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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Sexual abuse


Br Sergio had previously worked in Ferryhouse from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s. In his evidence to the Committee, he said that he had been appointed Prefect in the late 1970s, when he was given charge of ‘B’ Group, which was composed of about 37 boys aged between 10 and 12. He took over from Fr Antonio, who had been transferred to ‘A’ Group to replace Br Bruno who had left the School suddenly, as a result of the discovery of his activities as a sexual abuser. He became aware of the reason for Br Bruno’s departure ‘a week or two’ after his departure. Given the age of the boys in his group, and the length of time he was in charge, his group would have contained many of the children who were sexually abused by Br Bruno or who were aware of his activities.


One complainant who was present in Ferryhouse in the late 1980s alleged that Br Sergio sexually abused him. He told the Committee that he was taking a shower after he had been brought back to the School after attempting to abscond. Br Sergio was supervising him and molested him in the shower.


He also described other less serious instances of improper behaviour, when Br Sergio ‘put his hands on me’. He alleged that Br Sergio would rub his knee while driving him down to see his relatives.


Br Sergio denied these allegations, both through his counsel during the cross-examination of the witness and directly during his own evidence, when he described them as ‘totally untrue’.


Br Sergio denied abusing children in Ferryhouse or even being attracted to them. When asked if he had ‘inappropriate sexual feelings towards the young boys under your care,’ he replied, ‘It would be very wrong to say that, it would be very wrong to say that’.


He was also very reluctant to talk about the treatment he had received in Stroud because of his abusive activities. He said that it was a very traumatic time and: I don’t have any recollection of what I would have said or what and I don’t have any papers left from it at all.


He was also uncomfortable about being asked about his knowledge of Br Bruno’s departure in the late 1970s.


Br Sergio vigorously denied any abuse during the time when he was in Ferryhouse. His subsequent conviction cannot be regarded as evidence that he committed abuse at an earlier time and in different circumstances.


Fr Valerio, a Rosminian priest, was convicted of assault, including indecent assault in respect of two boys who had been in his care in Ferryhouse in the early 1970s, when he was a Prefect in the School in charge of a group of boys. He received a suspended sentence. The trial judge took into account, in mitigation of sentence, the fact that the accused had himself been a pupil in Ferryhouse and had been sexually and physically abused there. The Court of Criminal Appeal agreed that the accused: came from a very difficult background – a background which the Court is all too familiar with as representing a cycle of abuse which notoriously has gone on in cases of this nature from one generation to another and the respondent in this case was part of that rather dreadful cycle.


The first allegation of sexual abuse against Fr Valerio was made in the early 1980s, when a 15-year-old boy from the United Kingdom complained to a priest there, Fr Penrose27, that Fr Valerio had attempted to ‘embrace and caress’ him while he was on an Irish holiday with Fr Valerio, who was working in Wales at this time and the boy was one of his parishioners. Fr Penrose wrote to the Provincial, who spoke to Fr Valerio. There is no record of how Fr Valerio responded to the allegation, but the Provincial left instructions for his successor as Provincial not to let Fr Valerio go to Wales again.


This allegation resurfaced in the early 1990s, when the victim contacted the Rosminians after seeing a television programme on clerical abusers. He inquired whether Fr Valerio was still a priest. When he was told that Fr Valerio was still in Holy Orders, he threatened to expose him in the media unless he left the priesthood. The Provincial, Fr Stefano, met Fr Valerio, who was now in parochial work, and he admitted his guilt. He was removed immediately and admitted to a psychiatric hospital and later to Our Lady of Victory, Stroud, for assessment and treatment. He was told that he would never be allowed to work in a position where he would have access to young people. In the early 1990s, he applied for, and was granted, a leave of absence (exclaustration) from the Order. In the mid-1990s, he applied to be laicised, and his application was granted.


The Rosminians received further complaints of sexual abuse against Fr Valerio in the mid-1990s, and reported the matter to the Department of Education.


Fr Valerio’s first involvement with Ferryhouse was in the mid-1950s when, at age nine, he was committed to the Institution by the courts. He remained there until the eve of his 16th birthday. He alleged in his Garda interview that he was sexually abused during his time there. After leaving, he joined the Order in the mid-1960s. He was posted to Ferryhouse as Assistant Prefect in the late 1960s. He took over charge of ‘B’ Group, which was composed of boys aged between 14 and 15 years, from Fr Antonio. At the time, Br Andino28 was in charge of ‘A’ Group, and Br Leone was in charge of ‘C’ Group. As Prefect, he slept in a room just off the dormitory where the boys slept. He remained in this position until he left the School, four years later, to begin his studies for the priesthood. Other members of staff present during this period described him as a hardworking albeit strict Brother ‘who seemed to me to have a great rapport with the lads in general’. He was ordained in the late 1970s, and spent the next 10 years as a religious teacher. In the early 1990s, he was engaged in parochial work in Dublin and Wales.


Fr Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee, he lives abroad, but he did have a legal representative present. Information about his activities can be ascertained from: the offences to which he pleaded guilty in court; statements of admission made to the Gardaí; admissions made to his Superiors in the Order; and concessions made by his counsel on his instructions at the private hearings. These sources make clear that he sexually abused at least seven children while he worked as a Prefect in Ferryhouse, and a further two children after he left the School. In a statement made to the Gardaí in the late 1990s, Fr Valerio admitted abusing boys in his group in Ferryhouse. However, he stressed that he never used violence. He told the Gardaí: It was possible that the likely place that I assaulted these boys was in my own private room in Ferryhouse. I would have masturbated these boys. These boys would then masturbate me ... After these acts were over I would have little conversation with them.


He described how he once brought two boys to his private room on the pretence that he wanted to give them a prize for swimming. The prize was a pair of swimming togs, which he gave to them and asked them to put on. He also described how he brought one of these boys to his room on another occasion and sexually assaulted him.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
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  6. Set out in full in Volume I.
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  11. Br Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee; he lives abroad.
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  19. This is believed to be a reference to the Upton punishment book.
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  37. Latin for surprise and wonder.
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  50. Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Press Publishing Services, 2003), pp 399–405.
  51. Brid Fahey Bates, p 401.
  52. Cussen Report; p 53.
  53. Cussen Report, p 54
  54. Cussen Report, p 55
  55. Cussen Report, p 52.
  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.