Broken Rites exposed the St John of God Brothers in Australia — and now the Royal Commission is interested

By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 7 February 2017

Since 1993, Broken Rites has been researching the Catholic religious order of St John of God Brothers (SJOG), which has operated in Australia for several generations, providing accommodation for boys and young men who have an educational or intellectual disability. In these SJOG institutions, sexual abuse was committed against many boys almost from Day One. Victims have told Broken Rites that the sex-offenders even included the founder of the order's Australian institutions, Brother Kilian Herbert. On 6 February 2017, the SJOG Order was exposed at a public hearing of Australia's national child-abuse Royal Commission.

The international order of St John of God Brothers, whose full name is the "Hospitaller Order of St John of God", was founded in Spain in 1540. The order expanded to Australia from Ireland in 1947.

The SJOG order recruited Australians as trainee Brothers. It was a secure career, with no great educational prerequisites.

Until recently, new recruits were given a "religious" forename, often in honour of an ancient "saint" — for example, Brother "Gabriel" or Brother "Benedict". This enhanced the "holy" public image of the SJOG order, putting its members into a position of trust.

Research by Broken Rites indicates that the order's Australian branch grew from 15 "fully trained" Brothers in 1949 to 46 in 1959 and 62 in 1966, not counting trainees.

This was phenomenal expansion. In the 1940s and '50s, orphanages and children's homes were a growth industry and the Catholic Church was the biggest entrepeneur. The church then was to homeless children what McDonalds is to hamburgers today.

Vulnerable victims

Many SJOG boys were wards of state and never saw a relative. If they were sexually abused at a SJOG boarding institution, they had nobody to whom they could complain. The victims say they were intimidated into silence and could not even tell other boys about the alleged abuse. Many were not sufficiently articulate or assertive or did not know their rights. Many assumed that this was how adults normally treated children.

The SJOG Brothers said, blatantly, in their entry in the Catholic Directory in the 1960s, that their institutions were for “sub-normal” or “retarded” boys. But these words were disparaging. Many SJOG inmates, especially wards of state, had behavioural or learning difficulties and were not necessarily born with an intellectual disability, although they certainly became educationally disadvantaged through their incarceration at St John of God.

Furthermore, relatives or other outsiders would not have believed any allegations of church sexual abuse. SJOG Brothers were above suspicion, claiming to observe a vow of (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) "celibacy". And the Catholic Church preached lofty standards regarding virginity, chastity, birth control, abortion and divorce.

Church spokespersons have been vocal about protecting the rights of the unborn foetus but they should have been equally vocal about protecting the child from sexual abuse after it was born.

All this sanctity convinced the relatives and government departments that they were entrusting their waifs to good "Christian" hands.

Any relative who suspected sexual abuse at St John of God would merely tell another Brother or a priest, not the child protection authorities or police. It was considered disloyal for a Catholic to report church-related crimes to the police. And, if a boy or a relative did complain to the head Brother or to a Bishop, the church authorities merely transferred any offender to a new location - and to new victims.

Child abuse has long been a crime, and the crime is compounded if the victim is intellectually disadvantaged and if the offender is in a custodial role. However, religious superiors have usually treated their colleagues' sexual offences as a moral lapse, not a crime.

In 1993, Broken Rites began advising SJOG complainants that they should notify the police, not the church.

The first institution: in NSW

When the SJOG order began in Australia in 1947, its first project was a boarding institution for disadvantaged boys, called "Kendall Grange", at Morriset, north of Sydney, New South Wales. The order immediately filled up the home with ninety boys, including many from Sydney orphanages such as the Westmead Boys' Home.

Broken Rites has located various men who allege that they were sexually abused by several Brothers at the Morriset home, beginning about 1950.

Expansion in Melbourne

In 1953 some St John of God Brothers moved from New South Wales to Melbourne and established the St John of God Training Centre at Cheltenham (in Melbourne’s south, near where the Southland shopping centre is now). This institution usually accommodated about seven Brothers and a hundred boys, aged from 10 to 18 or more, until it closed in 1967. The order's headquarters remained in Sydney, and the Brothers alternated between Sydney and Melbourne.

In 1957, the order established the “Yarra View” training farm at Lilydale, east of Melbourne. This usually had about seven Brothers and up to ninety youths, aged over 16.

At both Cheltenham and Lilydale, almost all boys boarded there full-time, although some returned to their parents' or relatives' homes at weekends.

From 1966, the SJOG Brothers conducted another boys' home in Melbourne – “Churinga”, at Greensborough (in Melbourne’s north-east), where there were initially five Brothers. In the 1970s, there was also a hostel in Mentone (in Melbourne’s south) for men aged in their twenties. Through Broken Rites, police have located alleged victims from both Greensborough and Mentone.

