THE Marist Brothers have formally apologised to the family of Andrew Nash, whose suicide in 1974 at the age of 13 has been one of the prime symbols of the pain and suffering caused by child sexual abuse, examined at the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic hearing of the Royal Commission.
In an emotional seventh and final day of the Catholic case study, the head of the Marist Brothers in Australia, Brother Peter Carroll, acknowledged that three of its predatory brothers – Dominic, Patrick and Romuald – had many more victims than the dozens who had come forward so far.
At the close of proceedings, the commission’s chairman, Justice Peter McClellan, said it was appropriate to acknowledge that the investigation was “founded upon the suffering of a great many people across many institutions throughout Australian society”.
Paying tribute to Gold Walkey-winning journalist Joanne McCarthy, Justice McClellan said it was important for the commission to come to Newcastle, where the suffering of “so many” was “first recognised by journalists and brought forward by the Newcastle Herald.
“Without those efforts it is unlikely that this Royal Commission would have taken place,” Justice McClellan said.
“It is unlikely that government would have believed it necessary to respond in the way that ultimately occurred.”
Outside the commission, Andrew Nash’s mother Audrey said the apology was unexpected and meant a huge amount to the family.
Thursday’s hearing began with former Hamilton Marist Brothers principal Brother Christopher Wade, who insisted – as he had on Wednesday – that a single complaint against Brother Romuald was the only instance of reported abuse he could recall being told about.
Brother Christopher acknowledged that he “lived in the same house, ate at the same table” as brothers Romuald, Patrick and Dominic but said – against the evidence of various witnesses who said they complained to him – that he could not recall the complaints he was being asked about.
Taken to earlier evidence that a pupil, CNS, and his father, CNX, had complained to him about abuse, Brother Christopher said: “I don’t believe I received them.”
When CNS’s counsel, Martine Marich, said those complaints were part of “a constellation of concerns”, he said: “No, that’s not true.”
Brother Christopher was questioned extensively on his insistence that he remembered very little about the death of 13-year-old Andrew Nash, on October 8, 1974.
Asked by barrister Hilbert Chiu, representing several victims, why he could not remember, he said: “I’m not saying I didn’t do it. I’ve struggled to – I’ve struggled to picture myself in the context. I’ve struggled to picture myself having gone to the home in the company of the people that I read about in the evidence who say that they were there with me and I simply can’t picture or recollect or recall . . .”
Mr Chiu finished by saying: “And you’re pretending you don’t remember that evening because you’re a coward and you’re a liar?”
Brother Christopher: “That’s not true.”
Two Marist victims, Terry Skippen and Peter Russ, told of their abuse by brothers Romuald and Patrick, respectively, and of the impact the assaults had on their lives.
The final witness was the leader, or provincial, of the Marist Brothers in Australia since 2015, Brother Peter Carroll, who entered the order aged 18 in 1977.
Brother Peter read the apology to the Nash family and agreed “all the evidence” pointed to him having been abused. He agreed that the order had failed to do anything about the sexual crimes and excessive disciplinary violence of many its brothers, and agreed there had been a failure of record keeping and a tendency to try to minimise the importance of any complaints.
Brother Peter said the Marist Brothers were undertaking a wide-ranging study into the order’s history of abuse, a move that was noted by Justice McClellan, who said the commission would be tackling the “why” question in one of its final case studies, to be devoted to that question.