The church abandoned a Marist Brother's baby son

By a Broken Rites researcher (article first written 1998, updated on 26 October 2012)

A Catholic body has contravened the Australian Bishops' protocol on church sexual abuse, "Towards Healing". In 1998 the Professional Standards Resource Group for Victoria (PSRGV) adopted a report suggesting that it is acceptable for "celibate" priests or religious brothers to father a child. The PSRGV was replying to a Victorian woman, "Kylie" (born 1965), whose son " Jeff" (born August 1989) was fathered by a "celibate" Marist Brother (let us call him Brother AA). Kylie (aged 33 in 1998) had written to the PSRGV, seeking restitution from the Marist Order - i.e., half the cost of raising Brother AA's son.

Kylie's case certainly comes within the scope of Towards Healing and the PSRGV. Defining church sexual abuse, the Towards Healing document in 1998 said that sexual abuse includes any "conduct of a sexual nature that is inconsistent with the public vows taken by a priest or religious." Therefore, as Brother AA admits to being the father of Jeff, it is proven that Brother AA committed sexual abuse.

In a proven case of sexual abuse such as Kylie's (according to Towards Healing), the PSRGV is obliged to appoint a facilitator to convene a meeting between Kylie and the Marist Order to discuss restitution.

However, although the Marist Order is one of the signatories to Towards Healing, the Marists failed to participate in Kylie's Towards Healing case. This failure is a contravention of the Towards Healing process.

The group's then chairman, Alan Spencer, wrote to Kylie in a letter dated 28 January 1988. The letter agreed that Brother AA is the father of Jeff, born in 1989, but claimed (contrary to Towards Healing) that Brother AA's breach of the Marists' chastity rule did not constitute sexual abuse. The letter opposes Kylie's request for restitution from the Marist Order and concluded: "It would therefore appear that the matter cannot be taken any further by the Professional Standards Resource Group."

The PSRGV evidently considered it permissible for "celibate" priests and religious brothers to break their vows of chastity if their sexual partner is above the age of consent. However, this contradicts the policy laid down in Towards Healing, which stated in 1998: "Any attempt to sexualise a pastoral relationship is a breach of trust.. . Failure by the other person to reject such conduct does not necessarily imply meaningful consent.

"Even when the other person concerned is the one who seeks to sexualise the relationship, it is the professional responsibility of clergy or religious to guard the boundary against sexual contact."

The PSRGV's 1998 report undermined the credibility of the church's sex-abuse policy. Towards Healing said (in the Introduction of the 1996 edition): "It [the Towards Healing document] will become credible only to the extent that it is actually put into effect... If we do not follow the principles and procedures of this document, we will have failed according to our own criteria."

The Church abandons its child

The Marist Brothers Order, which was refusing to pay half the cost of raising Brother AA's son Jeff, is a well-resourced enterprise and it was taking full corporate responsibility for Brother AA, meeting all his present and future needs. But it refused to take corporate responsibility for Brother AA's son.

In 1998 Brother AA (aged 57 that year) was a senior teacher working at a Catholic school in Western Australia. His remuneration package, as a Marist Brother, was largely in the form of tax-free benefits and perks and guarantees of future security. The cash component was kept artificially low, exempting him from paying tax on the real value of his services as a senior teacher. Therefore, Brother AA was making only minimal periodic payments for his child - the sort of amount that an unemployed or low-wage person pays.

The real cost of raising Jeff had to be carried by the boy's mother and her parents. In 1998 Kylie (then aged 33) had no house of her own and, for nine years, had been forced to lodge with her own parents. This meant that Jeff's grandparents were bearing a responsibility that should be borne by the Marist Order.

By 1998, Kylie had followed all legal avenues to get support from the Marist Order but the Marists seemed not to care. The Marists forced Kylie to deal directly with Brother AA, who then hid behind his "vow of poverty".

How the case began

The story of Marist Brother AA and his son "Jeff' goes back to 1984. That year, when Brother AA met "Kylie", she was a student in Year 12 in a Victorian country Catholic secondary school. Brother AA, who was then based in Melbourne, visited Kylie's country school as a member of a Marist retreat team.

Brother AA, who was born in 1941, was 24 years older than Kylie. As a religious Brother, he was then clearly in a position of trust and authority but he formed a friendship with Kylie in the classroom and he continued this friendship after Kylie moved to Melbourne in 1985 to work.

Kylie told Broken Rites: "In !ate 1988 1 became pregnant. In January 1989, Brother AA informed his Marist superiors that we were expecting a child and told them he wanted to leave the order. But the Marists persuaded him to stay in the order and to dump me and our child. How Christian is this?

"Early in 1989, the Marists refused to tell me where Brother AA was based and I had to deal with their solicitor.

"On 16 May 1989, when I was six months pregnant, two unidentified men came to my door. They were evidently representing the Marist Brothers and they said I should consider giving the baby away for adoption. They then said they could help me to have an abortion.

"After our son was born in August 1989, I forwarded a birth certificate to the Marists' solicitor for Brother AA to sign but the solicitor returned it to me unsigned because, he said, it would not look good for the Marist order if the Brother's name was on it.

"By the end of 1989, I was broke and had to return home to live with my parents. I contacted the Marists' solicitor many times for financial assistance without success. In 1991, when my son was two years old, Brother AA finally agreed to pay me $50 a week for child support. But I got only $36 of this because I lost $14 from my supporting mother's benefit. He later paid me a slight increase but not enough to keep his son out of poverty.

"Brother AA claimed that he cannot afford higher payments because, as a Marist Brother, he has taken a vow of poverty. But the Marists are a wealthy order and it is immoral of them to accept corporate responsibility for Brother AA but not for his child.

"The Church's publication of Towards Healing in 1996 was supposed to remedy this kind of injustice."