De La Salle school sold to pay for abuse restitution and ageing brothers

The Age [Melbourne, Australia]

September 1, 2022

By Nicole Precel and Madeleine Heffernan

De La Salle Brothers will sell their Malvern school, which has net assets of $27 million, to fund compensation claims from victims of historical sexual abuse and to financially support ageing brothers.

The buyer, Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools, will take over the running of the college for more than 1000 boys in years 5 to 12.

Lawyers say they have more than 50 ongoing claims against the De La Salle Brothers nationally.

A sale price was not disclosed, but the school, one of four owned by the brothers, has more than $27 million in net assets, according to its financial accounts for the 2021 calendar year.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse said Catholic Church data showed that 328 people made a claim of child sexual abuse to the De La Salle Brothers between 1980 and 2015. The brothers accounted for 7 per cent of all claims made to a Catholic Church authority.

The brothers said they did not plan to sell their remaining schools: St Bede’s in the bayside suburb of Mentone, Oakhill College in Sydney and St Michael’s in Adelaide.

“Our dedication to the rest of the schools in the Lasallian network remains unchanged,” they said.

There will be no change to staff, educational approach or fees under the new ownership, the brothers and Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools recently told the school community.

“We are pleased to advise that the college will soon be acquired by Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic
Schools, securing a strong future for our growing community at a time when enrolments continue to increase, particularly for year 7 students,” they said.

“This comes as the [De La Salle] Brothers have been proactively considering their future obligations as an order, including caring for a number of ageing brothers, continuing their mission abroad and their determination to ensure financial restitution for victims of historic abuse.

“We understand and share the importance of responding to these significant matters.”

The school has three campuses in Malvern and Malvern East.

Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools was established in 2020 by Archbishop Peter Comensoli to govern and operate around 300 of Melbourne’s Catholic schools in response to laws that enable survivors of sexual abuse to sue institutions.

De La Salle Malvern is the first school it has purchased since its formation and ensures Catholic education continues at the site instead of the school being closed.

A spokesman for Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools said it had no “immediate plans to acquire any other school”.

A spokesman for the De La Salle Brothers said contracts regarding De La Salle College Malvern would be finalised this year. “All matters in relation to the sale of college land are commercial in confidence,” he said.

Sydney lawyer Ross Koffel said his firm has settled a large number of cases against the De La Salle Brothers and has more than 50 unresolved claims, mainly in NSW and Queensland.

“Victims are very hesitant, but if they see other victims are prosecuting cases, they often get the courage to come forward, which is a great thing because it helps,” he said.

Jason Parkinson of Porters Lawyers, who has represented De La Salle child sex abuse survivors who received settlements, said the royal commission had called upon the religious order to “pay for their sins”.

“Children are very, very valuable. Little wonder they’ve had to sell substantial buildings to pay for the harm they’ve done to children,” he said.