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Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Sexual abuse in Letterfrack


Br Perryn was discussed in the earlier section on physical abuse, but his eventual removal from Letterfrack was as a result of sexual abuse there.


The Visitation Report of 1941 revealed a very serious case of sexual abuse by Br Perryn who was in Letterfrack since 1927 and also from 1913 to 1919. The Report did not contain details of the allegations but they were shocking enough to alarm the Visitor and to demand immediate action: Br Perryn has charge of the boy’s kitchen. He is dirty, untidy, almost repulsive. He is never present for Morning Prayers, but usually present for Mass, and Night prayers, but never or very rarely at any other exercise. The Brothers tell me that they have never seen him going to Confession, though he told me that he goes regularly to the local priests in the chapel. I don’t believe him. Superior tells me that his word can’t be relied on, and that he frequently lies. It is alleged that his relations with the boys are immoral, and if the statements that I have got from the boys and which I now submit to the Br Provincial are true, he has been living 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 boys any longer, and 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”. I think he suspects that it was only a ruse to get him out.


The Visitor got statements from the boys involved which were ‘so shockingly obscene, revolting and abominable that it is hard to believe them’. The boys said that they were afraid to reveal the malpractices through fear of the Brother. In addition to sexual abuse he was also violent towards the boys.


The Visitation Report continued: Unfortunately, for years there has been much immorality among the boys. Onanism and Sodomy have been frequent, and these practices take place wherever the boys congregate, in the play field, lavatories, schools, kitchen and in the grounds. Formerly the boys were allowed to go out by themselves and then these practices were frequent. Boys wandered away among the fields and roads and mountain and immoral practices were carried on. Accusations have been made against Br Perryn in this respect also, and my investigations seem to confirm the charges. I have got statements from the boys with whom he is alleged to have had immoral relations. They are so shockingly obscene, revolting and abominable that it is hard to believe them. I have sent him to the O’Brien on the plea of ill health as I could not conscientiously leave him in charge of the boys until the matter is dealt with. Boys got a Retreat last Christmas and since then things seem to have somewhat improved. I fear that the boys have been making bad confessions, and would recommend that Fr. C Counihan be requested to give them a Retreat at once, so that the boys may get a chance now that Br Perryn is away. Boys whom I interviewed told me that they were afraid to reveal the malpractices through fear of Br Perryn. It is alleged that he beats them, kicks them, catches them by the throat etc. and uses them for immoral ends. I found superintendence of the boys at times very slack. For instance, on many mornings there is only an old man ... in charge when the boys are getting up and dressing and washing. Many mornings there is no Br present when the boys are saying their prayers. [The man] says the prayers with them. Boys get up at 7 and attend mass at 7.30 Dublin time. House time is one hour later. The boys in the Junior Dormitory do not get up until 7.30 . There is no Br with these either at that time. A monitor is in charge though one of these monitors was recently carrying on immoral conduct with some of the juniors in the dormitory. The Superior has now arranged that a Brother takes charge of both dormitories when the children are getting up. I also found that no Br was in charge of the boys between 2.30 and 3.00 this is one of the times when it is alleged that Br Perryn was most active with his vile practices. The night watchman has no “punch clock” so there is no guarantee that he is doing his work of superintendence at night properly. He leaves each morning at 6.30 .


The Visitor also found out that the Superior, Br Troyes, had not been informed of the alleged immorality between the boys and Br Perryn. Br Jourdan,38 who was a teaching Brother, discovered what was happening with Br Perryn from the statement from one of Br Perryn’s victims. Br Jourdan told the Visitor that he did not tell the Superior as the Superior would not have believed him; he does, however, appear to have confided in another young Brother. When asked why he did not report it directly to the Br Provincial he explained that he only found out towards the end of March and expected the annual Visitation to take place any week thereafter. The Visitor left a list of 17 directions with the Superior, some of which were designed to improve the supervision of the boys.


The Superior General later commented on this matter in a letter to the Provincial: Br Jourdan’s handling of the Perryn revelations appears to me very indiscreet; he omitted reference to the Superior and took the young inexperienced lay Brother into his confidence.


Br Perryn spent 20 years in Letterfrack and a three-year period in Cork. He spent short periods in nine other institutions. During his earlier period of service in Letterfrack the Sub-Superior complained of this Brother’s ‘notorious’ severity toward the boys. A Visitation Report from 1919 commented: Owing to some trouble, which Br Director attributed chiefly to the woman cook at the monastery Br Perryn was freed from all duties connected with the boys kitchen and refectory, and is now in charge of the monastery kitchen ... Br Perryn does not associate much with the Brs of the Community and does not according to my information, care for his personal duties as contrasted with his charge of the boys refectory. My own impression is that a change to a non-residential school would be very desirable.


Br Perryn was described as being stern and distant and notoriously severe by Br Gardiner, another Brother in the Letterfrack Community, in a letter to the Br Superior dated 3rd April 1917.


