Royal Commission: Marist Brothers allowed child molester to teach at St Joseph's College Hunters Hill

The Marist Brothers allowed child molester Brother Raymond Foster to continue teaching at the prestigious boys' boarding school St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill on the strength of an assurance that he wouldn’t do it again.

Brother Alexis Turton, whose job in 1994 was to deal with such complaints, said Foster was not withdrawn from teaching boys as young as 12 despite being the subject of three complaints in as many years because “I assume I would have got an assurance from him that what was referred to 40 years ago was not an issue now”.

There’d been an anonymous complaint in 1991, a telephone call in 1993 and, in May 1994, a further letter identifying Brother Foster as molesting boys at St Augustine’s College in Cairns as far back as 1954. But he was not removed from teaching duties at St Joseph’s until August 1994.

Wasn’t that astonishing, Brother Turton was asked by Angus Stewart, counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He agreed that “looking back now”, his response to the allegations was “absolutely” unacceptable. He said the Marist Brothers had naively seen child sexual abuse as “pretty much a moral problem that was essentially a matter of following up with someone…that [they] recognise it is wrong and it won’t happen again”.

He admitted the Marist Brothers in Australia had a "significant problem’’ over the sexual abuse of children in their care.

The Catholic order’s Sydney province, which has 234 members, received 128 complaints about child sexual abuse in the decade to 2012, according to evidence before the commission.

The order has been the subject of more sexual abuse complaints than any in Australia except the Christian Brothers, the commission has been told.

‘‘When you look at the number of brothers, and the number of complaints, and make assumptions that the complaints don’t reflect the [actual] number of incidents of abuse, there is a very significant problem, isn’t there,’’ commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan asked Brother Turton.

‘‘Yes, there is, yes’’, replied Brother Turton. ‘‘We had a significant problem. We have a significant problem, yes."

The Commission is examining the case of a man known as DG, who was abused by Foster at another Marist Brothers college in northern Queensland from when he was 13 in 1970.

The first time was in his family home. Later Brother Foster wrestled him on to the bed in his residence in the school grounds after he’d been sent to help him carry some books. It happened in the science lab when he’d had to stay behind after school to help Brother Foster clean it. It happened in the store room of the tuck shop. It happened again and again for three years.

DG testified that when he went to the police in 1994, he wanted the abuser stopped from hurting more children, and wanted assurances that steps to prevent that were being taken.

No one told DG that Brother Foster was removed from teaching duties. He learned it only in the course of the Commission, in the same way he’s only just heard that Brother Foster confessed and sought his forgiveness for the abuse in a 1999 suicide note.

Brother Michael Hill, who received Foster’s suicide note but failed to mention it when he met with DG the following year, admitted that when he wrote to fellow Marist Brothers in 1999 saying he shared their “devastation”, “anger” “deep sadness” and “puzzlement”, he was referring to the suicide. He was not referring to DG's sexual abuse to which Foster had confessed, and Brother Hill wrote “not one word” about the victim in his letter.

A qualified psychologist and Marist Brother since the age of 18 and now at Marist College North Shore in North Sydney, Brother Hill agreed with the Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan this was a “serious omission”.

The hearing continues.

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