05 November 2021, The Tablet

De La Salle order apologises for sex abuse

De La Salle order apologises for sex abuse

Abuse “goes against everything” that compelled St John Baptist de La Salle to respond to the needs of young people in the 17th century.
The Picture Art Collection / Alamy

The De La Salle Order has issued an apology for sex abuse of children by members of the order, following a series of allegations and the suspension of its current provincial after he was accused of historic abuse.

The apology, in which the Order says that abuse “goes against everything that compelled our Founder to respond to the needs and challenges of the young people of Rheims in the seventeenth century” became known after a Catholic safeguarding official mentioned it in passing to a survivor of abuse.

Survivors who have reported harrowing details of beatings and sexual assaults by De La Salle brothers have not been sent the apology directly.

Survivor Patrick Mills, who says he was abused when a pupil of St Joseph’s School Ipswich, then run by the order, first learned of the apology when the Rev Des Bill, chair of the Catholic Church’s Safeguarding Commission for Orders in Education (SCOE) mentioned it to him as if he would already know of it. Mills then alerted fellow victims. He said he was puzzled by the order’s failure to contact people such as himself.

“It is disappointing that the order did not contact survivors. The statement had no letterhead and was not signed and it’s a vague comment. But it is a tiny sign of progress and there has been a positive response from survivors.

The statement, on the De La Salle website, says: “The Trustees of De La Salle GB acknowledge social media posts alleging historic abuse in De La Salle school settings. The trust is also committed to cooperating with the police in any investigation into any allegation made.

“We strongly denounce the abuse of children and those who commit such acts. We realise that only the victim can fully understand the nature of the hurt and the damage caused by their abuser, especially when it has occurred at the hands of someone who was in a position of trust, being responsible for their wellbeing.

“Where a brother or member of staff at any De La School was responsible for the abuse of any pupil we offer an unreserved apology. It goes against everything that compelled our Founder to respond to the needs and challenges of the young people of Rheims in the 17th century”.

In the past year former pupils of De La Salle schools have come forward to complain that they endured physical and sexual abuse at the hands of brothers who worked in the schools, and the current provincial of the Order, Brother Laurence Hughes, who once taught at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich was suspended following an allegation of abuse by a former pupil of the school. Police were informed and a safeguarding inquiry began.

Mills, who has collected material through his blog for the past eight years from survivors, says that he has passed details of  allegations of sexual and physical abuse by 13 De La Salle brothers and lay teachers and a school chaplain at St Joseph’s – and also at DLS schools elsewhere in Southern England – to Catholic safeguarding.

Among the accusations made by former pupils are those of teachers lashing boys with cat-o-nine-tails and boys being hit repeatedly with other objects. Some of the most serious accusations were made against the late Brother James Ryan who was also accused of sexual abuse of young boys. “He was renowned for his savagery,” said Mills.

Historic abuse cases in the Church are now passed to the police’s Operation Hydrant which oversees investigations into these, although Hydrant also recommends that they should be submitted to local authority safeguarding officials.

A spokesman for the De La Salle order said: “Brother Laurence remains suspended until the matter is investigated. Provincial leadership will be reviewed at the conclusion of the investigation and in accordance with the Church’s Safeguarding procedures.”

The apology comes as a former Scottish De La Salle brother, Michael Murphy, has been jailed for seven years for 29 offences against children. Murphy was convicted at the High Court in Edinburgh in September of assault, indecent assault and indecent conduct against boys who were housed at St Ninian's List D School, at Gartmore, in Stirlingshire, and St Joseph's School at Tranent, in East Lothian in the 1960s and 1970s. The court heard that he administered electric shocks to boys as young as eight. Murphy, 88, who was previously known as Brother Benedict, is already serving a custodial sentence for other offences of assault and indecent assault.

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