These three victims forced the Marist Brothers to apologise

By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 23 December 2016

The leaders of Australia's Marist Brothers have apologised to three ex-pupils of a very senior Marist, who was known as Brother Bertinus. These three ex-pupils went to different schools (in different Australian states) and they do not know each other. In a co-incidence, two of the three have each written a book in which each describes his encounter with Brother Bertinus.

These books tell two interesting stories:

  • John Kelly encountered Brother Bertinus at the age of 14. John received his apology from the Marist administration in February 2009, when he was aged 63.
  • Eoin Cameron encountered Brother Bertinus in a Marist boarding school in South Australia at the age of 12. In September 2009, aged in his late fifties, Eoin was interviewed on a West Australian radio program and announced that he had recently received an apology from the Marist administration.

Around the year 2000, John and Eoin were each writing an autobiographical book (Eoin's was published in 2003, and John's was published in 2004).

Broken Rites normally does not publish the names of victims but Eoin and John have authorised us to publish their full names, as both these men are already on the public record as authors.

As boarders in a church school, both boys were in a vulnerable situation and, decades later, they are still feeling hurt by their experiences.

Both Eoin and John now feel that they have achieved justice by getting the Marist administration to apologise.

Eoin and John are not the only former students of who have received an apology from the Marists regarding Brother Bertinus. A third ex-student (let's call him "Tony") is mentioned later in this article.

Brother Bertinus

The person who became "Brother Bertinus" was born on 3 December 1922 and became a pupil at a Marist school (believed to be Assumption College in Kilmore, Victoria). In his mid-teens, he was recruited for training as a Marist Brother and, after absorbing the Marist culture in a novitiate (that is, a kind of seminary), he was "professed" as a Marist Brother when he was still 18. As was common in those days, he adopted a "religious" name — and became named Brother Bertinus. (There was a "Saint" Bertinus in the early Middle Ages.) In recent years, like many members of religious orders, Brother Bertinus has dropped his religious name and reverted to his original birth name.

The Marists Brothers in Australia are divided into two provinces — a southern province with headquarters in Melbourne and a northern one with headquarters in Sydney. Brother Bertinus spent his working life in the Melbourne Province, which conducted schools in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, plus a school (Red Bend College) at Forbes in western New South Wales. The Sydney Province operates in New South Wales (excepting the school at Forbes) and in Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Brother Bertinus held some responsible positions in the Marist order. For example (and not necessarily in this chronological order):

  • While still young, from 1948 into the early 1950s, he was the founding principal of Marist Brothers College (now St Joseph's) in Northam, Western Australia.
  • At some stage, Bertinus worked at a Marist school (St John's) in Hawthorn, Melbourne.
  • At some stage, he became in charge of the Marist Brothers Agricultural College (a boarding school) in Mount Gambier, South Australia, where the above-mentioned Eoin Cameron was a boarder.
  • In the late 1950s he was the founding principal of Champagnat College (now Galen College) in Wangaratta, Victoria. At this school, in those years, he was involved in the preparation of future Marist Brothers. As well as supervising boarders in general, he also supervised a special group of boarders (in the final years of their secondary education) who were aspiring to become future Marist Brothers (one of these aspiring trainees was the above-mentioned John Kelly, whose story is told later in this article).
  • In the mid-1960s, Bertinus became the "provincial" superior (that is, the head) of the Marists' Australian southern province, based at their headquarters in Melbourne, and he held this position until about 1971. In those days, if any Marist pupils (or former pupils) wished to complain about experiences from their school days, they would have to lodge their complaint with the Provincial for southern Australia, Brother Bertinus.

Victim 1: John Kelly

John Kelly was born in 1945. While at school in his early teens, he was viewed as a possible future Marist Brother. He joined a group of similar recruits who were to do the final years of their secondary education as boarders in a Marist "juniorate" (a kind of pre-seminary) which was included in Champagnat College, a Marist Brothers school (now called Galen College) in Wangaratta, north-eastern Victoria.

John says that one night, when he was 14, he was asleep in his bed in the dormitory. He alleges that Brother Bertinus came to the bedside and then began handling a certain part of John's body.

John wrote in an impact statement in 2008:

  • "From the time this incident occurred, and I realized that it was improper, I felt confused and pessimistic about joining a religious order. The iconic image I had of the Marist Brothers changed; so much emphasis had been placed on purity of thought, word and deed, all of which I took very seriously. While we were constantly drilled that all sins of impurity were mortal sins, this person had interfered with me in a way that was not just intrusive, but hypocritical and constituted a breach of professional ethics, not to mention a duty of care. It was an act of betrayal against me and my parents who had placed me in that environment, at considerable cost to them, believing that I was physically safe and spiritually secure. I did my best to avoid Bertinus from that point on, but he was the principal, I was fourteen, and it was a boarding college. Even though there were no further incidents, I was always wary of him and felt incredibly vulnerable.

