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Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Sexual abuse in Letterfrack


The matter was referred to the Provincial who interviewed the offender, who admitted to ‘immoral dealings’ with boys over a period of three months. Br Jean43 was removed from Letterfrack. The Provincial reported that it appeared that the Brother had been initiated into this type of activity whilst he was a student in the Christian Brothers’ Novitiate. The Superior of the College had at that time carried out an inquiry into homosexual activity there that resulted in a number of the boys being sent away. This offending Brother was one of a number who were allowed to remain and who went on to become Brothers.


This Brother was sent to Letterfrack in the knowledge that he had a history of sexual activity. The Superior in Letterfrack should have been notified of relevant history once it was decided to assign the Brother, but there is no evidence that this was done.


The Congregation commented in its Opening Statement that the way this matter was dealt with ‘demonstrated how quickly the authorities acted when a complaint was brought to their attention’.


The Superior did not reveal to the other Brothers the reason for Br Jean’s sudden departure. Br Sorel who served in Letterfrack at the time was angry: At the end of the year we were told that he was fired home, we were only told then by the Manager that he had been abusing two boys ... who used to go to the sacristy every night to prepare for the Mass for the next day for the Priest. I didn’t know at the time, none of us knew at the time what had been going on between himself and the two boys, ... the then Manager had said it was his duty to keep it secret and confidential. I was surprised last week when I heard somebody saying that everybody knew it, they didn’t. The boys didn’t know it because I would have found out easily from a number of the lads if that had happened.


While this witness believed that nobody knew the reason the Brother left, the evidence of former residents was that boys did know about Br Jean’s activities. One recalled hearing that Br Jean would take boys up to his room at night to give them extra lessons: Now, you hear rumours, but we knew that Br Jean left Letterfrack because he was abusing boys. We knew that. I knew some boys in particular who – they didn’t tell us, you just knew. How do I know? Okay, in the School we talked amongst ourselves, “why is he gone, why was he taking such a boy to his room at night pretending to be giving extra school lessons?” Now this is where I think it came from. It was fairly common knowledge amongst the boys that Br Jean was dismissed from the School because he was sexually abusing boys.


Another resident in the School from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s stated that he heard rumours concerning Br Jean’s removal, in particular that he had been removed for abusing boys in the sacristy.


A complainant who was resident during the 1950s gave evidence to the Committee that he was sexually abused by Br Jean during his time in Letterfrack. He said that Br Jean would remove him from his bed at night and take him to his own bedroom, where Br Jean would kiss and fondle him and do “various acts that should not be done”. He said that it was part of Br Jean’s duties to act as night watchman and that enabled him to do this. The complainant stated that this occurred on average twice a week for a number of weeks, but that he was constantly in fear of Br Jean coming for him at night and as a result began to wet the bed. He further stated that he never informed anyone of the abuse at the time, as Br Jean told him that he would never be allowed to leave the Institution were he to do so. Br Jean, he stated, would also give him sweets and toys to ensure his silence. The complainant stated that he never heard any talk amongst the boys in respect of Br Jean engaging in sexual abuse. He said that he never spoke to them about it nor did anyone ever mention anything to him. Although he had no recollection of Br Jean leaving Letterfrack, he was in fact removed some weeks before the complainant’s own discharge.


There was no Visitation Report for 1954 and there was no mention of his departure from Letterfrack in the annals of the Community. This was surprising, as the annals documented all the movements of Brothers in the Community, including those on short visits to Letterfrack and any vacations or retreats taken by permanent members of staff.


In its response to the statement submitted to the Investigation Committee by the witness cited above, the Congregation said as follows: [The complainant] makes serious allegations of sexual abuse against a “Brother Jean” which he says began “after about a week in the school”. This abuse is said to have occurred at night in Brother Jean’s bedroom. It has been very difficult for the Congregation to properly investigate this particular aspect of [this] complaint. Brother Jean left the Christian Brothers in 1954 and the Congregation is unaware of his present whereabouts. If the abuse claimed by [the complainant] did occur it is a matter of sincere regret for the Congregation. However, I do believe that if [the complainant] had made a complaint at the time, appropriate action would have been taken. The Congregation does not and would not have condoned abuse of the kind alleged by [the complainant] in his statement.


As was customary with all such responding statements, this one was signed by a Christian Brother, in this case Br Sorel, who was quoted above as having been angry that he was not informed earlier of the reason why Br Jean was removed and that he found out only at the end of the year. Br Sorel also stated that in preparing the response he had liaised with members of the Leadership Team, who furnished him with relevant information from the Congregation’s records. The Brother who was the Superior of Letterfrack at the time of the departure of Br Jean was available for consultation when the response was prepared. It was unfortunate in these circumstances that the response statement did not give the reason for the departure of Br Jean. In the result, the Committee was given an inaccurate statement by the Congregation, and the victim of Br Jean’s activities was given the impression that his account was not believed.


In its Final Submission to the Committee following the investigation into Letterfrack the Congregation stated: On the basis of its own records and of the evidence of [the complainant], the Congregation accepts that Br Jean was involved in some level of sexual abuse. The documentation that the Congregation has in respect of Br Jean is extremely limited, (and all of it has been given to the Commission) but it is clear that Br Jean was removed once the abuse was detected.


The assertion by the Congregation that the boy should have reported the abuse at the time ignored the difficulties that boys and even Brothers had in reporting sexual abuse and tended to place responsibility on the victim.


Br Adrien served in Letterfrack for one year in the late 1950s. A proposal by the Provincial to revoke the Brother’s transfer away from Letterfrack provoked an extraordinary plea from the Resident Manager: Your letter cancelling Br Adrien’s change came as a great surprise and shock to me. I hope you will forgive my candour in saying that I would prefer to have no one at all for the boys’ kitchen than to have the constant strain of watching and worrying about him. It is impossible to keep one’s eye on him. Every time he gets my back turned he is in the kitchen and goodness knows, there are enough difficulties and worries to contend with, without having to think of him every minute and hour of the day. The position regard the Monastery kitchen is regrettable but unfortunately he has not got proper control in the boys’ department either. In my opinion he is not suitable at all to handle young boys and it is positively dangerous, especially in these times, to have him looking after them. A weakness in discipline in this important department will have a very detrimental effect on the boys’ behaviour and will add to everyone’s difficulties and will seriously affect the tone of the school. Taking the above considerations into account and also your own personal knowledge of Br Adrien, I ask you seriously to reflect on the harmful effect his staying here is bound to have, and I entreat you to permit the transfer to go through as originally arranged.


The Provincial replied that the letter was very distressing, and he thought Br Adrien deserved a Canonical Warning for his disobedience and acceded to the request that his transfer should go ahead. Br Adrien was transferred to St Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys in Cabra, and was subsequently transferred to a number of different schools, including Artane. He was back in Letterfrack in the late 1960s for a short period.


Whilst the nature of the conduct that made this Brother ‘dangerous’ and ‘having a detrimental effect on the behaviour of the boys’ was not set out, the implication was clear. No witnesses complained of being abused by him in Letterfrack but, during his subsequent career in Artane, he was accused of sexual abuse of boys. He was urgently removed from Artane when the Chaplain reported complaints by a boy to the management. He appears to have received no Canonical Warning for his behaviour in Artane. Following a period of work in St Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys in Cabra, he was once again dispatched to Letterfrack. After leaving Letterfrack for the second time in 1968, Br Adrien worked in a number of locations before he returned to Baldoyle in the late 1990s.

  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.