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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Sexual abuse


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.


Fr Daniele then gave him some chocolate and sent him on his way. When he went to bed, he awoke in pain and noticed that there was dried blood on his leg. He said that this happened on a few occasions. Fr Daniele would send for him in the evenings or ask himself if he bumped into the witness.


The witness accepted that the Rosminians had a very high opinion of Fr Daniele but stressed that ‘my memory is far different’.


1.Sexual abuse by religious was a chronic problem in Ferryhouse throughout the relevant period but the full extent cannot be quantified. Some of the abuse is verifiable by contemporary documents or admissions. 2.During most of the years between 1952 and 1988, there lived and worked in Ferryhouse a member or members of the Rosminian Order who at some time were found to have engaged in sexual abuse of boys. In more than ten of those years, there were at least two abusers present and in at least two different years there were three abusers there. 3.Complainant witnesses from every era, from the early 1940s onwards, testified about the sexual abuse of children in Ferryhouse. The Rosminian Institute acknowledged that not all of those who were sexually abused have come forward as complainants, whether to the Commission, to the Redress Board, or to An Garda Síochana. In their Final Submission to the Investigation Committee they wrote, ‘We know that some boys were sexually abused who have made no complaint to the Commission or otherwise, but have spoken to us about it’. 4.The Rosminian authorities discovered that some members of their Order had been abusing children, but their response was wholly inadequate. When sexual abuse was detected, the Order sought to cover up the situation by removing known abusers and transferring them to other institutions. 5.It was only when the Gardaí had already become aware of allegations that the Rosminians reported abuse to the Gardaí in 1995. 6.At no stage did the Rosminians query whether other boys had been abused when a known abuser was discovered. 7.The impact of sexual abuse on the boys themselves was not a consideration on the part of the Rosminians. 8.The Department of Education did not act responsibly when an allegation of sexual abuse was made to it in 1980 and distanced itself from the allegations, seeking to minimise the publicity and scandal which might arise for the Department and the Order. 9.The approach taken by the Department was an ad hoc one. There was no clear policy on the management of sexual abuse.

Neglect and emotional abuse


A senior member of the Rosminian Order told the Investigation Committee: That’s my belief that every child that was ever in this situation was abused in some way, emotionally, physically or whatever the case may be and you would say that we were part of that because we didn’t stand up at the time and probably say so.


This statement goes further than simply to admit that abuse occurred. It states that the kind of institutional life that was made available in Ferryhouse until the late 1970s was in itself abusive. Boys lived in a system of military-style regimentation, and endured a ruthless regime of control by corporal punishment. The objectives were to reform them, and mould them into obedient and subservient citizens, but the system did not allow for the fact that they were young children with emotional and developmental needs. It offered them the cruel and austere life of a nineteenth-century institution that had survived largely unchanged into the third quarter of the twentieth century. It had few caring adults who could show affection, compassion and sympathy. The rare staff member who did treat them as individuals, and offered them kindness and support, were singled out by former residents for special mention. For the rest, the adults were there to control the children, and the children had to look to each other for emotional and social support.


Whether the boys had been orphaned, or sent in by the courts for juvenile criminal behaviour, they were dragooned into the same system, where the needs of the Institution dictated the way of life. They were forced to adapt to a lifestyle that did not meet their special needs, and if they rebelled they were always seen as trouble-makers rather than unhappy children.


A senior Brother, who served as a Prefect in Ferryhouse in the 1960s, explained how the presence of orphans and delinquents was a major problem in the institutions: Well, you see, after all, I remember somebody saying to me that it was a good thing for the orphans to be exposed to the delinquents, that could make no absolute sense to me whatsoever ... there is an example of what I’m speaking about, of all the children being lumped together in one recreational facility, you see. You’re coming from different places, orphans are coming from different places. Orphans needed entirely different treatment to delinquents.

  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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  19. This is believed to be a reference to the Upton punishment book.
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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.