The Investigation Committee conducted hearings in public and private sessions into abuse in Letterfrack. Br David Gibson, Provincial Leader of St Mary’s Province, gave evidence in a public session on 16th June 2005. His evidence was based on a detailed Opening Statement submitted to the Commission in advance of the hearing.
In the third stage of the Investigation Committee’s inquiry into Letterfrack, a public hearing was convened on 22nd May 2006, and Br Gibson once again gave evidence on behalf of the Congregation. This session focused on issues that arose as a result of the private hearings into Letterfrack and the documentary material furnished to the Commission.
In Phase III, Br Gibson was asked whether this seemed like a plausible explanation and he said: Well, it doesn’t, but I’m not going to judge. I mean you are talking about 60 years ago, so I just don’t know. It doesn’t sound plausible no, it doesn’t.
When it was confirmed that Br Brander would seek a dispensation, he was transferred to a Community residence in the west of Ireland to await completion of the formal process of dispensation. Br Gibson, giving evidence on behalf of the Congregation, said that he could not shed light on the reason for his transfer to this Community or say whether this was an unusual occurrence. He said that it might perhaps have been to get him out of his environment or to keep him away from his ministry.
Br Gibson said that the Congregation had great difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that Brothers could have abused children. ‘It was something totally contrary to the whole vocation of a Brother and yet we were getting detailed accounts of how Brothers abused children’. It had particular difficulty in accepting that members of its Congregation had engaged in sexual abuse, ‘[This] was creating the greatest problem and difficulty for us to come to terms with’.
In the 1990s, Br Olivier wrote an apology to the former resident. A copy was furnished to the Committee by the Congregation. Br Gibson had asked him about a statement made by the former resident. Br Olivier’s letter to the man was as follows: Br Gibson ... brought to my attention a statement you made to him some time ago. I am deeply saddened to learn of your pain and hurt and I sincerely offer you my humble apology for my part in causing any of the above pain and hurt. I hope you find in the goodness of your heart the courage to forgive me and I promise to remember you always in my prayers. I pray and hope that you will find peace of mind and happiness in your life. May God bless and protect you always. Sincerely yours.
In a letter to Br Gibson dated October 2003, Br Etienne admitted to certain acts of sexual abuse of the complainant but denied that this happened in the classroom or in the attic. The admission by Br Etienne was sent to Br Gibson in the context of the complainant’s application to the Residential Institutions Redress Board. It was forwarded to the Commission by Br Gibson when he received it.
Even when the trade was a needed one, there were problems. Br David Gibson explained at the public hearing on 16th June 2005 into Letterfrack: [The children] weren’t going through the normal apprenticeship and therefore when it came to them continuing their training, the training that they had already received was not accepted by the unions ... There was an inherent difficulty in the training that the young people were getting.
In the public hearing on Letterfrack, Br Gibson explained the silence of the Congregation on this issue: I think it was a totally inadequate response. We have been dealing with allegations of abuse over the last 10 years and certainly one of the things we would always do is listen to the person who has the complaint and pay great attention to it. We would assure them that we would investigate it and we would look to see is there any veracity in it. I think there was certainly in the past, and say 10 years ago when the issue of child abuse came to the fore, there was general disbelief that this could happen. I think generally people were saying this couldn’t happen in the Brothers and I think there was general horror, disbelief, denial. I think with time we have discovered that it has happened in the past. Certainly the Leadership of the time, it was probably one or two cases that they were dealing with and probably saw it, particularly when he was mentioning a Brother who wasn’t in Letterfrack amongst those three, they were probably holding on to that idea it’s not all true, therefore, can’t any of it be true. I think that was unfortunate.
The information recently provided by the Congregation confirmed that the third Brother named by Mr Kitterick was in Letterfrack during his time. It follows that, if the Brothers who dealt with this correspondence decided to ignore it because he had named a Brother who was not present, they were entirely wrong. The Brothers at the time could have established whether the third Brother was there if there was any doubt about the matter. The possibility that the Congregation decided its response on this basis was not grounded in any document but was an interpretation advanced by Br Gibson on behalf of the current Congregation.