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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Sexual abuse


On 8th December 1994, Fr Antonio, the then Director of Ferryhouse, telephoned Mr Grey,42 Principal Officer in the Department of Education, in relation to allegations of sexual abuse made by a person who had attended Ferryhouse from 1971 to 1973. The alleged abuser was a member of staff in the School. Mr Grey’s memorandum was headed, ‘Note for Secretary’s Information “Allegation of Sexual Abuse at St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Clonmel, in 1971/1973. This school is operated by the Rosminian Fathers”’, and it was dated 9th December 1994.


The note recorded the details of the phone call. According to Fr Antonio, these allegations had been made to Fr Stefano, who was then the Provincial. The alleged abuser is not named in the note, but Fr Antonio is recorded as saying that he was a member of the Rosminian Order at the time. He had left Ferryhouse some years previously and was no longer a member of the Order.


Mr Grey recorded being told that Fr Stefano, on learning of the complaint, attempted to arrange a meeting with the person making the allegations but these attempts were rejected, and that the accuser had said he would be pursuing the matter through his solicitor. Mr Grey also recorded that the Order had held a Council meeting on 7th December 1994 to discuss the matter (see below), and that Fr Antonio was unwilling to provide further details over the phone but suggested that the Department’s Child Care Advisor should call to St Joseph’s as soon as possible, where he would be given all the information available.


Mr Grey further noted he had explained to Fr Antonio that the Order should report the matter immediately to the Garda Authorities, and should not wait until a complaint was received by the Gardaí from another source. He requested that Fr Antonio should provide him with a written report on the matter. Fr Antonio agreed to bring Mr Grey’s comments to the immediate attention of the Provincial, and stated that he considered that the course suggested by Mr Grey was the proper one in the circumstances. A handwritten note on the memorandum indicates that it was delivered to Mr Green,43 the Assistant Secretary, at 10.30 am on 9th December 1994. The word ‘sexclon’ is also handwritten on the top of the page.


Mr Grey addressed a further memorandum to Mr Green in December 1995. It was in this memorandum, dated 4th December 1995, that Mr Grey became aware that the allegation was against Fr Valerio. The list of religious personnel indicated that, as of 1994/1995, Fr Valerio was still a member of the Order but seeking laicisation.


In it, Mr Grey referred to his earlier memorandum and recorded that, on 8th December 1994, he was contacted by Fr Antonio, Director of St Joseph’s, who explained that the allegation was made by a person who had called to the Order’s house in Dublin at 2.00 am. The person in question was very drunk and somewhat incoherent at the time, but agreed to leave a telephone number at which he could be contacted, and indicated that he was reporting the matter to his solicitor. Several attempts to contact the person by telephone and by registered letter, sent on 9th December 1994, were unsuccessful. In this letter, the Provincial sought more information on the allegation, and told him he should take it to the proper authorities and ‘that Fr X is available to meet him anytime’.


According to Mr Grey, Fr Antonio explained that he had had lengthy discussions with the Order’s solicitor, and that he had been strongly advised that, in view of the circumstances surrounding the making of the allegation, he should take no further action at that stage. Rather, he should await receipt of a formal complaint. The Provincial had been advised that he did not currently have sufficient grounds to formally confront the alleged offender, and that any such action on his part could expose him to legal challenge from that source.


Mr Grey made a note to the effect that he had been told that the alleged offender was effectively out of the Order for the last two years, a situation which was in the process of being formalised at present, and that the alleged offender was no longer dealing with children.


It is clear from these memoranda that the Garda authorities were not notified by the Rosminian Order in 1994, and that Mr Grey and Mr Green were aware of this fact.


It is not clear whether the Department officials were informed at this stage that Br Valerio had admitted: (1) the truth of a complaint of sexual abuse on a minor as far back as January 1980, to the Provincial; (2) that, in 1992, Br Andino had told him of a further incident circa 1990; and (3) that, when challenged in 1992, Br Valerio had admitted to him (Fr Stefano) that an incident had occurred when he was a scholastic in Clonmel (around 1968).


Fr Stefano was aware of all of these facts when contact was made with the Department in December 1994.


Several questions arise from the management of this case. Did the solicitor who advised no action have all the information available on this Brother? This advice prevented the Order from following Mr Grey’s advice to report the matter immediately to the Gardaí. Was Mr Grey or Mr Green in a position to overrule the solicitor, whose main concern was for his client and not the abused children? Furthermore, having regard to what they actually knew about him, one might ask whether the Rosminians should have reported Br Valerio’s activities to the Gardaí when the opportunities arose in 1980, in 1992 and in 1994.


The issue was obviously a matter of grave concern to the Rosminians, as they appointed a media consultant to advise them almost as soon as the sexual abuse was reported. He attended their Council meeting on 7th December 1994, and advised them ‘that the media would “savage” anyone involved in sexual abuse and its concealment’. The minutes record that he strongly recommended ‘that the Provincial and his Council appoint a group who would take responsibility for investigating any allegations and make recommendations in turn to the Provincial and Council’. He then advised them specifically about the allegations made by the former resident of Ferryhouse and discussed the ‘civil and canonical rights of the accused’.


On 29th November 1995, Fr Stefano met with Mr Grey, this time in relation to Br Bruno. At this stage, he also contacted the Garda Superintendent in Clonmel, to inform him of his 1979 discovery of Br Bruno’s activities and of the allegation of sexual abuse being made against Fr Valerio. In his undated statement furnished to the Commission, Fr Stefano put into context how this came about: I was serving as Provincial of the Irish Province of the Rosminians. The Protocol on Child Sexual Abuse was being developed by the Hierarchy and CORI. As we reviewed the Draft Document we decided that we should once again report these matters. Accompanied by Fr Vito44 I first travelled to the Department of Education, Athlone and reported the matter again to the then Principal Officer, Mr Grey and, in the afternoon of the same day, reported the matter to the Garda Superintendent at Clonmel Garda Station.


This is in line with his evidence during the Emergence Hearings, where it was conceded that, by then, there was already a Garda involvement ‘not directly with us, but we knew, like, that Gardaí were asking questions’, and that past pupils had been making complaints to the Gardaí.

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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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  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.