Broken Rites helped two female victims to gain an apology

By a Broken Rites researcher

The Catholic Church in Australia has apologised to two women for child-abuse committed by an archbishop’s uncle. The Broken Rites victim support group helped the two women to obtain the apology. The two women, who do not know each other, were sexually assaulted as children by Brother Brendan George Carroll, who was a senior member of the Catholic teaching order of De La Salle Brothers.

De La Salle's Australian office has accepted that both girls were assaulted by Brother Brendan Carroll. The office has made a small financial settlement with each of these women.

Brother Brendan Carroll died in 1983. He was an uncle of the Most Reverend Francis Carroll, who became the archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn in 1983.

Victim No. 1: Rose

One victim of Brother Brendan Carroll is “Rose” (not her real name), who was born in December 1936. She says the assaults occurred in Cootamundra, New South Wales, within the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese. Brother Brendan Carroll was the principal of the Cootamundra parish school in 1947.

The Australian office of the De La Salle Brothers has apologised to Rose for the assaults. De La Salle’s Australian head, Brother Ambrose Payne, has told Rose in a letter: “I accept without question your account of that awful event”

The letter goes on to “acknowledge the harm done you, to seek your forgiveness on behalf of the Brothers and to ask you to accept this expression of deep regret and revulsion at what has happened to you.”

How Broken Rites helped

Rose approached the Broken Rites victim support group in December 2004, seeking information about her abuser, whom she knew only by the name “Brother Brendan”.

With help from Broken Rites, Rose wrote to the Catholic Church’s professional standards offices, asking for Brother Brendan’s surname and his career details, but, despite repeated requests, these offices failed to reveal this information.

Broken Rites then ascertained that Brother Brendan’s birth name was Joseph John Carroll. He was born in 1903 into a family of nine children at Ganmain, 90km from Cootamundra. The family attended the local parish, St Brendan's, Ganmain. In 1920, aged 17, young Carroll joined the De La Salle Brothers, adopting the religious name “Brother Brendan George Carroll”.

It was common then for large Irish Catholic families to place some of their children into church careers. Two of Brother Brendan’s siblings became nuns.

Broken Rites ascertained that the Canberra-Goulburn diocese (then called the Goulburn diocese) was responsible for bringing the De La Salle Brothers to Cootamundra in 1913 to run the parish school. The bishop gave money to the De La Salle Brothers to construct a large building, called a “novitiate”, to train Brothers in Cootamundra for all De La Salle schools in Australia.

The De La Salle religious order was then a small one but it had potential for growth. In 1920, Brother Brendan was among the first Australian-born De La Salle trainees. He studied and lived at the Cootamundra novitiate. For recreation, the trainee Brothers played handball in a brick court behind the novitiate.

After teaching in other towns (such as De La Salle College in Orange, NSW), Brother Brendan returned to Cootamundra to be the director of the De La Salle Brothers there in 1928 and 1929. He was in Cootamundra again in 1946 and 1947 as the principal of the parish school. Then aged 43, he was one of the most prominent Catholics in the town.

Brother Brendan died in 1983, aged 80.

Rose’s story

In December 2004 “Rose” told her story for the first time to Broken Rites.

She said: “I was born in December 1936. In 1946-7, I attended the Cootamundra public school and lived with my mother and several other families at Cootamundra’s Colleen guest-house, on the outskirts of the town. This building was known locally as ‘the novitiate’ because it had formerly accommodated Catholic religious Brothers.”

[Broken Rites research confirmed that, by 1946, the De La Salle Brothers had vacated this building, which began providing much-needed post-war accommodation for families.]

Rose said: “There were about ten children in the novitiate and we played in its spacious grounds.

“In 1946-7 Brother Brendan frequently came by bicycle to the guest-house grounds, where he practised handball. He also chatted to us children and supervised our games. He helped us to draw up a hopscotch pitch on the handball court.

“My mother and the other parents trusted Brother Brendan because he was well known locally as a senior Catholic religious Brother. We children addressed him reverentially as ‘Brother’ and we were obedient to him.

“However, Brother Brendan breached this duty of care. In the vicinity of the handball court he used to sexually assault me and other children. He would masturbate in front of the children; and he would maul me and other children indecently, including digital penetration.

