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Chapter 2 — Upton

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Sexual abuse


He was discovered by Br Alfonso to have been sexually abusing boys during his posting in Ferryhouse, where he had been transferred following his term in Upton. A letter from the Provincial to the Superior General in the mid-1960s reported the discovery, and stated that the Brother had been transferred to Kilmurry for the time being. The letter said: that there were two members of his community who had been rather indiscreet with the boys and owing to some talk there and admiratio45 he wished to have the two changed sine mora.46 One was Br Mario47 ... and went to Clonmel [Ferryhouse] at the request of Fr Alanzo ... He admitted his faults and went to Kilmurry on 19th pro tem and about the middle of January Fr Pietro48 will find suitable work for him in the office there – at Drumcondra and so will accept him with the debite cautele49 ... You will fully appreciate in such circumstances how instant action is often necessary and the changes made are a cover up in some respects.


He wrote again, a month later, stating that: I hope you got two previous letters I sent ... the second one was about the changes of the brothers I was compelled to make owing to two who failed in fidelity to the sacredness of their work amongst the boys.


Fr Lucca replied a few days later. He wrote: The distressing news ... shows that the Rector is very attentive and decisive. I approve the changes you had to make and I hope that the guilty ones are convinced of the serious wrong they have done and are repentant. All this causes me great sadness especially [when I consider] the elder of the two. We really must work out our salvation ‘in fear and trembling.’ I am well aware of the Brothers whom you have had to change in these painful circumstances and I pray that the Lord will help them in their new positions ... I am sorry for you too who have had to make all these urgent and painful changes. Let us pray the Lord that nothing else of the like will occur.


Br Mario was transferred to a Rosminian School for the Blind, where he remained until his death over 10 years later.


Transferring a Brother with this history of sexual abuse to a school for blind children was reckless and inexplicable.


A complainant, who was in Upton from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, made a complaint about Br Mario. He alleged that Br Mario pinned him up against a table in the kitchen, and the complainant said he was conscious of Br Mario’s arousal. This happened on a number of occasions and only ceased when the complainant threatened to tell Fr Eduardo, the Resident Manager: That man annoyed me week in week out for four or five weeks, commencing when I was working in the kitchen. Now, he knew I wanted to go on holidays, that man used to have me in tears. He would come up behind my back when I would be scrubbing pots, and I mean scrubbing pots now, and he would put his arms around me and he would be saying to me “I don’t know will I let you go on holidays or not”. He used to force me up against the sink. Believe me he used to have an erection on him. This was going on for weeks ... He used to annoy me every day of the week for weeks until I threatened to tell Fr Eduardo on him. I told him to do what he wanted. I got the holidays anyway. When I threatened him with Fr Eduardo he didn’t come near me any more.


The question arises why this Brother was not removed, or even given a formal Canonical Warning. The Provincial expressly acknowledged the main purpose of transferring Brothers who had been abusing when he said ‘the changes made are a cover up in some respects’. The Rome file: Br Gilberto50


Br Gilberto joined the Rosminian Order in the early 1940s, and he took his perpetual vows in the mid-1940s. He was in Ferryhouse in the mid-1940s for 10 months and again in the early 1950s. He was sent to Upton in the mid-1950s in an administrative role.


His personnel card recorded that he was moved from Upton to Kilmurry before the end of the year in which he moved to Upton. The words ‘during year’ follow but are crossed out, and the words ‘left on this date: and later was dispensed from vows’ inserted. His service in Upton, accordingly, was very short, extending from his transfer there, which in the normal way would have happened in September. This Brother was another alleged sexual abuser who was reported by Br Alfonso.


The actual reason for his sudden removal from Upton and his quitting the Order was made perfectly clear by the evidence of Br Alfonso to the Investigation Committee. The reasons for his departure can be further deduced from a letter by the Superior General, Fr Montes to Fr Orsino, the Provincial in Ireland, although the details are obscured by circumlocutions: As regards the latest painful news of Gilberto, keeping precedents in mind and his own spontaneous remark dating from last Spring about leaving the Institute, I now think that the best advice to offer him is to ask for a dispensation. He must realise that, after what has happened at Upton, he can no longer enjoy the confidence of Superiors and could not be happy in the Institute. If he agrees to what is suggested, tell him to write his petition on a large size sheet, as big at least as the one I am writing on, and to say that he is asking for a dispensation because he feels himself unequal to the obligations of a religious.


It seems that the Brother was induced to apply for his dispensation, and the request was in fact granted, but the Superior General was unhappy about the form of the request from Br Gilberto, and he gave advice to the Provincial about how to deal with cases like these: He [Br Gilberto] included a petition for dispensation that is worthless because he concludes saying that he is seeking it “because I have been requested to do so”. His complaint is: “I have been condemned without being informed of the nature of the charge against me. Nor have I been called upon to state my case”.


Fr Montes went on to give advice about procedure ‘in cases like these’: Even though the situation was difficult and dangerous, Fr Fabiano should have spoken with Gilberto before sending him to Kilmurry. He could have told him it was in his best interests to be sent away from Upton for the time being in order to put an end to gossip. I feel for Fr Fabiano because he was in a delicate situation, but experience has taught me in cases like these one has to let the person accused have his say. Otherwise, he will always be able to argue that he was condemned without being given the opportunity to defend himself.


There is a lack of explicit detail in the correspondence. Because the issue of sexual abuse was a sensitive one, the Rosminians developed a means of discussing it that obscured the facts in vague and coded language. The reason why an abuser left one institution and went to another was concealed. Such secrecy not only lessened the likelihood of the reporting and discovery of any further abuse in the new setting, but also reduced the awareness of sexual abuse as a major issue among the Community as a whole. The safety of boys in Upton, where this Brother had so recently served prior to his being discovered, were entirely ignored. Even though the petition for dispensation in this case was considered ‘worthless’, the authorities were nevertheless in a position to achieve the desired outcome of the quiet departure of the offender from the Order. It would appear that no investigation took place as to how many children might have been abused or how they might have been affected.


The contents of the Rome files illustrates the importance of good archives. Not merely did the files help to establish, through contemporary documents, the extent of sexual abuse, they also afforded corroboration of many of the allegations made by complainants. From the Rome files, the Committee also learned about attitudes to the sexual abuse of children at that time, and how known abusers were dealt with by the Order. They proved invaluable sources of information. An institution without good records is one without a memory. It cannot learn from the past, so the management has to deal with each case of abuse as a new problem. Failure to keep records increases the risk of more children being abused, and of the discovery of abuse being mismanaged.


Three members of the Order gave evidence. Two of these denied any knowledge of sexual abuse as an issue in Upton. The remaining individual, Br Alfonso, gave detailed information about sexual abuse that he had discovered and the action he had taken on foot of those discoveries while he was Prefect in Upton and Ferryhouse between the early 1950s and early 1970s.

  1. Quoted in Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Publishing Press, 2003), p 74.
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  5. 1933 Rules and Regulations for the Certified Industrial Schools in Saorstát Éireann, Rule 12.
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  28. Latin for curiosity, astonishment, surprise.
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  39. Latin for in a class of its own.
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  41. Latin for with a boy.
  42. Latin for with boys.
  43. Latin for As spoken.
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  45. Latin for curiosity, astonishment, surprise.
  46. Latin for without delay.
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  49. Latin for due caution.
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  54. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
  55. Records exist for only 19 of the 23 years.
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