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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Sexual abuse


In a memorandum of 10th December 1996, which was e-mailed to Mr Green, Mr Grey made a note of his meeting with the current Director of St Joseph’s, Fr Vito, on 4th December, when he was informed that the Gardaí had now interviewed over 70 boys who were in Ferryhouse in the late 1970s. Arising from the Garda inquiries, at least five boys had made allegations, all against the same person, a former member of the Order, Br Bruno, who had admitted the offences to the Gardaí in respect of at least four of the cases, and the file had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.


Mr Grey recorded that Fr Vito expected that ‘once the matter became public, St Joseph’s could expect a repetition of the Goldenbridge situation. The Order and the management were already planning for such an eventuality’. According to Mr Grey, Fr Vito was enquiring whether the Department would be in a position to assist the School, by covering the cost of legal representation for any member of staff interviewed by the Gardaí, the cost of delegating staff to handle anticipated enquiries and all contact with the media, and the cost of providing counselling services for staff who were likely to be traumatised by the developments. There was no mention of counselling for the victims.


Mr Grey noted that the more critical issue was the need for the School to be able to offer adequate assurance that the children now in the School were not exposed to the danger of abuse; this he saw as a difficulty, because ‘the main purpose of the meeting with Fr Vito was to discuss staff shortages and specifically, concern that staff and children are currently exposed because of inadequate staff cover’.


Mr Grey recorded that this was an issue that needed to be urgently addressed in advance of the abuse cases coming to public attention. He noted that the issue of staff shortages had been recognised for some time, but the Department had not made a case to the Department of Finance because the School authorities had failed to provide data to support the claim. At the meeting, it was agreed that the School would provide the information within weeks, and the Department would make the necessary approach.


While Mr Grey expressed concern about the need to be able to offer assurances as to the safety of boys currently in the School, there was no expression of concern for those who had been abused by the Brother. The urgency was to resolve the question of staff shortages, thereby avoiding the Department’s being exposed to serious criticism when the abuse cases became public.


Again, it is worth noting that this memorandum also makes no reference to the complaint against Fr Valerio. The concern was to deal with each problem as it arose, rather than to survey the broader picture.


Finally, there are two memoranda dated 19th and 20th December 1996 addressed to the Minister, from Mr Green and Mr Grey respectively. These appear to be memoranda briefing the Minister about the allegations against Br Bruno, and are identical save for the date and the name of their authors. They begin: Fr Vito ... contacted Mr Grey recently and advised that a number of former pupils of St Joseph’s Industrial School, Clonmel had made allegations of sexual abuse against Br Bruno to the Gardaí ...


These memoranda make no reference to the allegations against Fr Valerio, of which both Mr Green and Mr Grey had been aware since December 1994. They are somewhat misleading, insofar as they give the impression that their knowledge of Br Bruno’s abuse had come to them in the recent past, and as a result of the contact recently made by Fr Vito. They fail to refer to the fact that, in November 1995, Fr Stefano had informed them of Br Bruno’s activities.


According to the Department file, Mr Grey was first informed of a boy’s allegation against Br Sergio on 12th February 1997. In his notes dated 13th February 1997, Mr Grey recorded being told by Fr Stefano that the previous weekend a former pupil had called to Ferryhouse and indicated that he now intended reporting the incident to the Gardai, and that the Clonmel authorities had indicated that they would co-operate fully in any inquiry which might arise.


Though this information only came to the Department in 1997, the incident had occurred three years previously in 1994. The former resident had been working in Dublin and staying in a house maintained by the Rosminian Fathers as part of their aftercare programme. He went on a prolonged drinking spree and returned to the house. That night, he awoke to find Br Sergio ‘on top of him’. The young man became distressed and left the house, and the next day he went to a relative of Br Sergio’s to tell them about it. He did not take the matter further at that time, but moved to work in Clonmel. Mr Grey noted that the relative in turn told Fr Stefano, the Provincial, who immediately had Br Sergio removed ‘to a facility in ... the U.K. which caters for the rehabilitation of members of religious orders’. Two years after this incident, Br Sergio applied for dispensation from his vows and he left the Order at the end of that year.


There the matter rested until 1997, when the young man decided he would report the incident to the Gardaí. This investigation was recorded in File TN030 of the Department which was not included in the Department’s original discovery and was the subject of procedural hearings by the Commission in 2003. The Department dealt with the case with extremes of caution that prevented the matter being dealt with properly as a report of serious crime. The principal issue for the Department was how to deal with the scandal. The children who had been abused or put at risk were not considered by the Department. It took a further 17 years before the matter was reported to the Gardai and the offenders’ risk to children was addressed.


Two witnesses made allegations of serious sexual abuse by two staff members in the early 1970s.


A witness who was present in Ferryhouse from the late 1960s alleged that he was sexually abused by Brs Leone and Valerio. The abuse took place in Br Leone’s bedroom, when they would return to the School late after sporting tournaments. It continued for about two and a half years.


A complainant who was present during the early 1970s alleged that Fr Daniele sexually abused him. He said that Fr Daniele sent for him and, when he arrived, started asking him about his past and educational history. Up until this point, he thought of Fr Daniele as a nice, jolly man who was very encouraging to the boys. However, on this occasion in his room, Fr Daniele told the witness to take off his clothes, as he needed to examine him. The witness was surprised at this request and hesitated, at which point Fr Daniele became very angry and threatened to beat him.


Eventually, he complied with Fr Daniele’s request, and he alleged that he was raped by Fr Daniele.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
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  6. Set out in full in Volume I.
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  11. Br Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee; he lives abroad.
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  37. Latin for surprise and wonder.
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  50. Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Press Publishing Services, 2003), pp 399–405.
  51. Brid Fahey Bates, p 401.
  52. Cussen Report; p 53.
  53. Cussen Report, p 54
  54. Cussen Report, p 55
  55. Cussen Report, p 52.
  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.