“The handball court bordered onto scrubby bush land and it was located at least two hundred metres from the main residential building. The toilets were also located a fair way from the building, so geographically it was an ideal location for evil intent.

“In 1946-7 I was prevented from reporting the sexual abuse because the church promoted the notion that priests and religious brothers were above suspicion. This gave the offending churchman a big advantage over the victim and protected him from exposure. If I had complained publicly about my abuse at the time, who would have believed me? The word of a child against the reputation of a senior Catholic religious figure?

“Now, nearly 60 years later, I am increasingly aware that this code of silence was unfair -- unfair to me and unfair to other victims of other child abusers, then and since. I am reminded of this unfairness frequently – every time I see that another priest or religious brother has been convicted of child-sex crimes. I am motivated by the need to protect children in general.”

Rose says Brother Brendan took away her innocence as a ten-year-old. Brother Brendan was her introduction to “sex”. The experience had a disastrous impact on Rose’s life. It turned her off sex and this resulted in problems that helped to destroy her subsequent marriage.

“By turning Brother Brendan loose on me at the novitiate, the Catholic Church has damaged my life enormously,” Rose says.

The church’s “professional standards”

In December 2004 Broken Rites helped Rose to write to the Catholic Church’s the National Committee for Professional Standards (NCPS) with a view to having her complaint referred to De La Salle headquarters and also to the Canberra-Goulburn archbishop. Rose’s main aim was to obtain an apology for the sexual abuse.

The NCPS shunted Rose’s letter off to the church’s Professional Standards Resource Group (PSRG) in Queensland, where Rose was then living.

Rose says: “The Queensland PSRG, after consulting the De La Salle order, sent me a written response (dated 25 February 2005, signed by Queensland PSRG director Howard Murray) that was defensive, evasive and dismissive. The letter suggested that the church might have sold the novitiate property by 1946 and, if so, the letter said that the church would not be liable because the abuse occurred at my home address (the guest-house), instead of on church-owned property. This is a distinction – between private property and church property – that the Catholic Church does not normally make in sexual abuse cases.

“Furthermore, the letter claimed that the church might not be responsible because Brother Brendan was not my teacher. This ignored the fact that that Brother Brendan had a pastoral role in the whole Cootamundra community, not just with pupils during school hours.

“The letter was insensitive and lacking in compassion. That sort of response endangers the public reputation of the Catholic Church. If that is to be the church’s response, why will any Australian family ever again risk letting a Catholic priest or religious brother near their children, as my mother unfortunately did in 1946-7? The reputation of diocesan clergy, not just religious-order brothers, is at stake here.”

A “favourite uncle”

Rebuffed by the Queensland PSRG, Rose then decided to write to the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, in which Cootamundra is located. And then Broken Rites discovered that the head of that diocese in 2005, Archbishop Francis Carroll, happens to be a nephew of Brother Brendan Carroll.

Archbishop Francis Carroll was born at Ganmain (Brother Brendan’s home town) in 1930 into a family of seven children. According to a church website, young Francis Carroll went to Sydney to attend the De La Salle secondary school in Marrickville, where his uncle Brendan was teaching.

The website says: “Francis Carroll's attraction to the priesthood was a gradual affair. In fact, at the age of 11 or 12, [Francis] had thoughts of becoming a De La Salle Brother, following in the footsteps of a favourite uncle.”

Eventually, Francis Carroll chose to become a priest, not a brother. Entering a seminary at the age of 17, he was ordained in 1954 and became Canberra-Goulburn’s archbishop in 1983, the year that his uncle Brendan died.

Broken Rites helped Rose to compose her letter to Archbishop Francis Carroll. The letter pointed out the responsibility of Archbishop Carroll’s diocese in bringing the De La Salle Brothers to Cootamundra and Brother Brendan’s a pastoral role in the whole Cootamundra community.

The letter also reminded Archbishop Carroll that, in mid-2000, he had issued media statements deploring church sexual abuse of children and promising a fair hearing for victims.

In 2005, Archbishop Carroll was also president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference. Therefore, Rose’s letter indicated that Rose was prepared to take the Brother Brendan issue to all the Australian bishops.

