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Chapter 5 — Lota

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Sexual abuse


In a letter dated 31st July 1951 from Fr Harvey9 to Fr Gordon,10 who would appear to be a senior member of the Congregation, it was stated: Dear Father Gordon, A very serious situation has arisen at Broadgreen. Bro. Guthrie has been accused of serious offences against boys, and the matter has been placed in the hands of the police; so I expect they will begin their investigation as soon as possible. Br Gerhard11 will probably also be brought into it. Whether anyone else will be accused, I don’t know. I saw Br Guthrie this morning and he has no defence; I have told him I shall report to the Superior General, and he will probably be dismissed. Hence, I believe he will cross to Ireland to-day. I have told him what he does or where he goes is no concern of mine, but I have not transferred him to Belmont Park. I told him, however, that I will communicate to you any instructions, etc. that I receive from Fr. General. I have sent Bro. Rory12 this morning to Moffat to inform Bro. Gerhard of the situation, and he will probably do like Br Guthrie. You should receive their clerical suits if they offer them, and also help them with clothing, and in any other way, at least for the time being. Whatever these fellows do, is on their own initiative. They are not to remain at Belmont Park. You would, however, do well to know where they stay, at least for the time being. But I do not want to know. As you see, I am in a very difficult situation, and am trying to act for the good of the Congregation. I am now just going to ... with Messrs. [Solicitors], to interview a K.C.13 on the matter. I will then perhaps see things much clearer and will write you again as soon as possible. In the meantime, please aid me with your prayers. Greetings in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Yours devotedly ... in JC


The letter accepted that Br Guthrie had ‘no defence’ to the allegation that he had committed ‘serious offences against boys’, and prepared the ground for his probable dismissal.


Fr Harvey wrote again on 1st August 1951, following his meeting with the legal team. The mood had changed, because with the two Brothers out of the way he had been given some assurances that the matter would ‘fizzle out’. He wrote: Dear Father Gordon, Further to my letter of yesterday, I think I can say that things are somewhat better, and we are hoping there will be no publicity in the matter. [The Solicitors] have helped very considerably; they took me yesterday to interview Counsel in ... and as a result I feel more at ease. Afterwards, I went directly to the Camp at Fleetwood and saw each of the Brothers privately. None of them has anything to fear if the police make their enquiries, so with Gerhard and Br Guthrie out of the way, we are hoping the matter will fizzle out. Now with regard to Br Guthrie and Gerhard. Before I went to see Counsel, I got them away quickly, and told them to keep away from our Houses but to get in touch with you eventually, as I would communicate to you any further orders or directions regarding them. My rights and duties have now been made clear to me as the result of my visit to Counsel. I have written again to Fr. General this morning suggesting that Br Guthrie be dismissed and that Gerhard be allowed to remain. As you know, Gerhard has been doing well at Moffat since January, and it is only as a result of Br Guthrie’s irregularities that his case has now become known. I would be glad if you will get in touch with Gerhard and Br Guthrie immediately; they should both be sent to Lota and await till I arrive there next week. The sooner you get hold of them both, the better, as both were given a considerable sum of money, and you require an account of it. I will discuss with you next week the future of these two men. If you think it better to separate them by keeping one at Belmont for the time being, then I have no objection, but you should warn them against ‘talking’. Greetings in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Yours devotedly in J.C. P.S. I am anxious to know if both are safe in Ireland. When you are sure of this will you please send me a telegram, “Everything all right”.


The opinion had shifted, in that it was felt that Br Guthrie could now continue his holy vocation. The next letter was apparently dated 6th August 1951, from a priest in Mount Mellary Abbey, Cappoquin, County Waterford to the Rev. Brother: Dear Rev Brother, Br Guthrie has consulted me about his vocation. Considering his dispositions, other circumstances notwithstanding, it is my humble opinion that there is no reason why he should not remain faithful to his holy vocation, ordinary prudence being used in the assignment of employments to him. Asking a share in your prayers. I am Very Sincerely yours,


Fr Harvey wrote again to Fr Gordon on 17th September 1951: Dear Father Gordon, I am afraid the Broadgreen affair has taken a very serious turn; they phone me that proceedings will have to be taken. However, I have asked for Counsel’s advice, and am now awaiting a message from him. The police are coming again to see me on Wednesday afternoon; they are very sympathetic and will do all they can to help; but the matter seems to be out of their hands. However, you must do nothing until you hear from me. I will let you know immediately what transpires on Wednesday. If I get any special instructions from Counsel today, I will write again to you, even today. In the meantime, we can only re double our prayers. Greetings in the SS.HH of Jesus and Mary, Yours devotedly in J. C.


