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Brother Rejects Claims of Suspicious or Mysterious Deaths in Letterfrack

Brother Says Abuse Took Place in Letterfrack
Irish Times, June 17, 2005 by Martin Wall

Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse:  A senior member of the Christian Brothers has accepted that boys were abused at St Joseph's Industrial School at Letterfrack, Co Galway, but has completely rejected claims that there had been suspicious or mysterious deaths in the institution.

Brother David Gibson, provincial leader, St Mary's Province of the Christian Brothers, said abuse had been carried out on an individual and isolated basis by a small number of members of the congregation and lay persons.

However, he said this abuse had not been systematic and when it had become known, action had been taken immediately - although this was generally dealt with internally within the congregation and the civil authorities were not informed.

Giving evidence before the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Brother Gibson said that 60 years ago, sexual abuse had been seen more as a moral failure than as a crime.

He said the Christian Brothers accepted that there had been problems of sexual and physical abuse, but that he wanted to portray a balanced picture of life in the school.

He said the vast majority of brothers who had worked there had toiled selflessly to provide a necessary service on behalf of the State for children who were marginalised.

Despite gross underfunding, there were significant educational achievements recorded, with results in the primary certificate regularly higher than the national average, Brother Gibson said.

The school in Letterfrack operated from 1887 to the early 1970s and in that time dealt with around 3,000 pupils.

St Joseph's catered for boys who were deemed to be lacking proper guardianship, who failed to attend school, were homeless or who had been convicted for offences such as larceny.

Brother Gibson rejected completely that there had been mysterious deaths and clandestine burials at Letterfrack. He said these claims, which had caused great anguish, contained not a shred of truth.

He said that 74 boys died at the school and a further 28 after they had been discharged.

"What we have here is quite a number of boys who died but not a higher percentage than you'd have in the country," Brother Gibson said. Pupils had died from conditions such as pneumonia, TB, meningitis as well as from accidents and all deaths were accounted for.

He said that in 2001, gardaí had exhumed the body of a boy from St Joseph's who was alleged to have died on holiday in 1970 as a result of being struck.

"The postmortem states there is no evidence that any violent attack caused or contributed to his death."

Brother Gibson described as "worrying" a reference in a letter written in 1960 from a Christian Brother in the school to his superior which expressed concern that an unnamed doctor was "too anxious to experiment on boys". "No parent would allow this," the brother had written.

However, Brother Gibson said that no other contemporary document highlighted such concerns. Two cases of sexual abuse had come to light in the school in the 1930s, and one each in 1941, 1954 and 1961. Other incidents of abuse only came to light in recent years.

However, he said there was no cover up when individual members of the congregation were found to have abused.

The normal procedures was for those who were not fully professed to be dismissed.

Those fully professed were given a canonical warning, transferred elsewhere and, if the abuse was repeated, were usually dismissed.

Brother Gibson accepted that avoidance of scandal may have been a factor behind the decision not to inform civil authorities.