Two months later, Rose still had not received a reply from Archbishop Carroll. She wrote to the chairman of the Australian Bishops’ committee on professional standards, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, and several other relevant clerics. Rose showed that she was serious. Clearly, she was prepared to take the matter publicly to all the parents and children of Australia – so as to make up for the cover-up in 1947.

After a long delay, Archbishop Carroll replied briefly, saying that he would make inquiries at De La Salle headquarters in Sydney. (A year later, in 2006, Francis Carroll retired as archbishop, having passed the age of 75.)

Apology

Eventually, De La Salle’s Australian head, Brother "Ambrose" Payne (real name Kenneth William Payne) gave Rose a written apology, which reads in full as follows: “At the conclusion of our meeting on Friday last, I assured you that I would put in writing a sincere and deeply felt apology on behalf of the De La Salle Brothers for the abuse suffered by you as a child in the grounds of the Colleen Guest House, Cootamundra.

“I repeat that I accept without question your account of that awful event as well as the insidious lead-up to it. I acknowledge the devastating effects that have resulted in your own life and that of your family. As a Brother, I am ashamed that a person whom you firmly believe to have been Br Brendan Carroll so abused your trust. That the person was a De La Salle Brother is, from your account, without doubt. That he was a De La Salle Brother means that I must speak on behalf of the Brothers of the Australian District to acknowledge the harm done to you, to seek your forgiveness on behalf of the Brothers and to ask you to accept this expression of deep regret and revulsion at what has happened to you.

“It is my earnest hope that the opportunity to meet with you will have given you some small assistance in healing some of the damage that has been done to you.

“Yours very sincerely,

“Brother Ambrose Payne, fsc,

“Provincial,

“District of Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea”

Cover-up ended: In 2006, at the request of “Rose”, Broken Rites arranged for her story to be published in the Canberra Times and the Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser (the latter paper’s circulation area includes the Cootamundra district). Her story was also published in Take Five, a popular Australian magazine.

Victim No. 2: Abbie

Abbie” (born in 1952) first contacted Broken Rites in June 2006 after reading about Broken Rites and “Rose” in Take Five magazine. Abbie was then aged 54, married, with two adult daughters. Abbie told Broken Rites that a Brother Brendan sexually abused her in Sydney about 1960 while he was teaching at De La Salle College, Coogee. Abbie was aged only 8 to 9 at the time.

Research by Broken Rites ascertained that Brother Brendan Carroll was indeed at DLS Coogee at that time and that he was the only Brother “Brendan” there.

De La Salle Coogee was established in 1946, when the De La Salle order was enjoying rapid post-war expansion of its schools. DLS Coogee has since ceased to exist.

Abbie told her story to Broken Rites as follows:

“In the late 1950s and early 1960s I lived with my parents in Sydney. My parents were devout Catholics. I attended a Catholic primary school. Two of my brothers (both older than me) were students at De La Salle College, Coogee, where Brother Brendan was one of their teachers.

“Brother Brendan used to come to our home for Sunday dinner at least once a month. Sometimes he would stay at our home all afternoon and have the evening meal with us and later would pray the Rosary with us before my bed-time. Brother Brendan befriended my whole family and paid particular attention to me.

“While I was in the lounge with Brother Brendan, my mother would be in the kitchen, preparing the meal, or doing other household chores, while my father could be working in the garden. My parents thought (wrongly as it turned out) that I was safely in the care and custody of a Catholic religious Brother.

“While my parents were out of the room, Brother Brendan used to cuddle me and grope me, and he used to penetrate me digitally."

The cover-up

Eight-year-old Abbie knew it would be difficult to tell her parents because Brother Brendan’s religious role had made him into an important leadership figure in relation to her family. Abbie told Broken Rites:

“I tried to tell my mother what Brother Brendan was doing to me but she told me not to be silly because Catholic Brothers do not do things like that. She refused to hear any more complaints about Brother Brendan. This is what I was up against; it was an uneven match. Therefore, Brother Brendan’s abuse of me continued, unhindered.

“My parents associated only with Catholics. The visitors to our home were invariably Catholics. If Brother Brendan had been a non-Catholic, my mother would not have left me in Brother Brendan’s care and custody. But the fact that he was ‘Brother’ Brendan meant that I was placed at greater risk. For example, his participation in our family Rosary sessions increased this risk and it aggravated the injustice.

