Br Cosimo27 was professed in 1957. He attended the oral hearings of the Committee and he said that he acted as the general handyman at the Abbey. It was traditional that once or twice a year he collected excess apples harvested at the nearby Glencairn Abbey and delivered them to St. Michael’s Industrial School. He got to know the children and the Sisters and it occurred to him during these visits that the boys would benefit from spending occasional weekends in Mount Melleray where they could enjoy fresh air, gardens and the grounds of the Abbey. He said he had also observed that the industrial school was cramped and there were very few recreational facilities available for the children.
Sr Violetta28 or Sr Carina selected the boys who were to spend the weekend. Typically, they would be picked up at the School by one of the guests staying in the Abbey, as Br Cosimo did not drive at the time. They would have their tea, play table tennis or board games, and then retire to bed at around 8.30 pm. The boys usually came in the winter months, when the guesthouse was less busy. Br Cosimo would take them for long walks, and he acquired toys and a bicycle for them. None of the other monks had any involvement with the children, as it was considered to be his project and therefore was his responsibility.
It appears that from the beginning other members of the Community were unhappy with the presence of young, boisterous and sometimes raucous boys roaming around the Abbey, unsettling the quiet, monastic atmosphere. Br Cosimo had a bedroom in the guesthouse. He said that he sometimes slept on a mattress on the floor of the bedroom where the boys slept if they were unsettled. He also agreed that he would lie on their beds to talk to them and settle them down at night. As far as he could remember it was always on the outside of the covers. If the boys were making noise or messing he would sometimes have to come from his own bedroom to settle them down and he would be dressed in either his habit or his pyjamas. He never touched them inappropriately and any touching was inadvertent and had no sexual element. He was aware that some of the boys who visited were emotionally disturbed and craved attention. It would have been usual for him to give the children a cuddle or a kiss on the cheek or forehead when they arrived in Melleray and when they left. He had no sense of awareness at the time that any of his actions were inappropriate or open to misinterpretation by the boys.
Sr Viviana was in charge of the group home known as Group Home B and said that she had had no concerns about Br Cosimo and the children until the issue was raised in public in 1996. In 1995 she had been interviewed by Sr Isabella in relation to the recollections of her time in Cappoquin. Sr Isabella kept notes of her interview and in those notes a suggestion was made that Sr Viviana had in fact some concerns about Br Cosimo at the time, enough concern to warrant her interviewing the boys and visiting Melleray Abbey to speak with a senior member of the community with whom she was friendly. When she was reminded about this she gave a vague account of what transpired. It appears that some time in 1974, one or more of the lay staff in the group home mentioned to her that the children were spending a bit of time with Br Cosimo and wondered if this was okay. She was satisfied that Sr Violetta and Sr Carina were happy but she agreed that the lay staff were uneasy about the boys going out. She said that when the concerns of the lay staff were expressed she had no sense of this having anything to do with sex. She interviewed the boys and talked about it and she said she personally felt there was nothing in it. The senior member of the community was a friend of hers and she used to talk to him. She remembered going to see him and expressing a concern that Br Cosimo was taking the boys and asked him what did he think. He told her that Br Cosimo was a ‘man’s man’ and she read nothing more into that other than that he was not very friendly with women. She said she thought no more about it. She does not recall when in 1974 this happened and had no recollection if there was any connection between her conversation and the visits of the boys being brought to an end in February 1975.
There was no proper assessment of Mount Melleray as an appropriate place to send children in care for weekend breaks. Staff in the institution were uneasy and expressed concerns about the visits. The way that Sr Viviana dealt with the staff unease about the visits showed her awareness of risk to the boys. The information that Br Cosimo was a ‘man’s man’ should not have given any reassurance. In the result, although she carried out some investigation by interviewing the boys and speaking to the Abbot, she did not properly assess the situation and remove the risk to the children that had clearly been identified. Sleeping arrangements were wholly unacceptable.