One respondent witness, Br Guthrie,5 who said he was known as a strict teacher, said that he did not need corporal punishment. He regretted the only time he did strike a boy. He told the Committee: during the 32 years I was there I struck one boy on the face with my open hand, once, and I have always regretted it. That was in 1983. I remember that. I felt like falling on my back when I had done it. I was cross about some remark he had made or something, and there were no beatings. I had no weapon for beating like has been described, whips or sticks or rulers or anything like that.
When he first arrived in Lota, he was pleased to have been removed from his National School, where the fact that he wrote with his left hand had led to his being frequently punished and made to stand against a wall for hours. He began playing truant and was sent to Lota. He said, ‘I think I felt relief maybe at the beginning, maybe somebody was taking care of me at long last’. He recalled many good times, such as the cycling trips organised by Br Guthrie, and the football and gymnastics.
Br Guthrie, the first Brother to sexually abuse him, was, he said, ‘nice to me at the beginning’. Then, he said, ‘It changed one day ... I cannot remember dates or anything so you will have to forgive me there’. He could not recall the first time, but incidents began to follow a predictable pattern. He described the scene: There was a room between – there was a place where you could wash yourself, shave, wash basins and there was a room – there was actually doors and a kind of a little small corridor between the two and he took me in there.
This activity then took place regularly over the next three years or so in various parts of the premises where there were secluded nooks. He said that Br Guthrie never tried to do more than these acts of masturbation.
When this evidence was put to him, Br Guthrie agreed that the witness had described the types of activity he had perpetrated over his 32 years in Lota. It was always, he said, ‘To do with the hands’. He had various hiding places from which there was always an alternative means of escape. ‘There had to be a hiding place’, he said, ‘the danger of discovery was ever present’. He explained, ‘you cannot stay too long in the one place. Somebody could come in or pass by or open the door or whatever’.
Conall then said that, towards the end of the three years, there was a brief period when both Br Guthrie and Br Dieter were abusing him. He said, ‘At night time I used to be taken into Br Dieter’s room and sometimes during the day I would be with Br Guthrie as well’.
He described the first night that Br Dieter sexually abused him: the dormitory I was in was Br Dieter’s dormitory, room. There was some rooms – There was two dormitories upstairs and there was one I know that did not have a room onto it. That was in the main house now. My bed, there was actually three rows of beds in this dormitory. I remember the first night he came to my bed. As I say, I had been sexually abused by Br Guthrie but I thought maybe the same thing was going to happen here but it was much different altogether. I had oral sex ...
Br Guthrie gave evidence to the Investigation Committee on 21st March 2002 and again on 14th March 2002.
In the early 1950s, the Congregation were setting up a Special School in Lota and there was a need for trained teachers to enable the Department of Education to recognise the School officially. The Department gave recognition to the School in 1955, and Br Guthrie was made Principal of the School from the start until 1974, when a lay principal was employed and he took over as school manager and then Chairman of the Board of Management. He held this latter post until 1984, when he was removed from the School because of complaints made against him.
The difficulty with Br O’Shea’s statement is that December 1995 was not the first time the Congregation of the Brothers of Charity had become aware of sexual abuse perpetrated by Br Guthrie.
Br Guthrie started his teaching career in a primary school in the UK, run by the Brothers of Charity, in 1936. By his own admission, he started to sexually abuse children in 1937.
Br Guthrie’s activities first came to the attention of the Congregation authorities in 1951.
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”.