Christian Brothers harboured this criminal, Brother Chris Roberts, but now he is in jail

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 8 October 2016

This Broken Rites article is about how the Christian Brothers sheltered Brother John Vincent ("Chris") Roberts while he was a danger to boys throughout his long teaching career in Sydney, Canberra and regional New South Wales. The Christian Brothers paid small amounts of compensation to silence some of Brother Roberts' early victims. Eventually, a different victim spoke to NSW Police detectives and therefore, on 30 September 2016, Roberts (aged 74) was jailed regarding this victim. Other victims of Roberts have not yet spoken to the detectives but are still entitled to do so.

Background research by Broken Rites

Born on 4 April 1942, John Vincent Roberts was recruited for training as a future Christian Brother. He began teaching in the early 1960s. His "religious" name became "Brother Christopher John Roberts", although Broken Rites has also found him listed as "Brother J.V. Roberts".

According to Broken Rites research, Brother "Chris" Roberts taught at various Catholic schools in Sydney, regional NSW and Canberra. Here are some of those (not a complete list):-

  • His schools included St Patrick's College, Sutherland, Sydney (from 1975 to 1977). The Sutherland school was for boys only, years 7 to 12. Brother Chris Roberts targeted boys at this school. Since then, the Christian Brothers have left and the school has merged with a nearby girls school, Mary Immaculate College, so now St Patrick’s College is co-educational.
  • Being aware of complaints about Roberts in New South Wales, the Christian Brothers transferred him to St Edmund’s College in Canberra, inflicting him on unsuspecting students there. Roberts taught at St Edmund's from 1978 until 1983. One of his victims at St Edmund's protested about being abused, which led to a civil claim and settlement. Roberts was then moved out of Canberra, and has since been accused of more child sexual abuse during his time at St Edmund's.
  • In the late 1980s Roberts was teaching at Edmund Rice College, Wollongong, south of Sydney. This college is named after the "Blessed" Edmund Rice, who founded the Christian Brothers in Ireland in the early 19th century.
  • After retiring from teaching in the early 1990s, Brother Roberts was employed in the Christian Brothers head office in Sydney's Balmain.

The jailing of Roberts in September 2016 was for offences committed against a boy at the Wollongong school. But the Christian Brothers had already paid compensation privately for previous abuse by Roberts.

Compensation regarding the Sutherland school

Broken Rites has been contacted by "John" who attended the Christian Brothers at Sutherland in the mid-1970s when he was aged in his early teens. When his behaviour and schoolwork deteriorated, John's parents discovered that he had been abused by Brother Roberts. The parents complained to the school's principal (Brother Whelan) and also to the Christian Brothers head office in Sydney without receiving any satisfaction. Although John was bright, he ended his schooling prematurely, without doing the senior years, because he felt damaged by the sexual abuse. This meant that he could not proceed to university.

Decades later, when John was a mature-age adult (and still feeling hurt by the church's damage to his life), his family wrote a stern letter to the office of the archbishop of Sydney. The archdiocese replied to John in a letter signed by the archdiocesan chancellor (Father John Usher). The letter stated:

"The Cardinal has asked me to acknowledge your letter dated 21 July 2008, about the abuse perpetrated on your son ... by a Christian Brother, Chris Roberts...

"The Cardinal apologises sincerely to you and [your son] and deeply regrets that this matter has not been dealt with in a way that can, as you wrote, 'bring closure to the event'."

The letter said that the archbishop was referring John's case to the church's "Towards Healing" office to obtain some financial support for John.

However, like other victims, John found that "Towards Healing" is really a business strategy to limit the amount of assistance to victims.

John, supported by his family, continued to put pressure on the Christian Brothers, demanding proper compensation for his damaged career prospects. At first, the Christian Brothers offered John some trivial amounts, on condition that he must sign away his right to sue the Christian Brothers, but eventually John forced them to offer a settlement of a higher-than-average amount.

The settlement deed, drafted by the church's lawyers, states that the payment is to settle John's complaint about "maltreatment by Brother Roberts" at St Patrick's College Sutherland.

John told Broken Rites that he now feels some satisfaction in having forced the Christian Brothers to make this settlement.

Police charges regarding the Wollongong school

In December 2015, after one Wollongong victim ("Tom") reported Brother Chris Roberts to the NSW Police, Roberts was arrested at Fairlight on Sydney’s northern beaches. He was taken to Sydney's Redfern Police Station, where he was charged with 21 offences including multiple counts of homosexual intercourse (teacher of pupil) and indecent assault where the victim was under his authority.

On 9 March 2016, Roberts appeared in Wollongong Local Court, where the charges were officially filed. The court charges related to only one victim ("Tom") and only one school (at Wollongong) in the 1980s.

According to police information, Tom was a 13-year-old student who needed some tutoring. Roberts offered his services and Tom's mother, unaware that she was placing her son in the hands of a sexual predator, readily agreed.

One day, when Tom was in Roberts' car, Roberts took him to a secluded location and raped him.

After that, Roberts abused Tom on a weekly basis for nearly a year.

Abuse also occurred in the Brothers residence near the school, the court was told.

Police alleged that Roberts committed several kinds acts of indecency upon Tom, including fondling his penis and anus, and masturbating him. Police also alleged that Roberts rubbed his own erect penis over the boy’s body at least twice during 18 months. Furthermore, police alleged that Roberts raped the boy on several occasions.

In Wollongong Local Court on 15 June 2016, Roberts pleaded guilty to eleven of the 21 charges.

Sentencing

The guilty plea meant that no jury trial was needed. In mid-2016, the sentencing procedures began in the Wollongong District Court.

In a pre-sentence hearing, the judge received submissions from the prosecutors and the defence.

Tom exercised his right to give the judge a statement about how the church-crimes impacted on his life. Tom described how his life was damaged by Brother John Vincent Roberts' actions and by the church's cover-up. He said: "My life has been a continuous circle of pain".

In sentencing Roberts on 30 September 2016, Judge Andrew Haesler said Roberts had "grossly" breached the trust of Tom and his family.

"He exploited the youth and vulnerability of his victim," the judge said.

"He betrayed him and he betrayed himself as a Christian Brother. The assaults were planned, they were persistent and they were degrading."

Roberts was given a total prison term of ten years, with the right to apply for release on parole after six years.

Further research

Broken Rites is continuing its research about Christian Brother John Vincent "Chris" Roberts and the church's cover-up.