Catholic Brother Who Taught at North Catholic Faces Sentencing in Australia for Sexual Assaults

By Peter Smith
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
July 10, 2015

Before he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1986 for an 11-year teaching stint among unsuspecting youths, an American Roman Catholic religious brother left a trail of devastated young lives in Australia, a Melbourne court heard at a presentencing hearing this week following his sexual abuse conviction.

Victoria County Court heard victim-impact statements and other testimony Wednesday in the case of Brother Bernard Hartman, a member of the St. Louis-based Marianist Province of the United States.

He faces sentencing July 24 for his convictions this spring of sexually assaulting two girls and a boy during the 1970s and early 1980s, when he taught at a boy’s Catholic high school in suburban Melbourne. The boy was a student, and the girls were sisters of students.

“At the age of 50 I am unsure if I will ever gain what was taken from me in my childhood years,” Mairead Ashcroft of suburban Melbourne told the court.

Brother Hartman, 75, pleaded guilty to four charges of indecent assault involving the girls and was convicted at trial of one charge of indecent assault and two charges of common-law assault on the boy.

Brother Hartman taught science at North Catholic High School in Pittsburgh from 1986 to 1997, when he was abruptly removed by the Marianists with no public notification. That, according to the Marianists, was when the order learned from Catholic officials in Australia of allegations against him, but the public was not notified at the time.

In 2014, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said a former North Catholic student reported also being assaulted by Brother Hartman when he was there. It reported this to the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, which attempted to contact the person but said the statute of limitations would have prevented prosecution.

Victoria prosecutor Michael Hennessy on Wednesday described how Brother Hartman befriended families of victims as young as 5, then plied them with sweets and other favors even as he assaulted them, according to reports in Australian media. Brother Hartman’s exploiting of his position of trust to violate children who didn’t know how to resist made his actions especially deserving of punishment, Mr. Hennessy said.

Ms. Ashcroft had been waiting 16 years for her day in court, since she first confronted Catholic officials in 1999 about assaults that began at age 8.

“When I was a child, Bernard Joseph Hartman, one of God’s ordained representatives, shattered my trust,” said Ms. Ashcroft, who agreed to have her name used. “At the age of 8 he first used me as an object for his own pleasure. … I would often vomit and feel ill for days when I knew that Hartman was once again going to be my babysitter.”

The abuse continued until age 11, when she called out to her brother for help, she said. But the trauma stayed with her for years, as well as guilt that by protecting herself, Brother Hartman would likely find another young victim. She said she started abusing alcohol at age 12, skipping school and suffering severe anxiety. As a young adult, she found herself in damaging relationships, unable to trust people and struggling to bond with her own children.

She has undergone years of counseling and also training to do counseling and art therapy to help others recover from and prevent abuse, she said. “My sincere hope is that this process will not only be healing for me but that Bernard Joseph Hartman might also have an opportunity to come to terms with the crimes he committed and … be a positive example to other perpetrators,” she said.

Her son, Campbell MacKinnon, said he grew up experiencing the trauma second-hand, hearing her screams from night terrors and missing her presence at important school and sports events when she was unable to leave the house.

“I am now proud and supportive of every decision she makes to get justice, turning such a negative into a positive,” he said.

Ms. Ashcroft, who reported the abuse to Catholic authorities in 1999, went public in 2011 out of frustration with the slow pace of the investigation. Brother Hartman was extradited in 2013.

After the Marianists removed Brother Hartman from North Catholic, they sent him to a “psycho-sexual therapy program,” according to testimony by a fellow Marianist reported in Australian media. They then put him on a “safety plan” at their Dayton, Ohio, facility, which included no assignments around children. But he continued to present himself as a brother in good standing and wear the garb of the order, which honored him for his service at events years after it knew of the allegations.

Brother Hartman, who has been a Marianist for about 57 years, served in various U.S. assignments before his time in Australia, including at North Catholic in 1961 and 1979.

Peter Smith: or 412-263-1416; Twitter@PG_PeterSmith








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