Broken Rites has interviewed ex-inmates of the SJOG who allege that the offenders in Melbourne included:

  • Brother Killian Herbert;
  • Brother Flannan Delaney;
  • Brother Bede Donnellan (real name John Joseph Donnellan);
  • Brother Berchmans Moynahan (real name Martin Joseph Moynahan); and
  • Brother Eugene Lee.

These five men, some of whom also offended in New South Wales, are dead but certain other alleged offenders (whose names are in the possession of Broken Rites) are still alive.

The SJOG Brothers were adept at presenting a saintly image of themselves, especially when inmates were visited by relatives. The Brothers also defended each other if any inmate complained about sexual abuse.

One Melbourne victim (born in 1946) has told Broken Rites: "I told Brother Theophane that I had been molested by another Brother but Theophane called me a liar."

New Zealand

From Australia, the SJOG order expanded to New Zealand, where St John of God ran an institution ("Marylands") near Christchurch.

The SJOG order also expanded from Australia to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands, which is a worry, as child abuse is even more easily covered up in Third World countries.

Action by Broken Rites

Since Broken Rites began operating an Australia-wide telephone hotline in 1993, we have discovered numerous cases of vulnerable boys and young men who have been sexually abused in St John of God institutions. Broken Rites has referred these callers to the appropriate police sexual-offences unit in New South Wales or Victoria. Police have investigated certain Brothers, although these investigations are often hampered by the disabilities of the victims.

The St John of God order has spent huge sums of money on legal teams to defend particular Brothers against prosecution.

Outside the courts, the SJOG order has been shamed into paying millions of dollars in civil settlements to many of its victims in both Australia and New Zealand, although the average payout per victim was not huge, due to the large number of victims and to the operation of the Towards Healing program which had the effect of limiting the size of payments. And the SJOG order knows that there are countless other victims who are still entitled to a settlement.

The Catholic Church's Director of Communications in New Zealand, Lindsay Freer, told the media in June 2002 that, in general, the compensation money paid by church organisations was siphoned away from operations such as schools and hospitals, from investments such as property, and from offerings from the church's faithful (for example, money that is put on collection plates by Catholics at Mass services.

Names of some Brothers

Here are some of the Brothers in the St John of God order in Australia in since the 1950s (these Brothers were listed in the annual editions of the Australian Catholic Directory in various years and/or in other documents):

  • Br Flannan Delaney
    Br "Raphael" Dillon (real first name Thomas?)
    Br Sebastian Lock
    Br "Pius" Hornby
    Br John Gibson
    Br Vincent Skeekey
    Br "Stanislaus" Murray
    Br Charles Hodgkins
    Br Matthew O'Donnell
    Br "Celsus" Griffin
    Br "Bede" Donnellan
    Br "Clement"
    Br "Xavier" McAdam
    Br Damian Keane
    Br Andrew Lynch
    Br Ignatius Brennan
    Br Fergal
    Br "Thaddeus" (William) Lebler
    Br "Theophane" Quinnell
    Br Daniel Slattery
    Br "Benedict" O'Grady
    Br Ambrose Bradford
    Br "Ephraim"
    Br Lyall Forde
    Br Hugh Delaney
    Br Rodger Moloney
    Br Raymond Garchow
    Br "Norbert"
    Br Anthony Leahy
    Br Roger "Gabriel" Mount (To read more about Roger Mount, click HERE.)

One prominent member of the St John of God Order is Brother John Clegg, O.H., who has been listed (in the past) on several church websites as the contact person for anybody wishing to join the Order.

Some of the Brothers in the above list spent time working in New Zealand, as well as in Australia.

Several (such as William Lebler and Raymond Garchow) also spent time working in Papua New Guinea. Bill Lebler established the Rohanoka Recovery Centre for recovering drug and alcohol addicts in the Eastern Highlands district of Papua New Guinea.

One of the longest-surviving St John of God Brothers in Australia is Br Raphael Dillon. His forename, Raphael, was often pronounced as "RAY-fell", but his real first name was possibly Thomas. A bulletin of St Augustine's College in Cairns, Queensland, reported in February 2009:

  • "Visiting Cairns this week is Brother Raphael Dillon, a member of the St John of God Brothers who have recently established a community here in Cairns. Brother Raphael is probably the oldest living Old Boy of St Augustine's College. Now 91, he came to Saints as an 11-year-old boy in 1931, the 176th student on the College Roll."

To read more from Broken Rites about the St John of God Brothers, click HERE.