Mr Black gave evidence to the Investigation Committee, where he recalled receiving a phone call from Fr Stefano early one morning and being told that he wished to report a sexual assault on a pupil.
Mr Black accepted that his recollection of the detail of the conversation was not clear, but he recalled being told that Fr Stefano had caught one of their Brothers in bed with a boy, that the Brother was ‘now on a train out of his way out of the place’ and that Fr Stefano was very distressed.
Mr Black told the Committee that he told Fr Stefano to leave the matter with him, and he then contacted Mr Orange,41 the Secretary of the Department. He told Mr Orange exactly what Fr Stefano had relayed to him, and said that Mr Orange reflected on the matter for a few moments and decided that no further action was necessary, as the person responsible for the assault had been caught and was now removed from the School. He told the Committee that, as far as he could best recollect, that was what happened.
Mr Black said that he had not made a written record of the events. He accepted that he may have ‘slipped up’ in not making a note. He gave two reasons for not doing so: first, he had not been told to; and secondly, he understood the School would have kept a record in the daily register of the School which, under the terms of the Act, should record notable events to be laid before the Inspector.
Mr Black explained that, at the time, there were no guidelines in the Department as to how one should handle a complaint of this nature. He did, however, refer to a complaints procedure, which had been handed down by tradition in the Department, to deal with complaints from ‘the woman who was making the complaint or whatever it was’. It involved sending an investigator out to interview the people concerned.
When asked why this procedure was not set in motion in relation to the complaint against Br Bruno, Mr Black replied: Because the thing was finished, the crime was solved, the culprit was on his way off ... What more could I do at that time? I should have now have told the Guards, of course, you know, because it was a crime, but it wasn’t regarded in that light at that time.
He added that he did not report the matter to the Gardaí: I certainly didn’t inform the guards, as Mr Black was dealing with that situation and he said to me, "leave it with me". I left it with him. Maybe on hindsight that was wrong.
Mr Grey recorded that Fr Stefano was seriously concerned at these developments. He was anxious that the Department should be made fully aware of what was involved, and he would also be travelling to Clonmel, where he had arranged to meet a Chief Superintendent of the Gardaí in relation to the matter. He wrote that Fr Stefano then went on to tell Mr Grey in detail about the revelations in 1979 concerning Br Bruno, and the steps taken to remove Br Bruno from the Order and from contact with children. He also told him of his contact with Mr Black in the Department and that, in later years, Mr Black had confirmed to him that ‘he had passed the matter on to protect the Order and the school’. Fr Stefano did not know the identity of the person to whom Mr Black was referring.
Mr Pleece went back to his unit after this interview with the doctor and resumed his duties. He added: It was about a week later or maybe two weeks later, I am not 100% sure, that I met Sr Astrid in the yard. She told me that – what she said was the boys were saying things about me and that she wasn’t very happy and that she had – actually she had said – after the interview with Dr Black, that next morning, she did mention about that there was a complaint made but that she thought everything was going to be okay now because Dr Black had vindicated any allegation that was made.
Thomas Pleece agreed that the whole investigation conducted by Dr Black was a momentous occasion and he was worried. He had refused the older boys permission to smoke and that had caused problems but, because the complaint against him had come from Joe, a boy he had actually abused, he presumed the issue was sexual abuse: Well I had understood that that’s what he said to Sr Astrid because I was just putting two and two together when she said to me there was a complaint. There couldn’t be anything else because there was no physical abuse.
It was Thomas Pleece’s understanding that Dr Black had been asked by Sr Astrid to investigate allegations of sexual abuse, and had found no evidence against him. Dr Black did not spell out the complaint against him, and Thomas Pleece was afraid to ask.
Dr Black worked for the Brothers of Charity in Belmont Park between 1972 and 1976, and his job at the time involved the assessment of children with behavioural problems. This work brought him in regular contact with St Joseph’s, Kilkenny, and he knew Sr Astrid well. He estimated that he would visit St Joseph’s about 15 times a year. He had no recollection of being asked by Sr Astrid to conduct an inquiry or try to find out why some of the boys in Summerhill were unhappy. The mode of inquiry that Thomas Pleece said had taken place would have taken much longer than an afternoon visit. He could not have questioned more than one or two boys in that space of time. As far as he was concerned, he never carried out this alleged investigation.
On the question of the more casual inquiry suggested by Sr Astrid, he said that he would not have used the phrase that she ‘had nothing to worry about’. He would have said that he could find no evidence of the alleged offence. In addition, Dr Black said that he would most likely have written a report, which he would have left in St Joseph’s.
Although he visited a number of residential schools during his time as a psychiatrist, Dr Black said that he had never had a complaint of physical or sexual abuse from any child ever. He said that this was not surprising to him, as he did not really get to know the children well enough for them to trust him.
Sr Astrid was asked if she made Thomas Pleece aware in 1976 that Joe had made allegations of a sexual nature against him, as stated by him in his Garda statement. She replied, ‘No, that never – I have no recollection of that’. Thomas Pleece also said that Dr Black was brought in to conduct an inquiry. She was asked if she had brought Dr Black in to carry out an inquiry. She replied: Dr Black came regularly to St Joseph’s, he was just on his way to the – he called regularly to see us in St Joseph’s, to see had we any problems and usually he saw some of the girls. At that particular time the lads were inclined to run away a bit and come back to me and tell me he was tormenting them or at them. Well, I said wouldn’t – now he was come at that particular time and I said would you have a chat with the boys and see how they are, have they any special reason for running away.