    "I never felt able to discuss the late-night incident with anyone. My mother was devoted to the church and would not have believed me, or struggled to cope with it, if she did. It was a matter of great disappointment to her, when I told her at the end of the year that I did not want to return to Champagnat College.

    "Since going on the internet, I have regularly googled the name 'Bertinus' in the expectation of finding some reference that would vindicate my unrest over the past 48 years. When I discovered that Eoin Cameron, former federal MP in Western Australia, had written a book describing a similar experience involving Bertinus, I decided to act.

    "Even now, having taken action, the sense of betrayal and hypocrisy lingers on my mind. The thought that for all these years, Bertinus has effectively 'got away with it', is annoying and frustrating."

In the late 1990s, John began writing his book, entitled Satan's Little Helpers: Growing up Catholic in the 1950s and '60s. Published in 2004, it contains (on pages 84-85) an account of the central fictional character Simon Hickey's late-night encounter with a religious Brother in a boarding school dormitory at the age of 14. John Kelly has confirmed that this encounter was, in fact, his own personal experience with Brother Bertinus.

In 2008, John submitted a complaint to the Catholic Church's professional standards office. Finally, he received a written apology, dated 23 February 2009, signed by Brother Alexis Turton on behalf of the Marist Brothers administration.

Brother Turton wrote to John:

  • "I was impressed with your sincerity and your desire to achieve healing and closure in this matter.

    "I was deeply saddened to hear your description of how Br Bertinus behaved with you. This Brother was placed in a position of trust. His actions which you described are abusive and a betrayal of the trust that the Marist Brothers, your parents and yourself placed in him...

    "As a former Provincial [i.e., chief executive officer] of the Brothers myself, I offer you my personal apology. The Marist Brothers deeply regret any hurt of injury which you have experienced through your contact with Br Bertinus. This apology comes to you fully endorsed by Brother Julian Casey who is the present Provincial of the Southern [that is, Melbourne] Province of the Marist Brothers and who is aware of your painful story...

    "While nothing we do or say can change what has happened in the past, I pray your dealing with it now will help you to move forward."

Victim 2: Eoin Cameron

Eoin Cameron was born in the early 1950s into "a very strict Catholic family", where he was was the second of ten children. In the mid-1960s, aged 12, he became a boarder at Marist Brothers Mount Gambier, South Australia (this boys-only school has since been replaced by Tenison Woods College, which is co-educational). He says that, while he was there, Brother Bertinus became the head Brother. Eoin alleges that, at bed-time, he would be called to the office of Brother Bertinus. Eoin alleges that certain things were done to his body, invasively. He alleges that these encounters occurred on a number of occasions. Eoin says Br Bertinus instructed him to remain silent about the incidents. The boy was terrified and (being away from home) did not know what to do or who to tell — or how to tell.

Even his older brother, Peter, who was also a boarder, was kept in the dark. When Eoin went home for holidays and then was due to return to school, he would scream and howl and lock himself in his room, but still could not tell his parents.

Eoin says these bad experiences (including the code of silence about such mistreatment) disrupted his adolescence, causing him to leave school in distress at age 14. This set-back caused adverse effects that continued in his adult life and he had to struggle to overcome the impact. Meanwhile, he remained silent — and hurt — for years

Through his own efforts, Eoin Cameron eventually became a Federal Member of Parliament for Western Australia in the 1990s. Later he developed a career in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, presenting the breakfast program on ABC Perth local radio.

In 2003 Eoin published his autobiographical book, entitled Rolling into the World, in which he talked publicly (but briefly) about Brother Bertinus for the first time (on pages 176-177).

Eoin later spoke about Br Bertinus in an interview in the Perth Sunday Times Magazine on 29 February 2004 (written by Gail Williams), in which Eoin said: "How does a 12-year-old boy broach the subject? My parents didn't know that was why I hated school so much. If I had a free weekend and performed when it was time to go back, they would just think it was the usual histrionics. For me, secondary school was horrible the whole time."

Finally, Eoin Cameron submitted a written report to the church's Professional Standards Office. Eoin says that eventually (in August 2009) this report resulted in the Marists' apology and a settlement.

On 24 September 2009, Eoin was being interviewed on a Perth radio program by an ABC colleague, Geoff Hutchison. Eoin told the radio audience about his experiences at the Marist boarding school. He also mentioned the Marists' apology, which (he said) he received in August 2009.

After this broadcast, a newspaper contacted the Marist Brothers national administration, which publicly confirmed the apology.

