The most revealing evidence about sexual abuse came from Br Bruno,21 who worked as a Prefect in Ferryhouse in the latter half of the 1970s, and who was convicted in 1999 of a number of counts of serious sexual assault on four young men when they were boys in Ferryhouse.
Br Bruno’s account described how he committed systematic and repeated abuse of boys during the four years that he was a Prefect in Ferryhouse. He gave candid evidence at a private hearing about his modus operandi, how he was able to escape detection (which surprised even himself), and how he was able to frighten boys and prevent them from reporting him or talking about him. He was frank about the nature of his acts, the circumstances in which he committed them, and the extent of what he did.
Br Bruno was arrested in 1996 and charged with counts of buggery, indecent assault and assault occasioning actual bodily harm, in respect of four people who had been in his care at Ferryhouse between 1975 and 1979. He was the Brother in charge of ‘A’ group comprising some 36 to 40 boys aged between nine and 11 years. He appeared before the Circuit Criminal Court in 1999, pleaded guilty to the offences charged and was sentenced to a term of nine years imprisonment with the last three suspended.
Br Bruno’s activities as a perpetrator of sexual abuse in Ferryhouse came to light in the late 1970s, following which he was dismissed from the Order, but the case was not reported to the Gardaí until the mid-1990s.
The disclosure occurred when two boys who had absconded from the Institution were hitching a lift. The Resident Manager, Fr Stefano, saw them on the road, picked them up and brought them back to Ferryhouse. As they travelled back to the School, one of the boys broke down, and told Fr Stefano that Br Bruno ‘was at him’. This had an immediate impact on Fr Stefano and, when they got back to the School, he brought the boy to his office, cautioned him about the seriousness of what he had said, and sought details from him. The boy stuck by his story and said that another boy would confirm what he was saying. He said that Br Bruno had started to abuse him when he was in his unit, but that the abuse had continued when he was transferred to the senior group.
The other boy was sent for, and Fr Stefano described how ‘the two boys sat in my office and unfolded to me a most horrific story of what had been happening to them’. The boys told Fr Stefano story after story of cruelty and abuse. The worst, as far as he was concerned, was the abuse of one of the boys during the Pope’s visit to Ireland in 1979. The whole school went to see the Pope in Limerick, except for one of the two boys who was not allowed to go because of his record of absconding. Br Bruno volunteered to stay back and supervise him. The boy told Fr Stefano that, when the rest of the boys left, ‘this Brother came and raped me in my bed’.
Fr Stefano said that he had never suspected Br Bruno; indeed, he found him a very enthusiastic member of staff. His dedication to the work seemed unquestionable: ‘this was a man who seemed to be the last in bed and the first up every day’. Nevertheless, when the allegation was made, Fr Stefano began to see it all very differently: ... the picture that comes to mind always to me is of a huge jigsaw puzzle that you are reasonably happy with but that there is a piece missing and while I had no suspicions of him, the minute those words were spoken, it was as if somebody had put the final piece in the jigsaw and all these activities that he was involved with started to make sense.
He gave the example of an earlier discussion, at which one of the other Prefects said that a boy had heard someone in the dormitory the night before, and Br Bruno had volunteered to check it out.
The same night that the boys disclosed the abuse, Fr Stefano drove the short distance to Glencomeragh to report to the Provincial. He returned to the School where he met Br Bruno the next day. Br Bruno initially denied the allegations but, when he was told that the boys were willing to confront him, he confessed. Br Bruno left the School and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Dublin. Shortly afterwards, he was dismissed from the Order.
Br Bruno’s career in Ferryhouse began in the mid-1970s and he became a Prefect, which he continued to be until the events of 1979. As Prefect, he was in charge of ‘A’ Group consisting of 36 to 40 boys aged between nine and 11 years.
Br Bruno sexually abused numerous boys during his time in Ferryhouse. He had easy access to and exclusive control over his group, who were located in the junior dormitory, which was separate from the other residents and Brothers. This dormitory was located on the second floor of the east wing. Br Bruno’s own room was located off the boys’ dormitory. These arrangements had been put in place in the late 1960s, to replace the old system of two large dormitories housing junior and senior boys. The boys were now separated into age groups in three smaller dormitories, each accommodating up to 80 boys.
Br Bruno’s preference was for pubescent boys, whom he selected with considerable care. Under the pretence of checking whether they had wet their beds, he approached their beds at night. He would fondle their genitals to see if they became aroused; weekends were more suitable times, because there were fewer people around.
Br Bruno began his evidence to the Committee with some initial hesitation; he began to imply that he had pleaded guilty to offences he had not committed. He said: I fondled them in their bed ... It began when I was moved to the A unit, when I was checking beds at night time for wetting ... Just by touching it started ... The boys didn’t mind, they didn’t stop me ... I knew it was wrong but I continued ...
The Chairperson then spoke to him about the need for him to give a full and honest account, without trying to recant or change evidence accepted in court. After a brief adjournment for legal consultation, the hearing resumed, and Br Bruno gave a very different account of events. He now said: [That boy] was one of the boys that I pleaded guilty to in my criminal trial ... I pleaded guilty to buggery. I did take him into my bed and penetrated but not in a full extent but I did bugger, I did penetrate him ... I told the Gardaí that I had abused [the other boy] ... I took him to my bed and I penetrated him ... [The third boy], I pleaded guilty to fondling, abusing him in that way.
A number of reasons as to how the abuse continued were explored with Br Bruno. He agreed that, in his early days as Prefect, he frequently used corporal punishment: Yes, I hit the boys, I struck the boys. I found certainly at the beginning I had no other way of keeping control, keeping order, keeping day to day things running.