The Catholic Church provided a cover for this child-abuser but he finally pleaded guilty

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Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related

By a Broken Rites researcher

  • Article updated 4 February 2012

The Catholic Church harboured a child-sex abuser, Marist Brother Gerard Joseph McNamara, for four decades until some of his victims brought him to justice. When the police charged McNamara with child-sex crimes, the Marists enthusiastically supported McNamara. But Broken Rites supported the victims — and in 2005 McNamara was finally convicted.

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

How the cover-up ended

In April 1994, "Sam" (born in 1960) telephoned Broken Rites about Brother Gerard Joseph McNamara who sexually abused him at St Paul's Catholic College in Traralgon, in eastern Victoria, two decades earlier. 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 Victoria police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (SOCA) unit. 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.

The court was told that when Sam contacted the police, McNamara rejected the allegations, and continued convincing his friends and supporters that he had done nothing wrong.

When McNamara turned up for this court appearance, he was accompanied by a throng of supporters, who filled nearly all the seats in the courtroom's public gallery.

The support team included leaders of the Marist Brothers Order.

On the other hand, no Catholic Church representatives attended court to support the victims. However, 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 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

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 each 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.

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 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

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 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

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 the 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.

McNamara's background

From statements made in court (during the pre-sentence proceedings), Broken Rites has compiled the following details about McNamara's background. 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 taught 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, 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-abuse.)

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.

McNamara's barrister told the court that McNamara was currently (in 2005) receiving counselling from Catholic Church Melbourne psychologist Shane Wall. [The church has also hired Wall to supervise the counselling of church-abuse victims. These multiple roles are an obvious conflict of interest.]

Sentenced 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 can never work near children again, not even driving a school bus. And the worst penalty of all is that (much to the embarrassment of the Marist Brothers Order) his name and face have been publicised in Melbourne newspapers, on radio news bulletins and on television.

Radio interview

After the sentencing, 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.

Thus, Gerard Joseph McNamara is totally disgraced and humiliated. And the public image of the Marist Brothers order is tarnished.

More Marist victims

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.

These media reports (plus the McNamara article on the Broken Rites website) caught the attention of other Marist victims. One of these was "Jeremiah" (not his real name), who was a victim of Marist Brother Aubrey Tobin at the Traralgon school. After the McNamara conviction, Jeremiah wrote to Marist headquarters in Melbourne, expressing his sympathy for the McNamara victims. The then head of the Marist Order in Australia's southern states, Brother Paul Gilchrist, replied to Jeremiah in a letter dated 28 June 2005. This letter indicates that Gilchrist participated in the defence lawyers' submissions on behalf of Brother McNamara at the pre-sentence proceedings. Gilchrist wrote in his letter to Jeremiah:

    "At the court hearing, I informed the presiding judge that the Marist Brothers are very sorry for any damage that has been caused, not only through Gerard's actions but through the subsequent impact of these actions that all or any of the former students have experienced."

[However, this expression of regret came thirty years too late for McNamara's victims at the Traralgon school.]

Further complaints

Since McNamara's sentencing in 2005, more ex-students have said that they have similar complaints about sexual abuse in Marist schools. Such ex-students, in the state of Victoria, should have a chat with the specialist police officers of the Sexual Offences and Child-Abuse (SOCA) units which are located around Melbourne and around Victoria.

It is also possible for church victims to find specialist police (dealing with sexual offences) in other Australian states.

More articles

Here are articles by Broken Rites about two more Marist Brothers: