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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s


Peter Tade died whilst serving the four-year sentence imposed on him by the Circuit Criminal Court in 1999. He had pleaded guilty to seven counts of indecent assault against three former residents of St Joseph’s and Gerry, the boy who had made the complaint in 1977.


Peter Tade had given a full statement to the investigating Garda in 1995, in which he had described being sexually abused by a family friend at seven years of age. In the mid-1960s, whilst working in a boys’ club in England, he had first abused a boy of 14 years. He was over 30 at the time. He had abused more children after that and, in 1967, took his first job in childcare. He described a series of incidents of abuse of young boys aged from about 11 to 14. He worked in a number of residential homes, but his activities were never uncovered.


He returned to Ireland to take up the job in Kilkenny in 1976, and his pattern of abuse continued. He listed a number of boys that he had sexually abused in Kilkenny and a number of boys he had physically abused.


After his encounter with Sr Astrid, he returned to England and continued his abusive behaviour until, one day, a boy he had been abusing for over two years finally told the housemaster of the school he was working in. He denied the abuse and was acquitted by Middlesborough Crown Court in 1988.


By 1995, he had moved back to Ireland and when confronted by the investigating Garda he admitted abusing boys in Kilkenny.


When Peter Tade was sentenced, the Sister of Charity issued a statement as follows: the first complaint we received about Peter Tade concerning sexual abuse was made on a weekend in June, 1977, when Peter Tade was away in Dublin. One of the children made a specific complaint of abuse against him to the sister in charge, she immediately called in a local Garda who was involved with St. Joseph’s in a voluntary capacity and they both travelled to Dublin to confront Peter Tade. This confrontation resulted in his immediate dismissal. Peter Tade never returned to St. Joseph’s.


Two volunteer workers who were in St Joseph’s during Thomas Pleece’s and Peter Tade’s time there said they had no idea that these men were abusing children.


A third man, however, had been told about sexual abuse in the School. Patrick McGovern30 helped out in St Joseph’s on a voluntary basis with the entertainment in the School. He had a fair amount of contact with the School, and would call in and play music for the children. In or around 1974, a friend of his asked him to meet his daughter who was working in the School. She said to him that one of the boys was being molested in bed in the School. He understood that it was sexual molestation. He called to the convent and told Sr Wilma about this: I did, I called to the convent. It was dark, miserable weather, I can remember it well, being on the front step of the convent, there was a light over the door, it was really Dickensian, I knocked on the door and Sr Wilma came out. I knew her more than I knew the other nuns so I was glad it was her that answered the door.


He continued: I said to you her, I said I have had a bad complaint, and she said – well bad complaints to her would be a daily thing, she would have to hear it first before she’d agree it was bad. So I said to her I have a report that there is a boy being molested, and she just took a step back and said, [Patrick] you can, as sure as you are standing there, that’s not the word she used, it doesn’t happen. They have a habit of – or there is a history there of boys and girls making up stories to gain attention. I said is that the way it is? She said that’s the way it is. So I said thanks very much, and I went back to the person, the young girl I spoke to earlier on and said nothing is going to be done, it is not going do be followed through, because we know now there was reason to follow it through.


He said that, after speaking with Sr Wilma, he was satisfied that nothing further would be done about the complaint: No, she made it plain to me that nothing was going on. So I respected her a great deal, I have to say that at that stage, and I was happy that what she was saying was exactly how things were, that there was nothing going on. It was only when evidence came up later that I was annoyed that I didn’t do more


He came forward in 1995 and made a formal statement to the Gardaí in relation to this when he read the revelations about abuse in the newspapers.


Sr Wilma told the Committee that she only knew Peter Tade to see around the grounds of St Joseph’s. She remembered Donal Kavanagh, as she knew him from around Kilkenny and she knew his family. She recalled Donal Kavanagh complaining to her that Peter Tade was physically abusing the children. He did this in the context of speaking to her about doing the childcare course and, in the course of that discussion, he mentioned that Peter Tade slapped the children. She remembered telling him that he should go to Sr Astrid about it.


In her interview with the Gardaí in December 1995, she stated: ‘I picked up on it that he might have been sexually abusing them as well’. In her evidence to the Commission, Sr Wilma corrected that statement. She said she made a mistake in her Garda statement, and that she could not possibly have known about sexual abuse back in 1970 when Donal Kavanagh spoke to her. She did know about incest and men interfering with girls, but she knew nothing about men interfering with boys. She also suggested in her evidence that her statement to the Gardaí was somewhat informal, and not as formal as the signed document would suggest. It took place in her solicitor’s office.


She said she did not personally arrange for Mr Kavanagh to see the Bishop, but found out later that he did see him. Her action was to tell him to talk to Sr Astrid about the complaint, and she would have taken no further action in regard to the matter. As far as she was concerned, Sr Astrid was in charge of the matter and would have been dealing with it properly.


Sr Wilma told the Committee that, back in the 1970s, if she was told that an adult was molesting a child, she would not have interpreted that as meaning some kind of inappropriate activity. Patrick McGovern gave evidence that he complained to her that one of the boys was being molested by a care worker. She had no recollection of it at all. Patrick McGovern said that her response was to dismiss it as not having happened. She said that, even if she had been told, she would have done nothing more that tell them to go to the person in charge of the Institution.

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