Ten days later, in a letter to Fr Gordon, concerning the behaviour of another Brother, Br Johann,14 Fr Harvey mentioned that he was still very occupied with the Broadgreen affair and was meeting the Chief Superintendent of Police in a last-ditch effort to put things right. Br Johann had been physically abusive to staff and boys, and the authorities appear to have been in no doubt at all that this conduct deserved expulsion from the Congregation.


The meeting took place and on the same day, 27th September 1951, Fr Harvey again wrote: Dear Father Gordon, I have done all I possibly could; but there is no other way. The two Brothers must come back and stand their trial. I have promised the police they will come back on their own. If they do not, a warrant will be issued and that will make matters worse for them. Hence, I think they had better come back at once. At the moment, I do not know if the strike has been settled, so I cannot say if the [boat/train] service is running. They should travel back next Monday night; so that they can come back to Runshaw. If you can find time to come with them I would be glad to talk matters over with you and Fr.Jan.15 I realize, however, that you will probably not want to be away from home, particularly as I have asked you to see to this matter of Br Johann. However, you might consider if it is wise to let the two fellows come over by themselves. What about sending [an escort] with them? To-morrow I am meeting [the Solicitors] and probably we shall go also to see the Counsel in ... I am feeling the strain very much, and I know I must be very careful or I shall have a collapse. Please help me still more with your prayers. Greetings in the SS.HH of Jesus and Mary, Yours devotedly in J. C


Following his meeting with counsel, it was agreed that Fr Harvey would defend the two Brothers and, in a further letter to Fr Gordon, he stated that ‘Everything possible will be done to keep down the publicity of the affair’.


There is no record in the discovery of the outcome of the case in the UK, but it is clear from the Minutes of the Provincial Council Meeting, held on 2nd October 1951, that the case was to proceed before the courts within a couple of weeks of that date. The Minutes note: Everything has been done to provide for their defence; Advocate and Solicitors have been engaged who will see to the interests of the Congregation. The Vicar General of the Diocese has been informed and he is very sympathetic.


The details of this case are still not known to the Investigation Committee despite extensive inquiries.


By March of the following year, it was clear from a letter from Fr Harvey to Fr Gordon that Br Guthrie had been transferred to Lota, and he was still contemplating where to send Br Gerhard. Fr Gordon, by letter dated 18th March 1952, confirmed that he was sending Br Guthrie to Lota, as suggested by Fr Harvey: If you think the other can be made better use of elsewhere it is alright with me. I have found both of them very willing and useful and I am sure the poor fellows will make well. The both admit that they have a better outlook regarding Spiritual matters. Lack of prayer was the cause of their trouble in the past.


Br Guthrie immediately took up a teaching post in Lota, and as previously stated he taught 11 to 14-year-old, mild to moderately learning disabled boys. By 1955, he was Principal of the School, a position he held until 1974 when a layman took over. Br Guthrie became School Manager and then Chairman of the Board of Management. He told the Committee that, from 1973 to 1984, he did ‘other jobs’ and ‘what you call recreational activities with the boys’.


In 1984, he was ‘taken out of it altogether. I have not been with children since’. He was removed, he said, ‘because of the complaints about me’.


Just why he was removed from the post of Principal was not made explicit, but it may have been related to the concerns expressed in a letter that was sent by the Provincial Superior to Br Finn.16 It said: 21st May, 1975 Dear Brother Finn, Brother Guthrie In reference to the above named I am writing to confirm that it is absolutely imperative that he accept the necessary psychiatric treatment that his case requires. For the implementation of this treatment I hereby request that you make arrangements for him to transfer to Belmont Park where [a doctor] will interview him and prescribe the necessary medication. As this matter is most urgent would you please see Brother Eric17 [Superior of Lota] and explain the urgency of the matter and then, without delay, fix the day for him to travel to Waterford. The sooner he receives treatment the better as the matter could easily pass outside our control and this would be tragic. I shall see Br Guthrie myself the next time I am in Waterford. With every best wish, Sincerely in J.C.


There is no evidence that the problem identified in 1975 was ever addressed, or that he was transferred to Belmont Park for psychiatric treatment. His transfer records show no break in his service in Lota between 1952 and 1984.

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