In 1954 the Superior discovered that one of his Brothers had been sexually abusing children in the School. The complaint from one boy was that the Brother was ‘fiddling with him in his private parts’ and he described a number of incidents. A second boy gave somewhat similar information about the abuse carried out on him.
The matter was referred to the Provincial who interviewed the offender, who admitted to ‘immoral dealings’ with boys over a period of three months. Br Jean43 was removed from Letterfrack. The Provincial reported that it appeared that the Brother had been initiated into this type of activity whilst he was a student in the Christian Brothers’ Novitiate. The Superior of the College had at that time carried out an inquiry into homosexual activity there that resulted in a number of the boys being sent away. This offending Brother was one of a number who were allowed to remain and who went on to become Brothers.
The Superior did not reveal to the other Brothers the reason for Br Jean’s sudden departure. Br Sorel who served in Letterfrack at the time was angry: At the end of the year we were told that he was fired home, we were only told then by the Manager that he had been abusing two boys ... who used to go to the sacristy every night to prepare for the Mass for the next day for the Priest. I didn’t know at the time, none of us knew at the time what had been going on between himself and the two boys, ... the then Manager had said it was his duty to keep it secret and confidential. I was surprised last week when I heard somebody saying that everybody knew it, they didn’t. The boys didn’t know it because I would have found out easily from a number of the lads if that had happened.
While this witness believed that nobody knew the reason the Brother left, the evidence of former residents was that boys did know about Br Jean’s activities. One recalled hearing that Br Jean would take boys up to his room at night to give them extra lessons: Now, you hear rumours, but we knew that Br Jean left Letterfrack because he was abusing boys. We knew that. I knew some boys in particular who – they didn’t tell us, you just knew. How do I know? Okay, in the School we talked amongst ourselves, “why is he gone, why was he taking such a boy to his room at night pretending to be giving extra school lessons?” Now this is where I think it came from. It was fairly common knowledge amongst the boys that Br Jean was dismissed from the School because he was sexually abusing boys.
Another resident in the School from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s stated that he heard rumours concerning Br Jean’s removal, in particular that he had been removed for abusing boys in the sacristy.
A complainant who was resident during the 1950s gave evidence to the Committee that he was sexually abused by Br Jean during his time in Letterfrack. He said that Br Jean would remove him from his bed at night and take him to his own bedroom, where Br Jean would kiss and fondle him and do “various acts that should not be done”. He said that it was part of Br Jean’s duties to act as night watchman and that enabled him to do this. The complainant stated that this occurred on average twice a week for a number of weeks, but that he was constantly in fear of Br Jean coming for him at night and as a result began to wet the bed. He further stated that he never informed anyone of the abuse at the time, as Br Jean told him that he would never be allowed to leave the Institution were he to do so. Br Jean, he stated, would also give him sweets and toys to ensure his silence. The complainant stated that he never heard any talk amongst the boys in respect of Br Jean engaging in sexual abuse. He said that he never spoke to them about it nor did anyone ever mention anything to him. Although he had no recollection of Br Jean leaving Letterfrack, he was in fact removed some weeks before the complainant’s own discharge.
In its response to the statement submitted to the Investigation Committee by the witness cited above, the Congregation said as follows: [The complainant] makes serious allegations of sexual abuse against a “Brother Jean” which he says began “after about a week in the school”. This abuse is said to have occurred at night in Brother Jean’s bedroom. It has been very difficult for the Congregation to properly investigate this particular aspect of [this] complaint. Brother Jean left the Christian Brothers in 1954 and the Congregation is unaware of his present whereabouts. If the abuse claimed by [the complainant] did occur it is a matter of sincere regret for the Congregation. However, I do believe that if [the complainant] had made a complaint at the time, appropriate action would have been taken. The Congregation does not and would not have condoned abuse of the kind alleged by [the complainant] in his statement.
As was customary with all such responding statements, this one was signed by a Christian Brother, in this case Br Sorel, who was quoted above as having been angry that he was not informed earlier of the reason why Br Jean was removed and that he found out only at the end of the year. Br Sorel also stated that in preparing the response he had liaised with members of the Leadership Team, who furnished him with relevant information from the Congregation’s records. The Brother who was the Superior of Letterfrack at the time of the departure of Br Jean was available for consultation when the response was prepared. It was unfortunate in these circumstances that the response statement did not give the reason for the departure of Br Jean. In the result, the Committee was given an inaccurate statement by the Congregation, and the victim of Br Jean’s activities was given the impression that his account was not believed.
In its Final Submission to the Committee following the investigation into Letterfrack the Congregation stated: On the basis of its own records and of the evidence of [the complainant], the Congregation accepts that Br Jean was involved in some level of sexual abuse. The documentation that the Congregation has in respect of Br Jean is extremely limited, (and all of it has been given to the Commission) but it is clear that Br Jean was removed once the abuse was detected.
This Brother was not alone in using these tactics. One complainant who had been abused by Br Jean said that this Brother took advantage of his need for love and attention in order to buy his silence: He was kind to me in that way, but it was sweets and a toy at the time I thought was kind to me but he must have been just softening me up for his own benefits. As I get older, I was innocent and I didn’t know if everybody had toys or not. Some of the boys I suppose had more toys.