Full story: The church harboured this pedophile Marist Brother but eventually he was jailed

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 15 May 2020

This Broken Rites article reveals how the Catholic Church harboured a child-sex abuser, Marist Brother Gerard Joseph McNamara, teaching in Catholic schools, for four decades until eventually some of his victims began speaking (separately) to the Victoria Police child-protection detectives. When the police finally charged McNamara regarding the first batch of these victims, the Marists enthusiastically supported McNamara and ignored the victims. But Broken Rites supported the victims — and in 2004-2005 McNamara pleaded guilty to this first batch of victims and was convicted. This prompted more of McNamara's former students to contact the detectives. In 2016, McNamara pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting two more of his victims, resulting in another conviction. For each of these convictions (to 2016), he was given a suspended sentence. Those court cases prompted more of his victims to contact the police; therefore, on 3 September 2018, McNamara was jailed after he pleaded guilty five more victims, and on 15 March 2020 (aged 82) he was given more jail time regarding five more of his victims. Meanwhile, despite his criminal convictions, the Marist organization still regards McNamara as a Marist Brother.

The 2018 and 2020 court cases are reported towards the end of this Broken Rites article.

McNamara's background

From statements made in court (in 2004-2005), Broken Rites has compiled the following details about McNamara's background.

Gerard Joseph McNamara (born 9 March 1938) became a trainee Marist Brother, straight from school, at age 18 in 1956. He belonged to the Melbourne-based province of the Marist Brothers, where he was originally known as "Brother Camillus" (not to be confused with another, older "Brother Camillus" in the Sydney province). McNamara began teaching in Marist schools at:

  • Sale VIC (St Patrick's College) 1960-4;
    Wangaratta VIC 1965-6;
    Bendigo VIC 1967;
    Forbes NSW (Red Bend College) 1968; and
    Traralgon VIC (St Paul's College) 1970-6.

In the mid-1970s, while officially still attached to the Traralgon school, McNamara spent some time in Fiji. About 1977, after his period of offending at the Traralgon school, he also spent some time away from teaching, visiting the Catholic Church's "National Pastoral Institute" (now defunct) in Melbourne. (Catholic priests and brothers were sometimes "warehoused" at the National Pastoral Institute after being exposed for child-sex crimes.)

Despite McNamara's behaviour at the Traralgon school, the Marist Brothers kept him in the Order and appointed him to more schools. His next postings were to:

  • Mt Gambier in South Australia 1978-80;
    Preston VIC 1980-5;
    Shepparton VIC 1986-92;
    Sale VIC 1993-9;
    Preston VIC 2002-3; and
    Sale VIC 2003.

More background, 1994 to 2004

In April 1994, "Sam" (born in 1960) telephoned Broken Rites, alleging that Brother Gerard Joseph McNamara sexually abused him at St Paul's Catholic College in Traralgon, in eastern Victoria, in the 1970s. Also in 1994, Sam complained to a senior Marist Brother about McNamara's offences but this complaint was unsuccessful; and McNamara continued teaching as a Marist Brother. At a school reunion in 1998, Sam found that half a dozen other ex-students still remembered McNamara as an abuser. Finally, in 2003, on the advice of Broken Rites, Sam contacted the Sexual Offences and Child-abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) of the Victoria Police. Detectives then easily found more victims of Gerard McNamara from just this one school.

In the Melbourne County Court on 13 December 2004 (ten years after Sam's first call to Broken Rites), Gerard McNamara (then 66) finally faced justice.

A Broken Rites researcher was present throughout all the McNamara court proceedings, taking notes.

A Marist cheer squad at the court

When McNamara turned up for his court appearance in 2004, he was accompanied by a throng of his colleagues and supporters, who filled the corridor outside the courtroom. This support team included leaders of the Marist Brothers Order. If any victim arrived, he had to weave his way through this support squad to approach the courtroom.

When the courtroom door was opened, the Marist support squad filled nearly all the seats in the courtroom's public gallery, leaving little space for victims.

Thus, no Catholic Church representatives attended court to support the victims. However, Broken Rites representatives were present to provide this support.

Helped by Broken Rites, one victim had alerted the media, and therefore (unfortunately for the Marists) journalists were present in court, taking notes. This ensured that the court case would not be covered up.

The 2004 court case begins

When the court hearing began, the courtroom was informed that detectives had obtained statements from not just one victim ("Sam") but six.

When asked how he wished to plead regarding these six victms, McNamara announced "Guilty". He admitted indecently assaulting these six students, mostly aged about 11 or 12, in 1972-73. These six were not McNamara's only victims — they were merely those who provided police statements. And the detectives had investigated only one of McNamara's schools — St Paul's College, Traralgon.

(St Paul's College, Traralgon, has since merged with a girls' school to become a part of the enlarged co-educational Lavalla Catholic College).

The offences in the 2004 case

Because of the "Guilty" plea, McNamara's victims were not required to give verbal evidence in court. However, the court possessed written statements, compiled by the victims during their police interviews.

The victims' written statements described how McNamara would send a boy alone to a sports equipment shed at the school for a "remedial massage". The massage, using oil or smelly "Dencorub", extended from the ankles to the genitals. McNamara sometimes took the victim to a bedroom near his office. McNamara was not a qualified masseur, the court was told.

