Br Anatole was convicted in 2003 of sexual abuse of boys in Letterfrack when he was a Brother there during the late 1960s.
Br Anatole described his arrival at Letterfrack with two other young, inexperienced teachers, Br Dondre28 and Br Iven.29 They were all in their early 20s and they had little more than one year’s teaching experience.
The bulk of the supervisory work in Letterfrack fell on these three young men, and Br Anatole testified to the strain he felt – a breach of the rules by a boy under the control of one of them was regarded as a reflection on the Brother. This put a lot of pressure on the younger Brothers, who were often intimidated by the boys and they tried to counteract this by being excessively strict.
Br Anatole said that pupils attacked him on a number of occasions: I was attacked on a couple of occasions: Once in the dining room a boy ran at me with a chair; once in the yard; and once in the Brother’s monastery when I went up – I opened the door and one of the boys was in the monastery which they weren’t allowed to do and he punched me trying to get out the door before I could get in. That was three incidents in two years which was not a lot. There was always the possibility of that happening and I was a little bit fearful of what might be done to me if it happened.
The children were often difficult to deal with, according to Br Anatole, and many had psychological problems that the Brothers had no special training to deal with.
He said that the threat of punishment hung like a cloud over the boys. It was arbitrarily administered without any supervision either inside or outside the classroom. Br Anatole was given a leather strap on arrival but he got no instruction on its use. He did not confine himself to the use of the strap; he would punish boys with a slap of his open palm, his fist, a stick, or indeed a kick.
Although the Brothers were given no guidance regarding corporal punishment, Br Malleville,30 the Resident Manager, often complained about the excessive use of corporal punishment and was quite strict on such matters when boys complained to him about excessive beatings. Br Anatole recalled one incident in particular, when Br Malleville approached him and told him he had received a complaint that a boy had been punished for the wrong reasons and he wanted an explanation. Br Anatole described how the boy had been beaten about the legs with a leather strap and made to run around the yard. The boy complained to Br Malleville, who reprimanded him, Br Anatole.
Br Anatole described another particularly savage beating, when a boy was beaten on the bare buttocks with a leather. The boy was placed over a chair on the stage and beaten in front of other boys by Br Iven. Br Anatole did not himself administer the beating but he was present during it. A former resident who recalled the boy being stripped and beaten recollected that the handle of a sweeping brush had been used to administer the beating.
Br Anatole said that Br Malleville heard about the beating and, that evening, convened a meeting of the three junior Brothers who had been involved and reprimanded them for what had occurred.
Br Anatole informed the Committee that he and his colleagues had inherited from some of the older Brothers the practice of making the boys run around the yard. It was a punishment generally administered by the senior dormitory Brother for absconding. The Brother would stand in the centre, and the boys would form a circle around him and they would be made to run around the yard and would be beaten if they started to tire or to lag behind. In a Garda statement, Br Anatole described it thus: I can recall the heavy silence punctuated by the rhythm of the boots pounding on the concrete yard as the boys ran around and around, eyes cast down as they ran ... Their faces were cold and emotionless, unsmiling and blank of any recognition. I carry this memory with me still, as I do all the other punishments meted out to boys in our care.
Br Anatole said that corporal punishment would be administered for a myriad of offences: If you were walking behind somebody and they were talking you could take out your leather strap and sort of give them a swipe on the back of the legs or a smack on the backside.
The Christian Brothers disputed Br Anatole’s recollections of Letterfrack. They submitted that written statements made by him following his arrest were inconsistent and contradictory when compared with a document he produced while he was still working in the Institution. They also contended that these statements were self-serving and coloured by his desire to present himself to the court in a sympathetic light in seeking to avoid imprisonment. It suited his purpose, therefore, to portray Letterfrack in the most hostile light. For his part, Br Anatole said that he was not understating his case in his Garda statements. He described how he co-operated with the Gardaí in the investigation and that he was encouraged to write a full account of everything that he thought might be relevant by way of mitigation. He had been through two years of therapy, and a lot of memories had surfaced in the therapeutic situation, which the therapist had encouraged him to keep in journal form.
The next occasion involved the same boy, in the dormitory, when he pinned Br Dondre up against a wall and attempted to choke him. He flipped the boy over. Br Anatole came in and asked him if everything was all right.
A former resident described the circumstances of a public beating which was acknowledged as having occurred by Br Anatole and which was dealt with in his evidence above: This guy, the fellow I am talking about Alan33 what he done was a guy sitting on the top, he was sitting on the chair and he was having a hair cut. The Brother left the thing for cutting your hair down and when he went the guy went up and he shaved the back of the guy’s head quickly as a joke, and your man had a big lump missing out of his hair. So when the Brother came back he seen this and he was really mad, and he asked who done it. Eventually through a lot of, you know, questions and threatening, battering him, whatever, he said it was so and so that done it. That is how he come to be punished for that ... I can’t remember if he said, “listen I done it”, but the guy said “it was Alan who done it”. So he got done and his punishment was on the stage in front of everyone.
Br Anatole recalled that this incident came to the attention of the Superior, Br Malleville, who severely reprimanded him and the other Brothers who took part: It was around supper time. He brought us into the parlour, he was very angry and he said that such a thing was never to happen again ... That any boy was to be beaten on the backside over a chair, on the stage in the hall ... I think it was the sheer brutality of it and the excessive nature of it, it was way outside the boundaries of what Br Malleville considered legitimate corporal punishment. It was there in the collective consciousness of us as Brothers in Letterfrack that these methods that you are putting to me one after the other, that these were handed down progressively from one year to the next. When new Brothers came on the scene that’s how we found out that this was the way things were done here. We never discussed them in any way it was just here we go, run around the yard, give somebody a kick in the backside or whatever. It was just done like that depending on how you felt at that particular time.