The church concealed the crimes of this religious Brother

By a Broken Rites researcher

This case study demonstrates how the Catholic Church harboured a sexually abusive religious Brother, Bernard Hartman, throughout his long career in Australia and the United States. In Australia, the Melbourne Catholic diocese learned that Brother Hartman had committed crimes against Melbourne school-children but it did not report these crimes to the police. Finally, on 24 July 2015, some of his Melbourne victims got Brother Hartman (aged 75) jailed for his crimes.

Brother Hartman, born in the United States, is a member of an international Catholic religious order known as the Marianist brothers and priests. He worked in Australian schools in the 1970s and early 1980s.

In court in Australia in 2015 he was charged with sexual assaults on two boys and two girls committed while he was working at St Paul's College in Altona, a suburb in Melbourne's west. (At the time of the assaults, this was a boys' school, operated by the Marianist religious order, but now it has become one of the campuses of the Catholic Church's co-educational Emmanuel College.)

The attacks, on victims aged between six and 16, occurred between 1976 and 1982 when Brother Hartman worked at the school. The court was told that the alleged assaults occurred both at the school and at the victims' homes.

The victims were two boys from the school, plus two girls whose brothers attended this boys' school.

Hartman returned to the US in 1984. He was still working for the church in Dayton, Ohio, in July 2012.

According to statements made in court, victims first came forward to Victoria Police in 2003, with more allegations made in 2012.

Victoria Police had discussions with law enforcement agencies in the United States to have Brother Hartman investigated over allegations of sexual abuse concerning his time in Australia.

Brother Hartman was extradited back to Australia in September 2013 to face the charges. Detectives from Taskforce Sano (in the Victoria Police sex-crime squad) met him at Melbourne airport and escorted him to a court to file the charges. Taskforce Sano was created in late 2012 following the launching of a Victorian State parliamentary inquiry into how child abuse allegations have been handled in churches and other religious organisations.

In the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 4 September 2013 a magistrate granted bail to Hartman pending his next court appearance. The court ordered that Hartman was to stay at an address in Melbourne, which is residential accommodation occupied by a different Catholic religious order, the Christian Brothers.

Evidence in court

In March 2014, magistrate Jo Metcalf conducted a preliminary hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

In documents tendered to court, one of the male victims said in a police statement he was indecently assaulted by Brother Hartman over two years, sometimes in a classroom when others were present.

He alleged that Brother Hartman also pulled his hair and physically assaulted him. The alleged abuse, he said, had a profound effect on his life.

"After more than 30 years I am still suffering. My innocence has been taken by a man of God, Brother Hartman," he told police.

In a statement tendered in court, one of the female victims said that Hartman molested her between the ages of 5 and 11 in her bedroom after he had been invited to this family's house for dinner. She said she would try to avoid going to bed, or pretend to be asleep to deter him, but could not tell her adoptive parents, who were devout Catholics and in awe of Hartman.

"I felt vulnerable to the world. I was not coping. I felt unprotected," she said.

The court heard that the abuse ended when she was 11, but years later she received a love letter from him.

The woman said that when she complained to the Catholic Church's "Towards Healing" office in Melbourne in her early 20s, the church representatives advised her not to tell anyone what happened "as it may stir up problems in other people's lives".

Final court proceedings

On 19 March 2014, after hearing more than two days of evidence in the committal hearing, magistrate Jo Metcalf found that there was sufficient evidence for Brother Hartman to be found guilty and she committed him for trial in a higher court, the Melbourne County Court.

  • On 15 April 2015, Hartman, 75, pleaded guilty in the County Court to four counts of indecent assault, including vaginal penetration, of two girls aged between eight and 11 between 1973 and 1979.
  • As Hartman pleaded not guilty regarding the male victims, jury trials were held for the males. On 1 May 2015, a jury found Hartman guilty of one count of indecent assault and two of common law assault against a male student (these offences were committed in 1981 and 1982 when the boy was in Years 10 and 11).
  • Two weeks later, in a separate trial (with a different jury) regarding the second male student, Hartman was found not guilty of indecent assault against this boy.

In the Melbourne County Court on 24 July 2015, Judge James Parrish sentenced Hartman to three years jail, with one year suspended.