Julian McDonald. We will right this terrible wrong.

With searing eloquence, 11 men bravely told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Perth of the devastating impact of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Christian Brothers in residences at Castledare, Clontarf, Bindoon and Tardun in Western Australia more than 50 years ago.

No one could be but moved by these men, who told of their painful experiences of stolen innocence, of being subjected to physical brutality and the depths of sexual depravity by supposedly religious men from whom they had every right to expect care, nurture and respect. Instead they were betrayed and treated as objects for sexual gratification.

A regret I have is that every Christian Brother in Oceania was not present to hear the testimony of the men, victims of an earlier generation of Christian Brothers.

The ongoing suffering of children so wantonly abused by those charged with their protection demands of their carers an immediate and effective response. That response is demanded from Christian Brothers for survivors now in the later stages of their lives.

At the Christian Brothers’ Congregation Chapter held in Nairobi in March, I went on the record as saying there will be no future for the Christian Brothers unless and until we do all in our power to address the devastation inflicted on the lives of children and vulnerable adults by the sexually, emotionally and physically abusive conduct of some of our number. However, I am conscious that rhetoric is validated only by appropriate action. We have to find additional ways of engaging with those victimised so their voices are heard.

As the representative of all the decent, committed Christian Brothers living and working throughout Oceania, I accept our shame and ask forgiveness of those whom my Brothers have harmed. I have spent the past 25 years reaching out to victims to try to address the hurt they suffer. I ­acknowledge that there have been times when my efforts have been less than perfect. I can only promise to work at doing better. However, I am confident this royal commission, at which I was a witness, will give us some direction. I pledge the co-operation of the Christian Brothers in working with the royal commission in whatever way we are able.

And as we wait for the findings to provide a pathway for the future, the Christian Brothers commit to continuing our work with survivors each and every day, knowing that help, care and compassion are needed in the present. I commit the Christian Brothers to working with survivors now on their individual needs and circumstances in an atmosphere of care, compassion and dignity.

I also urge the Catholic Church, of which the Christian Brothers are but part, to open itself to examining the causes and embracing the learnings from what has been a shameful episode in our history.

We cannot delegate our ­response to others to formulate but rather must look inside ourselves for the way forward, listening to views from within, however confronting we might find them.

The report into sexual abuse by Christian Brothers published by Brother Gerry Faulkner some 16 years ago offered some analysis of causes, some learnings and some suggested ways forward.

Moreover, I believe that the church cannot continue to ignore the voices of people such as Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and Sister Angela Ryan, who have campaigned for decades to ­address the blight of sexual abuse by priests and religious orders. They have been the conscience for us all in this matter, but at times it would appear that they have even been punished for their courage.

I would like to thank Judge Peter McClellan and the other commissioners and their staff for their work and dedication in pursuit of the painful truth, and I can assure them of our continuing support and co-operation.

And to the men who continue to suffer so greatly, we will not abandon you.

Brother Julian McDonald is deputy province leader, Christian Brothers Oceania Province. This piece was run in The Australian 12 May 2014.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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3 Responses to Julian McDonald. We will right this terrible wrong.

  1. Edward Fido says:

    Kieran: I understand Canon Law to be quite complex on this point. However, Christian Brothers are not clerics: like nuns they are basically lay people, so, unless I am mistaken, the Canon Law you quote would not strictly apply. The sad thing about the sort of defence Julian McDonald makes is that, all the time the horrific events at Bindoon; Mt Cashel and elsewhere were happening, it would appear that nothing was being done by their superiors in the Order, either direct or further up the line, who seemed either to be part of the disgusting action; turning a blind eye or retrospectively claiming ignorance. As far as I am aware no Christian Brother ever came forward as a whistle blower. The local bishops appear to have left these evil men to their own devices. From what I’ve read the record of the Christian Brothers in paedophilia is by far the worst of any Catholic religious order. It is an appalling record, as is their record on adequate compensation. I believe the Brothers have almost died out in the Western world. From what Julian said before the Royal Commission they have not as yet incorporated the history of abuse into training manuals for new entrants. That seems to me to show their mindset. I think the Brothers want the present publicity via the current Royal Commission to go away. Once things have quietened down I suspect they will take the hard line with compensation to their victims. Their record speaks for itself: they are basically completely untrustworthy and devious beyond belief, as the transfer of their Canadian assets to Ireland, to avoid any compensation to the victims of Mt Cashel shows. This is not a case of the Catholic Church having to report crimes: these crimes have been investigated and proved. Sadly, many of the perpetrators were dead or supposedly unable to remember, so few suffered the full legal consequences of their actions. Many who were sentenced worldwide escaped serving time in prison because of age and infirmity. Of course there had been no mitigation of their cruelty or rape of their young victims. An argument can be made that the Brothers are doing good in Asia and Africa. I am unsure this is justification to keep them in existence: their record is too appalling. The worldwide plague of paedophilia has besmirched the name of Christianity. As the largest Christian church, the Catholics have, sadly, had the largest number of perpetrators worldwide. Highest on this list of infamy are the Christian Brothers. I think they should be disbanded and the assets in the case of places like Bindoon sold and used to provide compensation. Julian mentioned the possibility of doing the latter before the Royal Commission. Other assets, such as their schools, which, in this country have few, if any brothers, could be completely run by lay people, as most are.