Brother Alexis Turton, of Blacktown NSW, who became in charge of handling "professional standards" complaints for the Marist Brothers in Australia, was quoted in the Weekend Australian (26 September 2009) as saying that Eoin's case was "sad and painful". He said the Marists respected Eoin's decision to disclose his experience publicly.

Brother Turton said: "Dealing with such tragic issues from the past is a challenging and significant ongoing responsibility for the Marists and the broader Church... The Brothers have engaged fully with Mr Cameron ... to bring some closure to this tragic experience."

Eoin Cameron said he feels vindicated after receiving the apology.

"I've got it (the apology) on the fridge and I often, before I come to work in the morning, look at it," he said. "And I feel good about it, that it was not my fault; it was something that a 12-year-old should never have to put up with and I'm feeling pretty good with myself."

After the broadcast, Eoin received congratulations from colleagues and friends and even from strangers who recognised his face (as a broadcaster, he is a public figure in Western Australia).

After the broadcast, Eoin's story was told in Perth's daily newspaper, the West Australian as well as in the national paper, the Weekend Australian.

Making amends

In 2009, in addition to sending an apology to Eoin Cameron and John Kelly, the Marist administration signed a legal settlement with each of these two ex-pupils. For the Marists, this settlement has the business advantage of protecting the Marist corporation from any further legal liability to these two men after the signing of the settlement.

Victim 3: "Tony"

As well as Eoin Cameron and John Kelly, a third ex-pupil (whom Broken Rites will call "Tony") has told Broken Rites that he has received an apology from the Marist administration regarding Brother Bertinus. Tony encountered Br Bertinus at St Joseph's in Northam, Western Australia, in 1952, when Tony was aged nine, and for the rest of his life Tony felt aggrieved about the way that Brother Bertinus handled him.

In 2009, Tony finally submitted a written complaint to the Catholic Church's Professional Standards Office about the way Brother Bertinus handled him at the age of nine. He also told them that he was irritated to learn that Brother Bertinus had been honoured at a function in Wangaratta, Victoria, in 2005, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Marist Brothers College there (now Galen College). Tony says that, in discussions with Marist headquarters in 2010, he obtained an undertaking that Brother Bertinus would not be honoured in this way again.

In October 2010, Tony told Broken Rites that the Marists have given him an apology and also a nominal settlement. Tony told Broken Rites: "After carrying the issue for a lifetime (I was nine at the time), the issue does not go away but there is some resolution in knowing that I have been heard and my complaint accepted."

Celebrations in 2010

The newsletter of the Marist Brothers' southern Australia province (August 2010, volume 41, number 7) reported that on Sunday 11 July 2010 the Marists held a celebratory function at Melbourne's Marcellin College to honour six Brothers who had clocked up many years of service. One of these, who was celebrating his 70th year in the Order, is listed (on page 17 of the newsletter) as Brother Bertinus, "or Bert as he is affectionately known".

The newsletter contains (on pages 17 to 21) a glowing tribute to Br Bertinus's career, with photos of him wearing the Marists' traditional chaste white frock, with a crucifix dangling on his chest. (The other long-serving guests of honour were Br Dacius Reilly, Br Justin Guthrie, Br Joseph Hughes, Br Bryan Leek and Br Brian Beggs.)

Another Marist bulletin, posted on 13 July 2010, reported that the six Brothers were honoured with a jubilee Mass, jointly celebrated by Fr John Carnie and Fr Jim Scannell.

(Fr James Scannell, who was born on 17 April 1926, was formerly Marist Brother "Frederick" and, according to the Marist newsletters, he taught in the Marist school at Northam, W.A., with Brother Bertinus. James Scannell later became a priest in the Melbourne archdiocese. Father James Scannell was jailed in 2014 for raping a 12-year-old boy. Scannell's story is told on the Broken Rites website.)

This bulletin says: "Following Mass, a celebratory dinner was held in the functions room where the Jubilarians were praised and congratulated on their faithful service over many years."

The August 2010 newsletter said that, in a eulogy, a senior Brother outlined the career of Brother Bertinus and noted that, in retirement, he "presently lives in the Templestowe Community [Melbourne], arriving there at the beginning of this year [2010] after a lengthy period at Red Bend College, Forbes..."

The eulogist said to Brother Bertinus: "We salute you ... on your significant and dedicated contribution to the Marist Province and its Ministries over so many years."

The eulogy (published a year after the Marist Order's apology to John Kelly, Eoin Cameron and "Tony") also said that Brother Bertinus has "touched the lives" of many people.

The eulogy did not mention the experience of Eoin Cameron, John Kelly and "Tony" but these ex-pupils would be interested in the remark about the "touching" of lives.