Part of the reason for taking this approach was to avoid causing further distress to the former residents of Ferryhouse and Upton. During the hearings, counsel for the Order examined witnesses sympathetically, and, even when evidence was being challenged, it was done with courtesy and care. The Investigation Committee was impressed by the number of apologies that were made. The following are examples: we have learned since your statement to the Commission came in that Br Lazarro5 did sexually abuse boys, I hope you will accept the Rosminian’s apology if that happened to you. We haven’t ever suspected it of [the other Brother] and I am sorry to ask you questions about it. I am ashamed to ask you questions about what you describe about Br Valerio6 (the questioning that followed was solely to elucidate how contact was made after the boy had left the school). I don’t want to ask you much at all because the hardship you have described deserves not to be investigated in any way or questioned. We accept what you have said, we trust the truth of it completely. There is one very big thing, which you have done today. [Your evidence] is a testament to the pain you suffered and others with you.
A witness who was in Ferryhouse in the latter half of the 1960s gave a similar account of a punishment that went out of control. The punishment was meted out by Br Valerio10 who, in the private hearing, instructed his counsel to say, ‘Br Valerio does not deny [the complainant’s] allegation as it is set out in his statement of complaint.’11 The statement said: When I was 13½ years old, maybe 14 years, I was going for a walk with other boys from St Joseph’s. I don’t know which Brother had us out for the walk but we were walking in twos and on the way out we were doing some messing ... When we got back to the school Br Valerio called me and another fellow out because of what happened on the walk. I was sent to the office to see him ... Inside the office Br Valerio asked me about the messing on the walk and if I had been involved and I denied it. He said he would give me one more chance to tell the truth. I denied it again and this time he got out the long leather strap. He had a reputation of not using his fists to hit boys but of using the strap. He gave me blows with the strap to each hand and he started to hit me all over the body with the strap. He hit me all over but did not hit my head. This lasted a good 5 minutes.
Staff members were not merely authorised to use corporal punishment, they were given the freedom to use it at will. This freedom allowed for even greater scope for abuse. One complainant, a resident in the early 1970s, told the Investigation Committee: Not only me, we all got hidings for nothing, it all depends which way Br Valerio woke up in the morning. If we didn’t make our beds right, if it wasn’t inch perfect we got the slap. If our shoes weren’t properly done or if our collars weren’t properly inside our jumpers we got the slap for it. More or less for anything.
Fr Valerio, a Rosminian priest, was convicted of assault, including indecent assault in respect of two boys who had been in his care in Ferryhouse in the early 1970s, when he was a Prefect in the School in charge of a group of boys. He received a suspended sentence. The trial judge took into account, in mitigation of sentence, the fact that the accused had himself been a pupil in Ferryhouse and had been sexually and physically abused there. The Court of Criminal Appeal agreed that the accused: came from a very difficult background – a background which the Court is all too familiar with as representing a cycle of abuse which notoriously has gone on in cases of this nature from one generation to another and the respondent in this case was part of that rather dreadful cycle.
The first allegation of sexual abuse against Fr Valerio was made in the early 1980s, when a 15-year-old boy from the United Kingdom complained to a priest there, Fr Penrose27, that Fr Valerio had attempted to ‘embrace and caress’ him while he was on an Irish holiday with Fr Valerio, who was working in Wales at this time and the boy was one of his parishioners. Fr Penrose wrote to the Provincial, who spoke to Fr Valerio. There is no record of how Fr Valerio responded to the allegation, but the Provincial left instructions for his successor as Provincial not to let Fr Valerio go to Wales again.
This allegation resurfaced in the early 1990s, when the victim contacted the Rosminians after seeing a television programme on clerical abusers. He inquired whether Fr Valerio was still a priest. When he was told that Fr Valerio was still in Holy Orders, he threatened to expose him in the media unless he left the priesthood. The Provincial, Fr Stefano, met Fr Valerio, who was now in parochial work, and he admitted his guilt. He was removed immediately and admitted to a psychiatric hospital and later to Our Lady of Victory, Stroud, for assessment and treatment. He was told that he would never be allowed to work in a position where he would have access to young people. In the early 1990s, he applied for, and was granted, a leave of absence (exclaustration) from the Order. In the mid-1990s, he applied to be laicised, and his application was granted.
The Rosminians received further complaints of sexual abuse against Fr Valerio in the mid-1990s, and reported the matter to the Department of Education.
