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Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Sexual abuse in Letterfrack


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.


The Congregation pointed out in its Submission that there were no contemporaneous complaints against this Brother while he was in Letterfrack. However, he and another Brother were criticised in a Visitation Report in 1945 for spending ‘most of their time down about the Boys’ Dormitories, in their rooms and away from the House’ His letter suggested that this man had a strong attraction towards boys from before his profession as a Brother and it may be suspected that he had sexual relations with boys during his time in Letterfrack. The Brother said in his letter that he was on the point of not taking final vows, but a lack of courage prevented him from refusing, indicating that the problem he had with the vow of chastity was of long standing.


This Brother continued to teach in national schools for boys in Dublin until the mid-1980s. He left the employ of the Christian Brothers in the same month as he received his dispensation and took up a teaching position in a boys’ school in another county. He continued teaching in boys’ schools for the rest of his career but not in any Christian Brothers’ schools, although he had declared that it was his intention to take up another occupation instead of teaching because ‘I am scared of having to deal with innocent boys and be the cause of their committing sin’.


Br Leandre should not have been in a position to continue his teaching career after his dispensation. He openly acknowledged to the Congregation that he was a danger to boys, and the Department of Education should have been alerted to this danger by the Provincialate. No record of any such warning appeared in the Christian Brothers or the Department of Education files. He was appointed to a teaching post in 1954. The question arises whether a reference was given by the Christian Brothers or no reference was sought by the new school when this appointment was made. In either case, safety of children was disregarded and the Brother’s position was protected.


Br Destan served in Letterfrack for one year in the 1940s. He was then transferred to three different day schools in four years and stayed in his final school for four years. He was dispensed from his vows in the late 1950s.


Although the correspondence on file referred to the existence of other letters, the relevant available information was contained in a letter from one of the management team in St Helen’s Province to the Superior General. The writer enclosed two letters (which have not survived) from the Brother seeking a dispensation. The senior Brother who passed on the request told the Superior General: He seeks a dispensation from his vows and for the present I am not sure whether we should recommend it or not. He is by no means quite normal and as you will see from the correspondence had been in trouble with boys and got a canonical warning. He now seeks a dispensation for conscientious reasons but does not say what these reasons are. It is quite possible that he is in trouble again but I do not know.


The fact that this Brother was moved around so much and spent such short periods in the different schools, gives rise to suspicion. As noted in the above letter, he had a history of ‘trouble with boys’ and had received a Canonical Warning. On the occasion of a transfer to a school in County Wicklow, the Provincial warned the Superior ‘in strictest confidence’ to exercise vigilance, so that ‘with this vigilance perhaps the danger is more remote’.


This was one of the few examples where the Christian Brothers acknowledged in writing that a Brother who interfered with boys was dangerous and required vigilance. It is difficult to reconcile this awareness with cases that were documented in their own records. Men who were known to abuse boys were frequently sent to industrial schools where the opportunities for offending were greatly increased and the possibility of detection much reduced.

  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.