  2. Kieran Tapsell says:

    Brother McDonald’s words are very welcome, but the whole Church has a problem of “crying wolf” over fixing things. When the Royal Commission was called in November 2012, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement: “It is unacceptable, because it is untrue, to claim that the Catholic Church does not have proper procedures, and to claim that Catholic authorities refuse to cooperate with the police.” If we take the first issue, the proper procedures are those laid down in canon law. The criticisms of canon law are that canon 1341 requires the Church authorities to try and reform the cleric before putting him on trial for the sexual abuse of children. That has not changed. Canon 1321 contains the “Catch 22 defence”, a priest cannot be dismissed for paedophilia because he is a paedophile – he can’t help himself. That is still there. And if you have a look at the documents produced by the Milwaukee diocese, it is pretty clear that despite all the hype, since 2001, the Vatican is still applying the “pastoral approach” to dismissal of priests. Bishop Jarrett gave a good example of this at the Royal Commission. You often seen claims in Church publications that Benedict XVI introduced “zero tolerance”. He did no such thing. He allowed such a concession to the Americans in 2002, but it only applies there. Towards Healing can say what it likes, but as one Curia Cardinal said, it is just a piece of paper if it has not become canon law under canon 455 of the Code. And he is absolutely right.
    On the issue of “cooperation” with the police, it depends on what that means. Bishops and religious leaders in Australia have no choice but to cooperate if police issue search warrants and subpoenas. In NSW, they are obliged to report all allegations of sexual abuse to the police. In Victoria – at least up until recently – there was no such obligation, and there is no obligation in most other States except where there are children (ie under 18) who are at risk, and then only for specific categories of people which generally do not include clergy, although religious teachers are generally covered. Canon law still imposes the pontifical secret, that is, a permanent silence, on all allegations of clergy sexual abuse except, since 2010, when there is a civil law requiring reporting. If there is no such civil law, (as is the case for the vast majority of complaints in Australia, other than NSW), then the pontifical secret still applies, with no exceptions for going to the police.
    I can’t help being reminded of the famous line of the Sicilian aristocrat in Giuseppe de Lampedusa’s novel, “The Leopard”: “If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
    Unless there is change at the top, a radical change in canon law outlawing the pontifical secret in any case where there is a crime under both civil and canon law, things will stay as they are. The response of Bishop Scicluna to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is just more evidence that things are staying as they are. The Vatican will not agree to unrestricted reporting to the police. It requires there to be a civil law in place before it is allowed – in other words, just enough to keep bishops out of jail. Clericalism still rules.

  3. Edward Fido says:

    Julian, what happened at Bindoon and other Christian Brothers institutions in Western Australia has been known for years: it was common knowledge when I lived in Perth. The founder of Bindoon, Br. Keaney, by all accounts, appears to have been a psychopath. He and his confreres in crime – and these were crimes of gross brutality and child rape – were an utter disgrace to humanity: they had no right to be called Christian. Were Jesus to have personally confronted them I think what would have happened would have made what he did to the money changers in the temple appear mild. The only time the true horrors of what happened came out were when people such as Senator Jean Jenkins; Margaret Humphreys or the current Royal Commission you refer to – all outside both the Catholic Church hierarchy and the Congregation you belong to – threw light on the matter. Your Congregation has “form” in paedophilia and not reimbursing victims properly. What happened in WA was replicated at the Mt Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland – Canada’s largest sex abuse scandal and reportedly one of the largest in the world. This is all documented by the 1975 criminal investigation. I believe that the Christian Brothers transferred most of their Canadian assets to Ireland to avoid paying compensation. This was something the Irish Times kept raising. Of course Ireland was not spared the depredations of your Order; nor England; nor the USA: all this evidence is readily available on the web. Sadly, these vile deeds cast a black shadow on the record of all the dedicated and honourable Christian Brothers since the time of Edmund Rice. You write well and mildly but I fear you come too late. Were the Christian Brothers a regiment in any Army I fear they would be disbanded, as was the Canadian Airborne Regiment for the torture and murder of a Somali teenager who sought refuge with them whilst they were serving in his country in 1993. The Christian Brothers certainly tortured, crippled and raped numerous boys. I think they need to be disbanded and their assets sold and given to their numerous victims. Their record is too heinous: the Catholic Church could show its seriousness on paedophilia by erasing their presence.

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