Catholic order faces 130 child sex abuse allegations

The Times/The Sunday Times [London, England]

November 27, 2022

By Patrick O’Donoghue and Beau Donelly

The Irish wing of the Saint John of God congregation has so far received 131 allegations of child sexual abuse against members of its order over the past five decades.

The Catholic order that ran special schools in Ireland has not made one legal settlement with victims, The Sunday Times can reveal.

Thirty-four fresh claims of abuse have been made since 2015, when a safeguarding review of the order was carried out by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. The order was aware of 97 allegations of child sexual abuse at the time of the review.

The order ran five special schools for pupils aged between 5 and 18 in Dublin, Kildare, Kerry and Louth. More than 100 of the claims concern incidents alleged to have taken place in school settings.

No members of the order in Ireland have been convicted of child sexual abuse or placed on the sex offenders register. Twelve civil cases taken against the order for child sexual abuse in school are currently in process.

Saint John of God said it had “not made any legal settlements” with claimants of child sexual and physical abuse. However, it previously contributed €1 million to a redress scheme after the 2009 publication of the Ryan report, which found endemic abuse in residential institutions run by religious orders.

The allegations are against 41 congregation members and ten of the child sexual abuse claims relate to incidents alleged to have occurred overseas — eight in Africa and two in the UK. Six of the accused are still alive.

“The allegations are against 28 identified Brothers and 13 unidentified Brothers — the majority of whom are Irish and deceased,” said the order. “Of the allegations, 21 were made against unidentified persons; 13 of which specifically referenced unidentified religious and eight do not specify whether religious or lay.”

Saint John of God has had a presence in more than 50 countries including in Australia, where it ran residential institutions for children with disabilities. Australia’s royal commission into child sexual abuse found the congregation had the highest proportion of alleged perpetrators out of the orders with religious brother members.

More than 40 per cent of Saint John of God brothers who ministered in Australia between 1950 and 2010 were accused of child sexual abuse. This compared with 22 per cent of Christian Brothers and 20 per cent of Marist brothers.

After the 2016 National Board for Safeguarding Children’s review, which found 97 allegations had been made against 24 Saint John of God brothers in Ireland between 1975 and 2015, the order said it was committed to the “highest safeguarding standards”.

In a letter from Brother Donatus Forkan, its provincial, the order voiced regret about the “hurt” suffered. Forkan called for others who had been “hurt” to seek support.

Saint John of God said the order participated in an audit carried out by the HSE and Tusla, the child and family agency, from 2010 to 2017.

“It provided information regarding all the allegations of child sexual abuse that it had been made aware of. A number of these were determined by Tusla not to meet its threshold, however the Order retains these in its records as allegations of child sexual abuse,” it added.

The order said that in 2019 the Saint John of God Hospitaller Services Group took over the services that were under control of the order, which no longer has operational responsibilities for any services. The group funds health, social care and education services here and in the UK, including the five schools in Dublin.

A total of €21 million has been paid out by six Catholic orders in compensation to victims of child sexual abuse.

Last week, The Dominican and Franciscan Orders told The Sunday Times that they had paid out €5.6 million in settlements with victims.

The Dominicans said 97 allegations of sexual abuse had been made against 37 members of its order. Ten of those members were alive and six were no longer members.

Twenty-nine of the complaints concern six members in the order’s Newbridge College in Kildare and date back as far as the 1950s. All members of the order who were convicted have been removed from the congregation.

“We can confirm that €1,839,000 has been paid in settlements with survivors, €714,000 of which relates to ten former pupils at Newbridge College. In addition, we have met the legal fees, totalling €547,000, for all parties involved in all cases,” a spokesman said.

The Franciscans said 124 allegations of child sexual abuse have been made against 26 friars. Thirty-six of the complaints relate to abuse allegedly perpetrated by a single friar in Franciscan College in Gormanston, a school run by the order.

“The Province has paid €3,857,000 in settlements to victims/survivors; in addition, the Province has met legal fees for all parties, totalling €531,664,” a spokeswoman said. Three of the order’s friars have been convicted of sexual offences. One is still alive.

Millions of euros in settlement costs have also been paid to victims of abuse by the Spiritans, the Jesuit congregation, the Carmelite order and the Vincentian community.