The court was told that McNamara's abuse was well known to students at the campus, all of whom came to dread an invitation to the notorious shed. Other students knew what the smell of "Dencorub" meant and what being sent to the shed would result in. The "Dencorub" made the boys embarrassed after going back to class (or going home on the school bus) smelling of the substance. One embarrassed 11-year-old boy fled from the school and made his own way home from Traralgon to Moe, 30km away, instead of returning to class, after a "massage" from McNamara.

Some of the "massages" were purportedly for sports injuries — mostly an injured ankle but also an injured knee or an injured back — but some were for disciplinary reasons.

The court was told that McNamara was a violent teacher, regularly using a strap to discipline students. The prosecutor said McNamara was the deputy principal, sports co-ordinator and discipline co-ordinator at the time of the offences and later became the principal — positions that gave him power over his victims.

One victim wrote: "It was like discipline was his God, I remember seeing fellow students wet their pants while being dealt with by Brother Gerard."

Another victim said that during a sport class McNamara pushed him into a wooden vaulting horse and ordered him to stay back after school to have the injury massaged.

"I said it's not necessary ... I told him I had to go home after school, he insisted I was to stay back," the victim wrote. "I was petrified and fearful. I knew something was going to happen. It was well known around school Brother Gerard spent time alone with boys."

He said McNamara took him to a room in the school, told him to lie on a bed and rubbed a cream on him and massaged him for half an hour.

"I felt very dirty, I think I was in shock. I knew Brother Gerard had done something wrong but I didn't understand, I was very confused, embarrassed and ashamed," he said.

The culture of cover-up

McNamara also taught "religion" which included teaching "morals", the court was told during the 2004 hearing.

The court was told that McNamara held a position of exalted trust within the Catholic community, and his defenceless victims were too afraid to speak out.

When some boys did eventually reveal the abuse, the parents did not believe them. These parents had been conditioned to believe the Marist Brothers, rather than the children, the court was told.

Impact of the crimes

One boy ("Mitch") did tell his parents but his mother reprimanded him for "telling lies" about a Marist Brother — and his father thrashed him. This destroyed his relationship with his parents, both now dead. Even his brother disbelieved him until recently. After the court proceedings began, Mitch's brother apologised for doubting Mitch but the brotherly relationship is damaged, and Mitch (at the time of the 2004 court case) is still estranged from other family members.

The victims said that the long-term effects of McNamara's crimes included: low self-esteem; inability to form relationships; a feeling of powerlessness; the loss of their relationship with the church community; and a disruption of family relationships. Only one of the boys in the case has gone on to have a normal life, the court was told.

One boy wrote that this was his first "sexual" encounter and he carried the burden of guilty around for all these years, until this court case.

Pre-sentence submissions in 2004

Because of the "Guilty" plea, the victims' written evidence was not in dispute. The court began hearing submissions from the prosecution and the defence about what kind of penalty should be imposed on McNamara.

The prosecutor referred to the seriousness of the offences, committed on defenceless young boys (aged 11 or 12, not big teenagers) by a man in an exalted position. And, despite McNamara's guilty plea, he still has not expressed remorse, the court was told.

The Marists' defence lawyer stated that Brother McNamara has received overwhelming support, "as shown by the number of supporters in court today."

The Marists' lawyer asked for a non-custodial sentence, adding that McNamara's public disgrace would be a punishment in itself, as shown (he said) by the presence of "reporters in court today".

Media coverage of the 2004 case

At the end of the 13 December 2004 hearing, McNamara was remanded on bail pending the resumption of the pre-sentence proceedings on a future date.

McNamara's December 2004 guilty plea was immediately reported in the media. This prompted a seventh victim to come forward. When the pre-sentence proceedings resumed on 3 June 2005, McNamara's seventh victim was added to the case, and McNamara pleaded guilty regarding this victim.

At the June 2005 hearing, Marist leaders again attended court but many of McNamara's former large throng of supporters stayed away. Again, journalists were present in court.

Sentenced in 2005 and disgraced

On 17 June 2005, Judge Jim Duggan sentenced Gerard McNamara to a 36-month jail term which was suspended.

Certainly, the judge could have made McNamara serve part of this 3-year sentence (say, six months) behind bars but the Marist Brothers' lawyers could then appeal against the jailing — and, for legal reasons, the Appeals Court could easily release him (because it is quite common for the courts to give a suspended sentence in a case of this kind, where the incidents occurred many years ago).

The judge placed McNamara on the Register of Serious Sexual Offenders. McNamara now could never again work near children, not even driving a school bus. And the worst penalty of all is that (much to the embarrassment of the Marist Brothers Order) his 2005 conviction was publicised in Melbourne newspapers, on radio news bulletins and on television.

Radio interview

After the sentencing in 2005, Broken Rites arranged for one victim ("John") to be interviewed on Melbourne radio 3AW's drive-time program. After John's interview, several talkback callers spoke negatively on 3AW about the Marist Brothers culture. One caller said that he was an additional victim of McNamara — that is, this man had not been to the police and he was not one of the seven victims in the court case.

