Brother blamed for death

The spotlight on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is widening to include fresh allegations against the Christian Brothers in Dunedin.

An ODT Insight investigation, as part of the ongoing "Marked by the Cross" series, has uncovered allegations of historic sexual abuse, dating back to the 1970s, levelled against two Christian Brothers.

A Dunedin mother, speaking on condition of anonymity, said she blamed her son’s suicide on the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of one of the men, Br Desmond Fay, in the 1970s.

Desmond Fay
Desmond Fay

And a fresh police complaint has also been lodged in recent weeks by a man alleging he was repeatedly molested by another Christian Brother at St Paul’s High School, in Dunedin, in 1971-72.

Br Fay, who has since died, was the principal at the Christian Brothers Junior School in Rattray St and  later taught at St Edmund’s School in South Dunedin.

While at the Christian Brothers Junior School, Br Fay had regular contact with a boy he used to invite to help around the school after-hours.

The contact, which the mother said escalated from grooming to sexual abuse over time, continued from the time the boy was 7 until he revealed the abuse to his family aged 11, the mother said.

The mother said she  received a tearful confession days later from Br Fay, who told her he "only wanted to teach [her son] how to love".

But, rather than go to police, the family had accepted a plan to send Br Fay overseas, on condition that he have no further contact with children, she said.

Kevin Kean
Kevin Kean

That followed the intervention of a Dunedin Catholic priest, Fr Kevin Kean, who negotiated with the family to "get this settled", the mother said.

Br Fay was moved first to the Cook Islands, and later to Africa, but his activities while overseas were not known, she said.

He returned to New Zealand in the 1990s and died in Christchurch more than a decade later.

The mother said her son eventually committed suicide in 1987, aged 21.

A former pupil of Br Fay’s at St Edmund’s School told ODT Insight he also recalled the Christian Brother’s fierce temper and his special interest in the school choir.

That included giving extra lessons in his classroom to a chosen group of boys he called his "selected voices".

He became known among the school’s pupils by a nickname, "Gay Fay", the former pupil said.

And, after a long absence, Br Fay was photographed by the ODT, back in Dunedin for a Christian Brothers reunion, on Christmas Day 2004.

Separately, a Dunedin man has given ODT Insight a copy of his police statement, alleging he was abused by a Christian Brother teaching at St Paul’s High School in 1971-72.

Detective Mark Lodge, of  the Dunedin police child abuse unit, confirmed when contacted a fresh complaint had been received, but he could not comment further.

The alleged victim was also among four Dunedin boys whose complaints had earlier led to the conviction of Fr Magnus Murray, a former Dunedin Catholic priest jailed in 2003 for sexual offences against the boys between 1958 and 1972.

The complainant said he had been repeatedly molested by the Christian Brother in the showers of two Dunedin sports clubs and while being taught to drive a car by the man.

The alleged offender, who is still alive and residing in a Christian Brothers facility in the North Island, cannot be named for legal reasons.

An elderly man at the facility declined to identify himself when contacted, or to pass the phone to the alleged offender.

"I don’t think he would be prepared to talk to you at the moment, would he?" he said.Br Frank Perkins, the "cluster leader" responsible for the nine Christian Brothers still living in retirement in New Zealand, said he could not comment either on the allegations against Br Fay.

All records had been transferred to Melbourne when the New Zealand province of the Christian Brothers was amalgamated with those in Australia and the Pacific, to form a new Oceania province, in 2007.

Br Perkins had only returned to New Zealand two years ago to take up his role, which focused mainly on ensuring the remaining brothers’ health needs were met.

He never knew Br Fay, but was "flabbergasted" by the more recent police complaint against the second Christian Brother, whom he knew well.

Br Perkins said he had spoken to the alleged offender about the allegations, and "the only comment he made is to categorically deny any such abuse".

A Christian Brothers spokesman, speaking from Melbourne yesterday, said the order did not want to answer ODT Insight questions "at this time".

The Dunedin mother whose son committed suicide stressed she did not blame the Catholic Church, despite the behaviour of Br Fay and Fr Kean.

She did not want to go to police because her son "was ashamed about [the abuse] and would not have wanted everyone to know".

Instead, following her son’s suicide, she met Monsignor the Rt Rev John Harrison - at the time a priest in the Dunedin diocese - to see if he could help her get the Christian Brothers to take action against Br Fay.

The Christian Brothers declined to do so, she said, and Fr Harrison felt his hands were tied, as the diocese had no jurisdiction and then-Bishop Len Boyle was in hospital at the time.

She tried again in the 1990s, and Fr Harrison arranged meetings with Bishop Boyle to see if they could press the Christian Brothers to take action.

Bishop Boyle asked the leader of the Christian Brothers’ New Zealand province, Br Michael Scanlan, to attend two meetings in Dunedin.

At the second meeting, Br Scanlan told her Br Fay admitted the allegations and would be kept away from children for his remaining days, she said.

Bishop Boyle told her "you’ve only got to raise your finger now and he’ll go to court, and go straight to jail, because it’s admitted", she recalled.

"The bishop made it very clear to me ... there is total zero tolerance of this within the church now."

Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley and Msgr Harrison would not be interviewed or answer ODT Insight questions this week.

Instead, in a brief statement yesterday, Bishop Dooley would only say he had no jurisdiction over the Christian Brothers, but that his "first concern is for the victims and their families who have suffered abuse at the hands of people they should have been able to trust".

He encouraged anyone who had suffered abuse to come forward, either to the police or the Church’s National Office for Professional Standards.

The allegations against the two Christian Brothers appear to be the first of their kind involving the Catholic religious order in New Zealand.

The Congregation of Christian Brothers, known as the Christian Brothers, was founded in Ireland in 1802 to promote the education of disadvantaged youth, and spread to Dunedin with the establishment of the Christian Brothers Junior School in Rattray St in 1876.

In Australia, a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard 22% of Christian Brothers were alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse.

The inquiry also heard 60% of abuse survivors — those prepared to speak to private sessions of the royal commission — were abused within faith-based institutions, of which two-thirds were Catholic.

In New Zealand, the Government is still considering whether to include faith-based institutions in its pending royal commission into historic abuse.

A decision is expected shortly.



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This is so sad to hear. Young lives ruined by twisted people who may well have had the same done to them. Its does not excuse them or the associates who ignored/covered up for them. It just has to stop.

They gave them a leather suitcase, a leather strap and a licence to bully and physically abuse the young men supposedly in their care. Tragically, as Chris Morris’s excellent article confirms, some felt they also had a licence to sexually abuse their young charges.
I do not have fond memories of the brothers who taught me at Christian Brothers High School. They were for the most part sour and sad bullies who wielded the strap with impunity, and often for no good reason.
In Australia, the evidence unearthed about the sexual abuse by Christian Brothers is heartbreaking. I note the New Zealand Royal Commission will not at this stage investigate abuse – sexual or physical - in religious institutions. Hopefully there will be a change of heart. If so, there is a brother, now in his late 70s, who may rue the day he confessed in front of several witnesses – with a smile on his face and a beer in his hand – that he had hacksaw blades sewn into the layers of his strap by a leather-maker in South Dunedin.

In his letter, Pope Francis said he was aware of efforts in different parts of the world to “come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable.” Accountability is what we need. The Catholic Church in Pennsylvania has decided to remove the names of any bishops associated with cover ups from all public and private institutions. What is known is that Bishop Kavanagh having knowledge of Fr. Magnus Murray’s conviction condoned his relocation to Australia and then back to New Zealand. Kavanagh College I don’t think so.