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Christian Brothers accused of trying to deal with abuse legacy as ‘cheaply as possible’

Updated: Aug 9, 2023


By Colm Keena - Irish Times - 07.07.2023 [IRELAND] -

The strategy adopted by the Christian Brothers in a historical child sex abuse case is designed to protect the congregation’s assets, a recent hearing in the High Court was told.


John Gordon SC, for the victim, said the congregation was playing “ducks and drakes with the legal system” and that the Dublin-based head of the Christian Brothers in Europe, Bro David Gibson, must think what it is doing is “good business”.


Karl Finnegan, for Gibson, in response, said there was “absolutely no intention to hide assets” from the victim. However, there is no doubt the strategy adopted by the brothers in the case is a disincentive for others seeking damages from the brothers in historical sex abuse cases.


Gordon is representing former Westland Row CBS student Kenneth Grace, who was sexually abused in the Dublin school by former principal Paul Hendrick (75). Hendrick, a Christian Brother, was recently jailed for four years, having pleaded guilty to the abuse.

In the High Court, the congregation has adopted a strategy that, Gordon said, is unique in his experience. Because the Christian Brothers is an unincorporated association, it cannot be sued directly. Most religious congregations select a nominee to represent it for the purpose of litigation, but in the case of Grace, and about 30 other historical child sex abuse claims currently lodged in the High Court, the Christian Brothers have opted not to do so.


The decision by Gibson (73), and his predecessor as provincial of the European province of the Christian Brothers, Edmund Garvey (78), not to provide a nominee has meant Grace has to sue all the brothers who were in the order at the time he was abused, to progress his claim. He has had to seek multiple court orders to get information from the congregation that it has refused to provide voluntarily. The legal costs involved are substantial and continue to accumulate. According to Gordon, the congregation is pursuing this strategy because it believes it is the most cost-effective way of responding to the sex abuse claims. “It seems that the obvious purpose of this is to get us into a room to point out the difficulties we have, seek to get rid of my client’s case as cheaply as possible, and discourage other people from pursuing the Christian Brothers because it’s so troublesome. What a horrible agenda, what a distasteful, despicable agenda, but that is the agenda,” he told the High Court. The congregation’s strategy is working, according to Damian O’Farrell, an independent councillor on Dublin City Council who settled a historical sex abuse claim against the brothers some years ago, before they adopted their current strategy. “Victims are being put off, because they are hearing how long this is taking one victim,” he said. “Their families are advising them not to go forward with this, and I think [their] solicitors as well are struggling, they are having cash flow problems.”


The congregation is still a wealthy organisation. The Charities Regulator website says the Christian Brothers in Ireland had an income of €7.3 million in the year to August 2021, expenditure of €6.2 million and assets of €66.25 million. No detailed accounts are published by the congregation, and it is not known how these asset values are calculated.


As an unincorporated association, the congregation cannot own property directly, so it holds property by way of trustees. Land registry searches under the names of brothers and companies known to hold property in trust for the organisation show it owns property in Carlow, Cork, Clare, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Kerry, Laois, Limerick, Tipperary, Wexford and Wicklow. It may well own property elsewhere in the State. The headquarters of the European province of the Christian Brothers, on Griffith Avenue, Marino, Dublin 3, is owned by brother trustees, including Gibson, as is the Emmaus Retreat Centre in Swords, Co Dublin. The latter property sits on 10 acres and was the subject of an application last year for the rezoning of the land as residential.


The congregation has been involved in the sale of land close to schools in recent years, including land at Oatlands, Mount Merrion, Dublin, sold in 2013 to a property developer for an undisclosed price, and land in Deansgrange, Dublin, sold in 2017 to a builder for a reported €18 million. The congregation said the latter sale would help fund its contribution to the redress scheme, a State-operated scheme set up in the early 2000s in response to revelations about abuse in religious-run institutions. (The men now suing the congregation in the High Court are former students in Christian Brother schools, as against former institutional residents.) In 2008 a trust called the Edmund Rice Trust was established to which the congregation transferred its schools, then with a value of about €400 million. More recently, playing fields and other property adjacent to the schools has been the subject of a deal with the State as part of the congregation’s contribution to the redress scheme.


While the congregation no longer owns its network of schools, it does control a number of Irish companies with substantial assets. Richmond Newstreet CLG, Cantor Fitzgerald House, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, was incorporated in 1994 and includes Gibson and Garvey among its former directors. Its main object, according to its incorporation documents, is the care, education and evangelisation, within the Roman Catholic tradition, of people throughout the world, particularly the young. It also supports the formation and training of new brothers, and the financial needs of retired brothers.


For most of its existence the company was unlimited and did not file public accounts. Mortgage records show that in 1997 it drew down large, US dollar denominated loans, with a total value of $4.453 million (€4 million), from two Irish divisions of the organisation, two in Australia and one in England. The mortgages associated with the loans were satisfied by 2004, according to the records.