Br Perryn was moved to Baldoyle in July 1919, a month after a Visitor had recommended that a move to a non-residential school ‘would be very desirable’.


The Christian Brothers in their Submission commented: It is difficult to explain how Br Perryn was reappointed to Letterfrack when he had been found to have been physically abusive during his first period in Letterfrack from 1913–1919.


A number of reasons were suggested by the Congregation for the return of Br Perryn: The authorities dealing with the case in 1919 were the General Council while subsequent to 1922 appointments were assigned by the Provincial Council which was established in 1922. The Provincial Council that came into existence in 1922 may not have been aware of complaints made against Br Perryn. No member of the General Council was appointed to the Provincial Council in 1922 and hence Brother Perryn was returned to Letterfrack in 1927 by authorities who had no knowledge of the problem.


Then they concluded: Although this incident of the abuse was dealt with as soon as it came to the attention of the Congregation Leadership, it is most unfortunate that the early warning signs had not been acted upon adequately.


When the Visitor was presented with information by one of the Brothers in Letterfrack, he investigated at once. He took statements from the boys involved, and was so horrified about the information that he took immediate action to remove the Brother. The Congregation described in the Opening Statement how a trial of this Brother had been arranged in 1941 which would have led to his dismissal if he was found guilty. The trial did not proceed because the Brother was permitted to apply for a dispensation from his vows which was granted. It is significant that the same Resident Manager was in charge during Br Perryn’s and Mr Russel’s time, namely, Br Troyes, who was in the School from 1935 to 1941. Br Perryn was the second Brother referred to by Noah Kitterick in his letter to the Provincialate in 1953. Noah Kitterick alleged sexual and physical abuse by this man when he was in Letterfrack from 1924 to 1932, which was during Br Perryn’s second period there. The Congregation must have been aware of this man’s history and yet they refused to engage with Mr Kitterick or to acknowledge his complaint in any way. The Congregation’s comment that ‘it is most unfortunate that the early warning signs had not been acted upon adequately’ failed to address the fundamental questions raised by this case. The fact that this Brother was able to abuse boys undetected and unreported for such a long period is indicative of a serious failing in the management of the school. To compound the seriousness of this case, even the Brother who discovered the abuse felt unable to report it to his Superior, waiting instead for the annual Visitation to disclose what he had heard. If a member of the Congregation felt that the Superior would not believe him, it is hardly surprising that the boys felt unable to speak up. This Superior was the same man who had refused to acknowledge the case of Mr Russel, referred to above. He was also the Resident Manager when an anonymous letter was sent to the Provincial regarding Br Piperel. The fact that the Brother had felt unable to report the matter to the Superior and had to go through the Visitor was not addressed. Instead, the Brother was criticised for his indiscretion in mentioning the matter to another Brother in the School. The documents do not record the 14 years of abuse by this man, which indicates that there was a higher level of sexual abuse in the Institution than was revealed by the evidence.


Br Leandre, who served in Letterfrack during the mid-1940s, was unhappy in religious life from before taking his final vows but feared ‘eternal damnation’ if he left. He had been reprimanded by the Provincialate for ‘deliberately making contact with seculars’ and informed that there was no good reason why he should be freed from his vows. His Superior ‘implored me not to leave’ and so he continued with his vocation and worked as a Christian Brother for 16 years.


Br Leandre first applied for dispensation in 1950, having sought advice from a Confessor who helped him prepare his case; he was refused, and he applied again in 1951 and in 1952, but was refused on each occasion. In his 1954 application, he spelled out the position more clearly and this had the desired effect: Furthermore I find it impossible to live up to the obligations of my vow of chastity. Repeated exhortation by confessors, despite my earnest cooperation, fail to rid me of this vice. They seemed to think that married life would provide the best cure, and personally I feel or rather have found out by experience that that would be the best thing for me. A virtuous female friend has more than once saved me from breaking my vow of chastity. Men friends, e.g. my confreres, have no influence over me; rather I am essentially a husband. For conscience reasons, I intend when I leave the brothers, to take up some other occupation other than teaching. However, I am leaving this decision, in the hands of the confessor, who prompted me to write this petition. He is of the opinion that when I will be no longer bound to celibacy, this matter will right itself, though personally I am scared of having to deal with innocent boys and be the cause of their committing sin ... I should mention, that, though I always wanted to leave, I always feared doing so, because during my formative years, I was often told that terrible calamities overtook those who returned to the world, followed by eternal damnation, in consequence of their “betrayal”. In proof of this, a quotation from Sacred Scripture was often recited “he that puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of Heaven” thus it was I was convinced that I should not leave, no matter how I felt about it. I should mention that when I presented my case to the Sacred Congregation in 1950, it was a case that had been considerably watered down by a confessor, so as not to, as he said, incriminate myself unduly. I have now stated the reasons, which before God, prompt me to seek a dispensation.

  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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  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.
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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.