As well as making sure that McNamara's conviction was reported in the Melbourne media, his victims also made sure that it was reported in local newspapers (and on local radio) in Traralgon and other districts in which McNamara had taught.

Convicted again in 2016

On 14 November 2016, Gerard McNamara (then aged 78) pleaded guilty in the Melbourne County Court to indecently assaulting two males under the age of 16 at St Paul's Catholic College in Traralgon (eastern Victoria). These offences occurred in 1975 when Brother Gerard McNamara was the principal and sports master of the school.

The court was told that the younger victim was 11 or 12 at the time and was in Year 7 (the lowest form in the school). This boy went to the school's office after injuring his knee (and damaging his pants) while playing soccer. He was standing in an office in his underwear while a female staff member repaired his pants.

McNamara then came into the office and used a pungent cream ("Dencorub") to massage the boy's leg. While doing this, he indecently attacked the boy's genitals.

"The victim returned to class smelling of liniment and was laughed at by the other students," the prosecutor told the court. "Unfortunately, the accused had a reputation among the students – a common expression used was 'getting a rub down from Brother Gerard'."

The second victim (when aged 14) was indecently assaulted twice after getting an injured thigh while playing football. First, McNamara indecently assaulted this boy in the sports shed and told him to return two days later. The boy returned and was indecentely assaulted again.

During a pre-sentence procedure on 14 November 2016, each of these two victims submitted an impact statement to the court, telling how this crime (committed by a Catholic Brother in a Catholic school) had damaged his life, leaving him emotionally scarred. Both victims said they still carried the consequences decades later.

On 6 December 2016, Judge James Parrish sentenced Gerard McNamara to 16 months in prison, wholly suspended.

The investigation for the 2016 case was conducted by detectives in the Sexual Offences and Child-abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) at Morwell.

After the 2016 conviction, Victoria Police detectives continued to investigate further complaints concerning Brother Gerard Joseph McNamara. Detective Senior Sergeant Christopher SKURRIE, of Morwell Police, prepared a case to go to court in 2018.

A guilty plea again in 2018

On 19 March 2018, Gerard Joseph McNamara (aged 80) appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court, where he pleaded guilty to indecent assaults committed against five more former schoolboys, between January 1970 and December 1975, during his time at St Paul's College, Traralgon. After his guilty plea, the Marist Brothers’ Province of Australia immediately released a media statement, finally acknowledging McNamara's offences: "The charges that have been pleaded guilty to today by this Brother represent the most profound breach of trust of children. We acknowledge that the effect of these actions is often lifelong and we apologise unreservedly to those who have suffered great pain as a result." [But Broken Rites believes that the church's "apology" (a business tactic) has come many years too late for McNamara's victims and their families, who are still feeling damaged by the disruption that the church cover-up has caused to their lives.]

On 18 July 2018, pre-sentence proceedings began with a judge in the Melbourne County Court. All five of his victims were present in court and each presented a written impact statement to the judge, describing how the abuse affected their lives. 

Each victim described how his life was damaged by Brother Gerard's offending. Alcoholism and anger were common themes as well as a lack of trust. Several victims told the court they still suffered depression, anxiety and PSTD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

One of the victims said his relationship with his mother broke down after the offending, describing McNamara as "evil", and that he ended up a ward of the state, living in a boys' home and on the streets.

Another victim described how he felt ashamed and dirty after the offending. "Brother Gerard was an imposing, scary person to me then and I was intimidated by him and what he was doing."

Another victim described how he was bullied by other students for being one of Brother Gerard's "chosen ones".

Students who smelt of "Dencorub" would be embarrassed, another victim added. "It was impossible not to know. Every student in that school knew. That was so humiliating. I've made a number of attempts at suicide in my life all as a result of shame and degradation."

Judge Duncan Allen condemned the "appalling culture that existed" at Marist Brothers schools of the era.

Jailed in 2018

On 3 September 2018, Judge Duncan Allen sentenced McNamara to a maximum of 36 months in jail but suspended most of the term given his age, ill health and the unlikelihood of him reoffending. McNamara was ordered to serve nine months behind bars, after which he would be eligible to apply for release on bail to spend the remainder of his jail term in the community while still being a convicted criminal.

In his sentencing remarks, the judge said McNamara was in a position of "trust and dominance" when he sexually assaulted the children, whose complaints generally weren't believed.

"You were a highly respected member of a religious order within a culture that placed you on a pedestal," the judge told McNamara. "When victims complained to their parents, they weren't believed, such was the respect in which you were held by virtue of your position."

Jailed again in 2020

McNamara was jailed again on 15 May 2020 (aged 82), this time for seven months over his assaults against five students at St Paul's Secondary College in Traralgon between 1973 and 1975.

He pleaded guilty to the indecent assault of four boys and the physical assault of another.

McNamara was a sports teacher and headmaster at the school and he most often offended against boys after they had been injured playing sports, the court was told.

He massaged the boys' injured muscles but then made them remove their underwear and invasively touched them around their genitals.

When another boy misbehaved in class. McNamara punched the boy in the ribs.