Br Noonan was Superior General of the Congregation from 1930 to 1949. He was anxious to reduce the reliance on corporal punishment and he admonished those who were intemperate in its use. There are some grounds for believing he did keep down its excessive use during his tenure of office. Letters written by him make it clear that the management of the Congregation knew excessive and frequent use of corporal punishment was a problem from the beginning of the period of this inquiry.
The severity of the punishment meted out to the boys to warrant this extraordinary reprimand was not disclosed, but Br Sebastien did not mend his ways and continued to punish boys excessively. Evidence of his subsequent conduct was found in a letter to him in 1937 from the Superior General, Br Noonan, who made it clear that he deplored severe physical punishment: In order to make your life more pleasing to God by fidelity to your obligations I wish to point out two rather serious faults mentioned in the suffrages I received about you. One is your severity to the boys. This is indefensible; it is in every way against the canons of the teaching profession. Punishment in a moderate way is allowed; but severity is altogether to be avoided. It injures the boy’s feelings and never produces real improvement. Let Christ be your Model; He was meek and kindness itself, yet He was the greatest Teacher the world has ever known. Do not imagine you have discovered better methods in harshness and severity.
In a similar letter in 1935, Br Noonan wrote to Br Jules6 in Artane: You incline to the harsh side in school both in language and in inflicting bodily pain. Pupils hate sarcasm and they have a keen sense of what is just and fair in punishment. If you would secure respect for yourself and for your teaching be kind and just towards your pupils. It is said you are a poor student yourself. Perhaps it is due to your failure to make preparation for your work as a teacher that your pupils are made to suffer doubly.
Br Beaufort8 was on the staff of Artane throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, having previously worked in Tralee,9 where he received a letter from Br Noonan, Superior General of the Congregation, warning him about his temper and the risk he posed of causing serious bodily harm to the boys: A still more dangerous weakness in you was mentioned in the suffrages. You are passionate in your dealings with the boys. In fact at times you show so little control of your temper that you are in danger of inflicting serious bodily harm on the boys by your manner of correcting them. Watch yourself and pray to God to give you some of His meekness and forbearance. Never punish a boy in any way except what is permitted by the Rule. Forgive easily the small failings of your pupils and in this way more good will be done than by harsh treatment.
The Investigation Committee heard evidence from complainants about Br Beaufort. A witness recalled an example of his temper, when he suffered the kind of serious bodily harm apprehended by Br Noonan. Br Beaufort thought that the boy was laughing at him in class and responded impetuously: he jumped straight at me, picked me up, threw me like a dog around the place. I hit desks, hit the floor. I landed after some time on the floor. The commotion of boys screaming had brought Br Quintrell,10 who was in 11 school, which was the next school, he flew in and pulled him off. I know I was unconscious, and I know to God that if it hadn’t been for him coming in, I do not think I would be here today, in all honesty. The attack was vicious. Moments later, he was apologising, crying.
In conclusion: Notwithstanding the opposition of the Superior General to excessive and intemperate punishment and clear guidance given to Brothers, the problem persisted. The Superior General expressed himself in the restrained, admonitory language of pastoral counselling rather than issuing direct instructions. In circumstances where every Brother in Artane was given a leather for corporal punishment of the boys, it is difficult to see how these excesses could be avoided. Restricting the leather to the Disciplinarian would have had a direct effect on preventing capricious and excessive punishment, and Br Noonan could have directed that this be done.
Br Sebastien served in Salthill in the early 1940s. Some three years prior to his posting to Salthill, when being given permission to take his final vows, Br Noonan, the Superior General, drew his attention to a fault which would require correcting, namely his severity towards boys. Br Noonan wrote of his excesses: This is indefensible; it is in every way against the canons of the teaching profession. Punishment in a moderate way is allowed; but severity is altogether to be avoided. It injures the boy’s feelings and never produces real improvement.
In order to consider what form the apology should take, the Leadership held a retreat in November 1997 and invited an Australian Brother, Br Paul Noonan, to attend. Br Noonan had been leader of the Melbourne Province in Australia when it responded to allegations of child abuse in Australian Christian Brothers’ institutions and had issued its own apology in 1993. Br Noonan outlined the impact of the apology and encouraged the Irish Provinces to follow suit. The Australian apology included the following: We have studied the allegations available to us, and we have made our own independent inquiries. The evidence is such as to convince us that abuses did take place, abuses that in some cases went well beyond the tough conditions and treatment that were part of life in such institutions in those days. While the extent of the abuse appears to have been exaggerated in some quarters, the fact that such physical and sexual abuse took place at all in some of our institutions cannot be excused and is for us a source of deep shame and regret. Such abuse violates the child’s dignity and sense of self worth. It causes psychological and social trauma that can lead to lasting wounds of guilt, shame, insecurity and problems in relationships.
The Superior General, Br Noonan, wrote to Br Jules congratulating him on taking his perpetual vows. In the course of the letter he stated: You incline to the harsh side in school both in language and in inflicting bodily pain. Pupils hate sarcasm and they have a keen sense of what is just and fair in punishment. If you would secure respect for yourself and for your teaching be kind and just towards your pupils. It is said you are a poor student yourself. Perhaps it is due to your failure to make preparation for your work as a teacher that your pupils are made to suffer doubly.