. Russel since being warned of the seriousness of the position, has become a member of the Sodality and was at Holy Communion on the first Sunday of the present month, Sodality Sunday.

  1. Letterfrack Industrial School, Report on archival material held at Cluain Mhuire, by Bernard Dunleavy BL (2001).
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  6. Prior Park was a residential school run by the Christian Brothers near Bath, England.
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  19. This document is undated, although the date ‘6th November 1964’ is crossed out.
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  32. See table at paragraph 3.20 .
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  36. This information is taken from a report compiled for the Christian Brothers by Michael Bruton in relation to Letterfrack in 2001.
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  58. Electricity Supply Board.
  59. See table at paragraph 8.21 .
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  61. Cross-reference to CB General Chapter where notes that this arrangement was with the agreement of the Department of Education.
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  65. Gateways Chapter 3 goes into this in detail.