Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 2 — Upton

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Sexual abuse


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.


Br Alfonso said that, when he was Prefect, he was responsible for identifying to his Superiors seven sexual abusers operating in Upton. He confirmed they were as follows: Br Fausto; Br Constantin; A named night watchman; An unnamed lay teacher; Br Mateo; Br Mario, Br Gilberto.


He said that all of these individuals were removed from the School.


Br Alfonso said he reported these individuals to his then Superiors, Fr Fabiano and Fr Alanzo. Fr Orsino, Provincial of the Order, was also involved in the reporting of one of these individuals. He said that, when he reported these people, he was never given any indication about whether they had any previous history of abuse: These things were not tossed around among the Superiors nor were they ever mentioned at a table at any time, they were always kept secret.


Despite the number of individuals who were found to be sexually abusing children in Upton, Br Alfonso told the Committee that there was never any instruction given to watch out for possible abuse and abusers, nor were there guidelines on how to deal with such activities.


What seems clear is that, following his discovery of some sexual abusers in Upton, Br Alfonso went on a crusade to purge ‘immorality’ amongst the boys themselves. His evidence suggests that, once he revealed the identity of the abusers amongst staff members, the opportunity was afforded to boys to come forward and to tell him if they were being abused by fellow pupils. This version of events is in stark contrast with the evidence from witnesses, some of whom describe being falsely accused of ‘scamping’, a term used in the School to describe masturbation.


One witness recalled an incident when another pupil received a postal order. The boy was showing the postal order to the complainant and had his arm around his waist. Br Donato came along and accused them of interfering with each other. They were taken into the washroom and told to take off their pants. They were then told to hug each other, while Br Donato leathered the two of them. This went on for about an hour, until a Brother came along and they were sent off.


Another witness recalled that Br Alfonso and Br Donato were totally obsessed with sex and the boys. They were super-vigilant and constantly accused him of masturbation and other sexual activity. He alleged that he was often beaten for the entire day, as the Brothers took turns to extract a confession of masturbation from him. He also alleges that the Brothers beat a confession from another boy who lied and gave his name up to the Brothers. The name he gave appears in the punishment book.


He described how these two Brothers had regular purges, and the boys called them ‘hobbles’.


During the cross-examination of Br Alfonso, it was suggested to him that the punishment book could be divided into two sections. As was discussed above, the first period of the book is from 1952 to 1954. The second period from 1954 to 1963 showed a marked difference in the type of offence being punished, in that the almost exclusive reason for punishment was immorality. He was asked to explain this shift in emphasis of punishment, and he failed to give a precise answer. His counsel attempted to ‘explain’ what Br Alfonso was saying: By his actions in reporting the activities of the community and the lay person, he brought a situation out into the open where the boys were now more comfortable coming forward. So the boys who had been allegedly victims of each other were now coming to Br Alfonso to report incidents between themselves as opposed to between themselves and the community. So that those things had now become more open, there was an atmosphere of honesty coming out that these things were no longer taboo, that there was a way to get some action.


Br Alfonso also said that the reason why there was so much punishment for immorality in the punishment book during his time was due to an increasing awareness that sexual behaviour was unacceptable. He said: All I was saying is that somehow or another it must have in some way leaked out to the children that this is not acceptable, this standard. I think my attorney here spelt that out, that the boys realised that and then started to come to me and say, “this is what is going on here with us, these boys are molesting and will you stand up for us”. If that makes sense, I don’t know, but I cannot explain it any other way.


Br Alfonso gave evidence that the punishment that was administered was normally three or four slaps on the hand, or 10 strokes on the seat of the pants for more serious offences. The punishment book recorded that 20 strokes were administered to a boy for sexual impropriety and, on other occasions, 15 strokes were administered. When asked to explain why he said 10 was the maximum delivered, which was clearly incorrect, Br Alfonso explained that the severity of that particular punishment arose from a highly unusual situation. He said: I am saying that in these events we are talking about, boys wouldn’t be one on one in this situation. They would be like animals among one another, everybody would be involved in it, young boys and all. It was having whatever, I don’t know what you would like to call it, an orgy, I don’t know what it would be. Certainly it wasn’t a normal one to one thing. That is all I can say.

  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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