In 2001, when he was the global head of the Christian Brothers, Garvey strongly rejected suggestions that assets owned by the congregation in Canada might have been transferred to Richmond Newstreet. The comments were made against the backdrop of the congregation in Canada going into liquidation because of a massive child abuse scandal at the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland, and resultant claims for damages. Garvey said “not a cent” had been moved from Canada to Richmond Newstreet.


The latest filed accounts for the company are for 2021 when it produced a surplus of €2.95 million, had an investment fund worth €22.6 million, and cash in the bank of €1 million. The company supports the global ministries of the congregation as well as the Irish registered charity Edmund Rice Development (ERD), according to the accounts. Richmond Newstreet “is connected to but does not control” ERD which, the accounts said, is involved in 40 projects in 13 countries across Africa, India and Latin America. ERD also has its registered office at Cantor Fitzgerald House.


The latest filed accounts for an English company called Edmund Rice Bicentennial Trust Ltd also state it is connected to but does not control ERD. The secretary of the English company, L&P Trustee Services Ltd, Cantor Fitzgerald House, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, is also secretary of Richmond Newstreet and ERD. The latest accounts for the English company show that during 2022 it gave £695,744 (€806,354) to the Christian Brothers African Province which, that year, comprised 166 professed brothers. There were also 18 young men involved at novitiate and other programme levels, according to the accounts.


The money given to the brothers in Africa, according to the accounts, “enabled the Christian Brothers and their co-workers to live in or near their ministries thus resulting in direct or indirect involvement with tens of thousands of beneficiaries”.


The English company donated £153,469 to ERD during the year and pledged about the same again. It had an investment fund of £28.4 million and £1 million on deposit. Cantor Fitzgerald of Ireland looks after the investment fund. Total charitable expenditure in the year was £1.57 million. The Christian Brothers was founded by Waterford merchant Edmund Rice in 1802 to provide free education to poor Irish children. By 1960, according to the 2009 Ryan report, there were 4,000 Christian Brothers in Ireland, and it was the dominant organisation delivering primary and post-primary education in the Republic. The organisation also spread internationally, particularly in the English-speaking world. Its involvement in the running of institutions in Ireland, Australia and Canada has led to massive claims for damages over the past 30 years arising from claims of sexual and physical abuse.


The surviving Irish membership is mostly elderly. Because of the strategy adopted in the Grace case, there are now 120 brothers named as defendants in those proceedings, all of whom are elderly. Some live in nursing homes, and others in houses owned by the congregation. Three, including Hendrick, are or were up to recently in prison for child sex abuse offences. Fifteen of the defendants have died.


The general chapter of the Christian Brothers, its supreme authority, held its most recent meeting in 2022, in the Emmaus Centre in Swords, and elected a new global leadership team. The new head is an Australian brother, Peter Clinch (69). In 2017 Clinch was questioned by a commission of inquiry into abuse in religious-run institutions in Australia about inadequate compensation payments made to abuse victims by the congregation there. He said there had been an element of denial in the congregation’s response “and we thought we were going to be taken to the cleaners”. The other members of the new leadership team are John Casey (58), Senan D’Souza (60), David Ryan Silva (45) and Hugo Caceres (70). Casey is the only Irish member. Efforts to get a comment from the global leadership about the legal strategy being adopted in Ireland met with no success. A request for an interview with Gibson met with no response.


Grace is being represented and supported in his High Court case by Coleman Legal. In a recent affidavit, solicitor Philip Treacy of that firm cited four property transfers since the case was lodged that he said may constitute efforts to put assets beyond his client’s reach. Among the properties was 10 Rosmeen Gardens, Dún Laoghaire, ownership of which changed from trustee owners who are defendants in the case, to a company called Christian Brothers CLG. Gibson is a director of Christian Brothers CLG, which holds assets on behalf of the congregation. Hendricks, one of the brothers who lived at the Dún Laoghaire address in recent times, was a director of the company between 2014 and 2018. Another property cited was a gate lodge on Griffith Avenue which was owned by trustee brothers, including one defendant. The property price register shows it was sold for €641,710 in June 2020. Another transaction cited was land in Glasnevin, Dublin, formerly owned by trustee brothers including one of the defendants but sold to a property company.


Both Gibson and Garvey are defendants in the Grace case and are represented by Buttimer solicitors. They have entered appearances in their personal capacities and not as representatives of the congregation. All of the other defendants (bar Hendrick) have chosen not to appoint a legal representative or otherwise become involved and judgments in default have been entered against 91 of them to date. A full hearing of the case is expected to go ahead in the autumn, when the court may assess damages if Grace wins his claim.


According to O’Farrell, the men now taking cases against the congregation are suffering “a double abuse” at the hands of an organisation that “prioritises the retention of their assets above any responsibility to their members’ child victims”.


If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.

 
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