Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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Sexual abuse


Sr Violetta28 or Sr Carina selected the boys who were to spend the weekend. Typically, they would be picked up at the School by one of the guests staying in the Abbey, as Br Cosimo did not drive at the time. They would have their tea, play table tennis or board games, and then retire to bed at around 8.30 pm. The boys usually came in the winter months, when the guesthouse was less busy. Br Cosimo would take them for long walks, and he acquired toys and a bicycle for them. None of the other monks had any involvement with the children, as it was considered to be his project and therefore was his responsibility.


It appears that from the beginning other members of the Community were unhappy with the presence of young, boisterous and sometimes raucous boys roaming around the Abbey, unsettling the quiet, monastic atmosphere. Br Cosimo had a bedroom in the guesthouse. He said that he sometimes slept on a mattress on the floor of the bedroom where the boys slept if they were unsettled. He also agreed that he would lie on their beds to talk to them and settle them down at night. As far as he could remember it was always on the outside of the covers. If the boys were making noise or messing he would sometimes have to come from his own bedroom to settle them down and he would be dressed in either his habit or his pyjamas. He never touched them inappropriately and any touching was inadvertent and had no sexual element. He was aware that some of the boys who visited were emotionally disturbed and craved attention. It would have been usual for him to give the children a cuddle or a kiss on the cheek or forehead when they arrived in Melleray and when they left. He had no sense of awareness at the time that any of his actions were inappropriate or open to misinterpretation by the boys.


Some of the members of the Community complained to the Abbot Visitor during a Canonical Visitation to the Abbey, and the visits were discontinued in early 1975.


Sr Viviana was in charge of the group home known as Group Home B and said that she had had no concerns about Br Cosimo and the children until the issue was raised in public in 1996. In 1995 she had been interviewed by Sr Isabella in relation to the recollections of her time in Cappoquin. Sr Isabella kept notes of her interview and in those notes a suggestion was made that Sr Viviana had in fact some concerns about Br Cosimo at the time, enough concern to warrant her interviewing the boys and visiting Melleray Abbey to speak with a senior member of the community with whom she was friendly. When she was reminded about this she gave a vague account of what transpired. It appears that some time in 1974, one or more of the lay staff in the group home mentioned to her that the children were spending a bit of time with Br Cosimo and wondered if this was okay. She was satisfied that Sr Violetta and Sr Carina were happy but she agreed that the lay staff were uneasy about the boys going out. She said that when the concerns of the lay staff were expressed she had no sense of this having anything to do with sex. She interviewed the boys and talked about it and she said she personally felt there was nothing in it. The senior member of the community was a friend of hers and she used to talk to him. She remembered going to see him and expressing a concern that Br Cosimo was taking the boys and asked him what did he think. He told her that Br Cosimo was a ‘man’s man’ and she read nothing more into that other than that he was not very friendly with women. She said she thought no more about it. She does not recall when in 1974 this happened and had no recollection if there was any connection between her conversation and the visits of the boys being brought to an end in February 1975.


There was no proper assessment of Mount Melleray as an appropriate place to send children in care for weekend breaks. Staff in the institution were uneasy and expressed concerns about the visits. The way that Sr Viviana dealt with the staff unease about the visits showed her awareness of risk to the boys. The information that Br Cosimo was a ‘man’s man’ should not have given any reassurance. In the result, although she carried out some investigation by interviewing the boys and speaking to the Abbot, she did not properly assess the situation and remove the risk to the children that had clearly been identified. Sleeping arrangements were wholly unacceptable.


In the mid-1980s, a young boy, David, 29 who was in care in Cappoquin, was placed in part-time employment in a local hotel. He suffered from an intellectual disability, but was able to perform odd jobs there and he returned to the group home at night.


In the course of this employment, he was subjected to sexual assault by a chef working in the hotel.


The first person to discover the abuse was the boy’s mother, who reported it to his social worker. Around the same time, his house parent in Cappoquin became suspicious and spoke to the boy.


The social worker in her evidence did not recall being contacted by a member of the boy’s family, even though she had made a contemporaneous note of this contact. She did recall being contacted by the House Parent, who told her that a named boy was being sexually abused by a member of staff in a hotel where he was employed for work experience. She then informed the senior social worker, and a meeting was arranged with the Health Board’s solicitor to see what to do.


The Resident Manager, Sr Callida, and the house parent also attended this meeting. The witness said that part of the reason for the meeting was that the local Gardaí had been approached, but the boy was not willing to make a statement. The advice at the meeting was to contact the Garda Superintendent in the event of the boy not making a complaint. She did not speak to the boy about this matter, even though she was his social worker. She left that to his care worker, the House Parent, because she felt that only one person should speak to a child regarding matters like this.


They waited for the Gardaí to tell them how to proceed but she said that, in the meantime, the man involved had left the hotel employment. It appears from the documentation, however, that the employee did not leave the hotel until some time later, and was recorded as being an employee throughout this time. The boy also continued his employment in the same hotel during this time.


The social worker had known about the allegation of abuse earlier, from David’s mother. It appears from her records that she initially discounted the allegation, without checking either with Cappoquin or with David. She did not believe what she was being told about the abuse, as the relationship between the family members was difficult. She telephoned Sr Callida about it, who told her she would check it out but thought it was untrue. She herself did not speak to the child, nor did she speak to the care worker involved.


The House Parent, Ms Faughnan30 suspected at first that David was beginning to smoke and drink, but he denied it when confronted by her. She decided to keep a close eye on him. When she was cleaning his room, she discovered money, more than he should have had. He told her he got it from an employee of the hotel and it transpired, when she further questioned him, that he was being sexually abused in return for money.


The Resident Manager, Sr Callida, was away for the weekend when the boy revealed this to her. Ms Faughnan went straight to the Gardaí but they would not formally take a statement in the absence of the Resident Manager, who was David’s legal guardian. The House Parent then went to the hotel and confronted the employee, who admitted the abuse. She told him that she had spoken to the Gardaí and that he should leave his job, as she did not feel that the boy should have to leave because of his actions. She then contacted David’s social worker from the South Eastern Health Board and attended a meeting with the Health Board later. At that meeting, she was told that, as she had no witness to her conversation with the employee, nothing could be done. She did not feel she got any support from her superiors, and got the sense that she had overstepped her boundaries by the action she had taken. The following day, she observed that David was not at work and she was relieved that he had been kept at home. He approached her and said that he was not going to take the matter any further and was not pursuing it with the Gardaí. She questioned him as to why, and he told her he just did not want to. She noticed that he had a new radio. He told her that Sr Callida had given him a new radio and a new bicycle.


A second record of this allegation of abuse was contained in a memorandum written by a senior member of the Health Board: I visited the group home ... and learnt from the staff that David has been sexually abused by a fellow employee at his place of work. This has been reported to the local Garda, the staff in the home and myself, we are making further enquiries.

  1. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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  21. This is a pseudonym. Sr Lorenza later worked in St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny. See St Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny chapter.
  22. Mother Carina.
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