“If he was not a Catholic religious Brother, it would have been more possible for me to successfully report the abuse and to obtain justice."

Consequences of the abuse

Abbie said the abuse disrupted her growing-up process. She said:

“One effect was that I assumed that I was growing up to be a ‘tart’. I became badly behaved in various ways and it was difficult for my parents and teachers to deal with me. I became what is called ‘a problem child’.

“At age 13, I dropped out of school. That is, my ‘badness’ affected my education. I am very aware now that I was prevented from reaching my full potential.

“My ‘badness’ disrupted my relationship with my parents. This prohibition on reporting sexual abuse by a Catholic religious figure has been irritating me for the rest of my life.

“My father is deceased. My elderly mother is alive in 2006 but has dementia. Thus, I am unable to properly report Brother Brendan’s abuse to either of my parents. Both my parents will have died without knowing the story of Brother Brendan. This is unfair."

Long-term impact

After Abbie got married, her memory of Brother Brendan disrupted her relationship with her husband and their two young daughters. Abbie said: “Because of Brother Brendan, I discouraged my husband from touching me too intimately. I also discouraged my husband from cuddling or hugging our two daughters.

“I am still upset about the effect that this fear had on the relationship between me, my husband and my daughters. My husband has been very understanding about all this and I am grateful to him for this but I am aggrieved about what the church did to us.

“Brother Brendan’s actions were not just isolated incidents that happened many years ago. I still bear the consequential burden after all these years. The impact is on-going, and it still affects me today in my relationships with my husband and my daughters and my grandchildren.

“After bearing this burden for all these years, I have decided that it is time for me to put the record straight.

“In making this complaint, I feel that I am helping to promote the protection of all children.

“My complaint is not merely against Brother Brendan Carroll but also against the church culture which discouraged me and my family from reporting Brother Brendan’s sexual abuse of me. I am complaining about this process of cover-up.

“The church and the De La Salle Brothers had a responsibility to ensure that someone like Brother Brendan was not inflicted on me and also to make sure that the offences were not covered up. The church and the De La Salle Brothers owe me an apology,” Abbie said.

How Broken Rites helped

As well as ascertaining that Abbie’s abuser was Brother Brendan Carroll, Broken Rites advised Abbie about how to submit her complaint to the church. Although Abbie lives in Queensland, Broken Rites advised her to avoid the church’s Queensland Professional Standards office, which had been so evasive and dismissive towards Rose. Instead, Abbie wrote to the New South Wales office, making it clear that she would not tolerate any funny business.

The NSW Professional Standards office sent a counsellor to interview Abbie. This counsellor made a report, supporting Abbie. The complaint was then passed on to the Australian headquarters of the De La Salle order in Sydney, which promptly expressed regret for harm done to Abbie by Brother Brendan Carroll -- without any argument.

Summing up

Rose and Abbie are grateful for the help they received from Broken Rites. They are relieved that they have achieved the justice that was denied to them as children.

Rose and Abbie were not necessarily Brother Brendan Carroll's only victims. They are merely the two who -- separately -- contacted Broken Rites. Rose remembers witnessing other children being abused by Carroll in Cootamundra. Rose and Abbie still do not know each other.

Although the church's Queensland Professional Standards office was evasive and dismissive towards Rose, the complaints about Brother Brendan Carroll evidently did not come as a suprise to De La Salle's headquarters in Sydney.

From its Australian foundation in 1906 onwards, the De La Salle Brothers (like the Christian Brothers and the Marist Brothers) had an entrenched culture of sexual opportunism. Boys (often from large or under-privileged Irish-Catholic families) were recruited as trainees in the religious order when they were barely out of puberty and were soon signed up to a facade of "celibacy". Henceforth, they were under pressure to seize a sexual opportunity wherever they could find it. This pressure put vulnerable children at risk.

For another sexually-abusive De La Salle Brother who joined the order around the same time as Brendan Carroll, see our article about Brother Fintan Louis Dwyer entitled The De La Salle Brothers had a sex-abuser to recruit new Brothers

FOOTNOTE: In case someone is doing an internet search for Brendan Carroll, his name is sometimes mis-spelt as Brendan Carrol or Brendon Caroll or Brendon Carrol.