Fr Valerio’s first involvement with Ferryhouse was in the mid-1950s when, at age nine, he was committed to the Institution by the courts. He remained there until the eve of his 16th birthday. He alleged in his Garda interview that he was sexually abused during his time there. After leaving, he joined the Order in the mid-1960s. He was posted to Ferryhouse as Assistant Prefect in the late 1960s. He took over charge of ‘B’ Group, which was composed of boys aged between 14 and 15 years, from Fr Antonio. At the time, Br Andino28 was in charge of ‘A’ Group, and Br Leone was in charge of ‘C’ Group. As Prefect, he slept in a room just off the dormitory where the boys slept. He remained in this position until he left the School, four years later, to begin his studies for the priesthood. Other members of staff present during this period described him as a hardworking albeit strict Brother ‘who seemed to me to have a great rapport with the lads in general’. He was ordained in the late 1970s, and spent the next 10 years as a religious teacher. In the early 1990s, he was engaged in parochial work in Dublin and Wales.
Fr Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee, he lives abroad, but he did have a legal representative present. Information about his activities can be ascertained from: the offences to which he pleaded guilty in court; statements of admission made to the Gardaí; admissions made to his Superiors in the Order; and concessions made by his counsel on his instructions at the private hearings. These sources make clear that he sexually abused at least seven children while he worked as a Prefect in Ferryhouse, and a further two children after he left the School. In a statement made to the Gardaí in the late 1990s, Fr Valerio admitted abusing boys in his group in Ferryhouse. However, he stressed that he never used violence. He told the Gardaí: It was possible that the likely place that I assaulted these boys was in my own private room in Ferryhouse. I would have masturbated these boys. These boys would then masturbate me ... After these acts were over I would have little conversation with them.
The Gardaí interviewed him on a number of occasions, concerning a series of new allegations of sexual abuse that had been made against him. He accepted that he had sexually abused the two individuals in question, but differed in his account of the abuse. He stated that he engaged in mutual masturbation with a boy, at his mother’s house, after the boy had left Ferryhouse but he denied rape. Fr Valerio admitted that he had sexually abused the second person. The Gardaí subsequently interviewed this victim, who alleged that Fr Valerio abused him in Ferryhouse, but Fr Valerio denied that the abuse took place in the School. He told the Gardaí that, when he was studying for the priesthood in Dublin, he was sent to Ferryhouse on an errand and, while he was there, he was asked to take the boy to Dublin. Instead of taking the boy straight to Dublin, he took him to his home and sexually abused him there.
One of the victims whom Fr Valerio admitted abusing in Ferryhouse gave evidence. He was in the School in the early 1970s: My encounter with Valerio was more by chance than anything else, you know. I had an occasion, I believe, to come across a situation where he was quite violent to somebody else and I intervened. From that incident I was put to his room, told to go to his room, which I did. I waited for a little while and he came in, and just a rage, you know, a physical rage on him. He started getting my clothes off and, again, the same thing. It wasn’t like Fr Daniele29 where it was more psychological, you know, more the fear over you, but Valerio was more the doing of the fear; the beating, the grunting, the dragging, the tearing. He was just like, I do not know, the eyes of him, he was like a man who was possessed, you know. He got me ... down and he beat my face off the ground. He done his best to penetrate me, I don’t believe to this day he ever did it.
Another witness who was present in the early 1970s gave evidence that Fr Valerio started to abuse him when he was transferred to ‘B’ Group. He said that the abuse happened regularly, about once a month, and that Fr Valerio would come up to his bed at night and ‘get all pally pally with you’ and bring him up to his room where he was forced to perform oral sex. He said he was not the only one who was brought to Fr Valerio’s room at night. It happened regularly, and he believed all the boys were aware of what was going on. Fr Valerio was represented at this hearing by counsel, but did not cross-examine the witness.
One witness said that one night, while he was crossing the yard, Fr Valerio saw him and called him into the office, where he tried to sexually abuse him. He refused to co-operate and was beaten as a result. He felt that he was singled out for punishment after that.
During the cross-examination of this witness, counsel for Fr Valerio stated that Fr Valerio denied the allegation, and further: That he is certain that if any attempt at indecency occurred – and he has admitted in other circumstances an offence of indecency, but he says in your case that if any attempt at indecency occurred it was never in the context of violence or associated with violence.
Another witness gave evidence that Fr Valerio abused him after he had left the School: Br Valerio, while I was actually in the School he never actually touched me but when I left School I was in my uncle’s house ... and he appeared at the door one day and he asked me to come for a drive or whatever, I presumed I was going back to the School or something for some reason. He took me to his elderly mother’s house ... and he asked me to stay the night or something there. I presumed I was going to have my own bedroom. I went to bed and he followed me in and he actually got into the same bed with me. I can’t remember, I think it was sometime in the early 1970s, I can’t remember the exact dates. It was around Easter or something. He put me to bed and he got in with me and he proceeded to fondle me and touch me and he actually masturbated me and made me do the same thing to him. That was the one occasion. He never touched me before or after that.