Child Abuse Inquiry: Marist Brothers abuse ‘shocking and distressing’

Lady Smith (ABOVE) said Marist Brothers in positions of trust at both boarding schools violated their monastic vows and breached the trust of children and their families.
St Joseph's College, Dumfries
St Joseph’s College in Dumfries has been run by the local council since 1981.

By Harry Bell

The systemic abuse of children in two residential schools where children from some prominent, middle class Catholic families went to be taught by the Marist Brothers was “shocking and distressing”, a report has found.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry examined the provision of care by the Order at St Columba’s College, Largs, and St Joseph’s College, Dumfries.

Chairwoman Lady Smith found children were exposed to risks of sexual, physical and psychological danger.

The inquiry heard the offences occurred between 1950 and 1981.

Lady Smith said: “Marist Brothers in positions of trust at both boarding schools violated their monastic vows and breached the trust of children and their families.

“Both schools had flawed systems that allowed abusers driven by sexual motives to have easy access to children in their care.”

At St Columba’s she said two Brothers who had easy access to children were serial sex abusers.

One was former teacher Peter Toner who was jailed in 2019 for sexually abusing five pupils.

The High Court in Glasgow heard Toner, from Glasgow, told one of his victims: “I love you like a son” as he sexually assaulted him.

In her report, Lady Smith also identified Brother Germanus Paul.

He was at St Columba’s for two separate periods, 1957 to 1973 and 1975 to 1980, and was described by one witness as the “sergeant major”.

Lady Smith added: “They sexually abused children of tender years with impunity. Some children also suffered sadistic treatment associated with sexual abuse.

“Their presence at St Columba’s for a period over 20 years meant that the sexual abuse of children there was a chronic problem that destroyed childhoods and had lasting impact.

“A culture of obedience, fear of severe punishment and the authority of the Catholic Church served to empower abusers, and, conversely, rendered many victims powerless in the belief that their complaints of abuse would not be believed.”

Lady Smith said the failures to respond adequately to reports of abuse represented “serious failures in care”.

In 1998 former teacher Norman Bulloch was jailed for eight years for sex offences against two boys at St Joseph’s College.

The inquiry heard from 43 witnesses between October and November 2019.

The report is the third to be published following findings into the Christian Brothers and Benedictines earlier this year.

Lady Smith said complaints of abuse were met with inaction or, in some cases, the movement of brothers.

She added the safety of children “did not feature as a consideration”.

Lady Smith concluded: “The Marist Brothers were not qualified or trained in how to care for children in their residential care.

“The establishment of residential schools may have been well meaning but, in the absence of robust protective systems, the outcome for many was the creation of abusive environments.

“Systemic failures allowed sexual predators easy access to vulnerable children.”

Applicants and other witnesses continue to come forward to the Inquiry with relevant evidence about the care provided by the Marist Brothers and Lady Smith said this will be considered as part of the continuing process.

St Columba’s College closed in the early 1980s, while St Joseph’s was taken over by the local council in 1981.

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