Victorian Enquiry: The Monks Speak (Or: Brothers in Crime)


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The notorious Bindoon Boys’ Town (see previous postings) was run by the Christian Brothers Order. Today, they fronted the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into clerical child sexual abuse. The inmates of that institution refer to them as the “Christian Buggers”.  As Committee member Andrea Coote noted, until 1949 “buggering children” attracted the death penalty in Australia, so “how could Christian Brothers’ leaders not realize it was a serious crime?” It was looking more and more like yet another attempt to defend the indefensible.

The Brothers’ spokesman began by claiming he was not about trying to defend the indefensible, before commencing his defence. The Brothers played out the standard script for this sort of situation (see previous postings). Admit, express surprise and horror, condemn the action, give sympathy to victims, apologize, minimize, say things are better now and systems are in place. Finally, try to leave with dignity. There needs to be work on the last part of the script for the Christian Brothers as their leader became “visibly very emotional” under questioning. Still, he was well-groomed for the cameras, so at least there was that.

As with the Bishops the day before, the admissions were made of the things they have been caught out about already. Christian Brothers’ deputy Oceania leader, Julian McDonald, said 250 complaints had been made about Christian Brothers. Of those, six brothers have been convicted, with four remaining in the order.

The Brothers are truly caring, at least when it comes to their own. The Christian Brothers paid $1 million to defend paedophile Brother Robert Best and a further $500,000 defending other shamed brothers, including Edward Dowlan and Stephen Farrell. Indeed, they even coughed up with $10,000 for a private investigator to spy on one of Dowlan’s victims to find out if he had, as the Brothers called it, “bizarre behaviours”, which could help in Dowlan’s defence. On the matter of paying Best’s costs, Brother Brandon suggested this had saved the taxpayers, including victims, the cost and could be seen as generosity. Ain’t that nice of them.

The Brothers gave Dowlan further help. They paid for legal advice to protect Dowlan’s assets from being paid to victims in civil lawsuits, and gave him $125,000 when he left the order, presumably to compensate him for his suffering on being exposed. He was also housed by the Brothers after his conviction, up until 2008. Brother McDonald said the help given to Brothers like Dowlan was a case of caring for people who would otherwise “end on the scrap heap”. Ain’t that really nice of them.

Brother Best is still regarded as a best brother by the Brothers who often visit him in Ararat prison. As Brother McDonald told the enquiry, “You don’t just add further to the judgment. Family members should visit another family member in jail. He is still a brother.” Again, ain’t that nice of them. If only their victims had been treated as nicely.

One of the admissions made by the Brothers was that there was an unusually high concentration of predatory priests in the Ballarat diocese. At one school in Ballarat alone, St. Alpinus Parish School, there were at least five known paedophiles active at the same time in the 1970s. Six Christian Brothers have been jailed for abuse and four of them remain members in good standing of the Order. Another six Brothers have been subjects of police investigation but are yet to be charged. Brother McDonald admitted that the Order failed to report to of the Ballarat Christian Brothers to police when it became aware of child sexual abuse complaints.

With the admissions part of the script out of the way, Brother McDonald moved onto the “emotive condemnation” part of defending the indefensible. Words like “tragically”, “dire consequences for the victims” and “terrible, terrible crime that’s ruined lives” were thrown around.

The next part of the script involves the token apology. The Christian Brothers must be men of few words, since their apology was very short. They apologized for the “repulsive and inexcusable betrayal” by the abusive Brothers.

The script continues with weasel words attempting to minimize the facts. Here, the Brothers really pushed the limits of the scriptwriters at the PR company. While there were five abusers at the one school at the same time, there “was no evidence of collusion between them”. It was only “an accident of history.” What a relief!

We might have thought there was a culture of paedophilia in evidence. No, according to the Brothers, it was only a culture of cover-up. Perhaps their advisor could look up some of the Management literature on organizational culture. The culture was the paedophilia, and the cover-ups were only the method of maintaining that culture. Someone got that point totally wrong.

Someone got the scripts mixed up a bit, however. A trial defence argument was used in a public hearing setting. This was the statement by Brother McDonald that most of the abusers had themselves previously been abused. It is possible to construct a mathematical equation which proves that, given the average number of victims for a given case, one paedophile in 1600 would mean that by 2000 everyone would have been a paedophile.

The sympathy for the guilty approach was further invoked when Brother McDonald stated that “There were spartan and repressive conditions when these people joined the congregation. We were taught to be tough and have little communication with our families”. Sounds a bit like conditions in their Childrens’ Homes.

The good old defence of the indefensible argument, that things were different in the past, was well and truly trotted out by the Brothers at the hearing. So we heard statements like “The leadership was not trained in those days to know what the signals of paedophilia were.” Then there was “church leaders at the time treated them as cases of moral failure and only issued reprimands”. Not the usual use of terms like “at the time” frequently in Brother McDonald’s evidence. Then we hear words like “historic” and “hindsight” to further distance the events from the present.

Ah, now Brother, shift the blame and minimize the facts. Talk about “some mistakes” being made. For example, “We made mistakes. Our records indicate those mistakes”, but “We didn’t try and expunge anything,” Brother McDonald said. “In hindsight, (a cover up) is certainly what it looks like but I don’t think that’s what it was thought of at the time.” The Ballarat Courier reports that “outbursts from the public gallery followed this remark.” Again, we see another use of “at the time” here.

When referring to the fact that two known paedophile Brothers were not reported to police, it was minimized from a crime to a “mistake”. “We can find two situations in which mistakes were definitely made”, Brother McDonald declared. Presumably, the implication here is that the other “mistakes” were not “definite”.

Somehow, society is to blame to some extent. Brother Bradon claims that “the public could be forgiven for thinking there was a cover-up”. One only uses a word like “forgiven” when someone has done something wrong. Herr Goebbels knew the value of this kind of use of language. Then there was the claim that previously, Brothers were “given privileges by police and other members of society” because of a “perception that they were beyond offending”. If only we had been more suspicious of the Brothers. Maybe we should all apologize to them for this failing on our part.

Inevitably, the Brothers moved onto the “things are O.K. now and we have mechanisms in place to prevent further incidents” part of the script.

Brother McDonald said that paedophilia “eventually came to be understood as a psychosexual dysfunction,” and that a previously “rudimentary” process had been “replaced with the need for at least a tertiary qualification and psychological screenings.” He went on to say, about past Brothers, “They did not have the knowledge that we have now.”

Despite many bad departures from the script, and poor acting by Brothers Brandon and McDonald, the PR approach seems to have worked with the mainstream press. In a classic example of being too close to the woods to see the trees, they reported only that the Christian Brothers had admitted past mistakes, learnt from them, apologized to victims and were confident that present procedures were adequate. Looking good, Brothers.

No problem with signing the cheque for the PR people, hey?

Read more here:

TOMORROW: Victorian Enquiry: More monks speak

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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