These orphanage boys were abused by the "Christian Buggers"

By a Broken Rites researcher 

Child-abuse at four Catholic orphanage-type institutions was so bad (and was so well covered-up) that the Christian Brothers earned a reputation many years ago as the "Christian Buggers", Australia's national child-abuse Royal Commission was told during public hearings in April-May 2014.

The senior barrister assisting the Royal  Commission, Ms Gail Furness, said at a public hearing that the mention of "Christian Buggers" was made in a report from the UK House of Commons, referring to four Catholic institutions in Western Australia. These institutions housed disadvantaged boys, many of whom were orphans shipped to Australia from the UK and Malta during migration schemes.

Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held two weeks of public hearings in Perth in April-May 2014 to investigate how the Christian Brothers and successive West Australian governments responded to allegations of horrific abuse at four Christian Brothers institutions in the two decades to 1968. The Institutions were:

  • Bindoon (St Joseph’s Farm and Trade School);
  • Castledare (Castledare Junior Orphanage);
  • Clontarf (St Vincent’s Orphanage); and
  • Tardun (St Mary’s Agricultural School).

Eleven former residents of the institutions told the Royal Commission about indecent assaults, beatings, child labour, neglect and cruelty by the Christian Brothers. The abuse was successfully covered up by the Christian Brothers community.

The Royal Commission summoned Brother Anthony Shanahan (a former leader of the Christian Brothers in Western Australia and South Australia) to give evidence. Questioned in the witness box, Shanahan indicated that the Christian Brothers in those years did not regard these child-abuse offences as a crime; instead, the offences were considered by the Brothers to be merely a "moral lapse". Information about these incidents was withheld from the police.

The offenders were not evicted from the Christian Brothers Order. At worst, they might be transferred to another school which did not have boarders - for example, Christian Brothers College in Wakefield Street, Adelalide. (South Australia and Western Australia were both within the one Christian Brothers administrative province.)

Anyway, according to information given to the Royal Commission by the office of the WA Director of Public Prosecutions,  the Brothers at these institutions would have  escaped trial because the law at that time was weighted in favour of the alleged offenders.  In 1993, the WA Police child-abuse unit had been working with the state’s Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to allegations made against a number of Christian Brothers but decided, for legal reasons, not to go ahead with charges because there seemed to be no “reasonable prospect of conviction”.

Thus, the WA Christian Brothers knew they could abuse children with impunity, safe in the knowledge the state would do nothing.

Only four Brothers were ever charged with sexually assaulting the boys at these four institutions. Two were convicted but charges against the other two were dropped.

Since the 1990s, the laws have been improved somewhat and now a successful prosecution has become more possible, the Commission was told.

However, many of the abusive Brothers from past years are now dead. 

Some of the abusive Brothers, who were named at the Royal Commission as offenders, are still being honoured by the Christian Brothers. For example, Brother Norman Tuppin, who died in 2009 aged 86 (and who was named as an abuser by four witnesses at the Royal Commission), has two memorials:

* Tuppin House, a Christian Brothers seaside recreational facility for pupils at Guilderton (Moore River), WA; and

* The Brother Norman Tuppin Trade Training Centre at Bindoon Catholic Agricultural College.

And Brother Tuppin was by no means the worst offender among the Christian Brothers.

One Brother became a priest

At the Commission's hearing on 29 April 2014, it was stated that the Brothers who worked at these orphanages many years ago would now be deceased (and therefore it was assumed that the Royal Commission would not be able to summon any of the Brothers to give evidence at the hearings).

However, according to a Perth archdiocesan newspaper (The Record, 8 December 2012), Brother Brian Morgan (formerly at the Tardun institution) later became ordained as a priest  -  Father Brian Morgan in the Bunbury diocese in the southwest of Western Australia.

Reporting Father Morgan's 80th birthday party in 2012, The Record said:

"Numerous speeches were given, traversing the 63 years of consecrated service from Fr Brian’s life as a Christian Brother at Tardun Agricultural School in the Northern Wheatbelt to his time training in Rome and his journeyman existence throughout the southwest of Western Australia."

Dead men tell no tales

The Royal Commission also heard about deaths of boys at the Christian Brothers institutions. Some of these deaths occurred in mysterious, sometimes criminal, circumstances.

These deaths caused a trauma for other boys who survived, and some of this trauma was passed on to the next generation after these survivors eventually created families of their own.

A reader of the Broken Rites website, named Michelle, has sent us an email about the experience of her father (named Michael), who was among the first boys at the Bindoon farm institution. Michelle wrote:

"My father, who was born in 1925, had lost both his parents by the time he was eight. He was from a family of seven, all of whom were put into Catholic orphanages. His four sisters were kept together but my Dad and his two brothers were completely separated.

"In his final years (before he died in 2002), my Dad became very angry and sad. He told me things about his time at Bindoon which are much in line with what the world is hearing through the Royal Commission,

"The Bindoon institution was still being built. The boys at some stage lived in a brick room which they built, with a door like a prison cell door with bars.

"At around 8 years old, my Dad was being ordered to work on putting up fences, sinking wells, making a driveway which is lined with big rocks. I have been to Bindoon and found the rocks along the drive way and also the shelters my Dad spoke of; they are the foundations behind the big shed at the back of the school.

"When my Dad was about 10 years old, one of his first jobs every morning was to tend to the horses. One morning, two of the horses began to mate. One of the Christian Brothers saw my Dad watching this and picked up some leather straps, which were used I think as bridals, and gave him a prolonged beating, causing him to collapse. When my Dad woke up, black and blue with bruising, he was so weak that he couldn't stand. It was several weeks before he recovered sufficiently to return to work at the orphanage. A 10-year-old boy bashed into unconsciousness for observing Nature! But episodes like this were covered up and no one cared anyway as the kids were orphans and were shunned from society.

"My Dad said that some boys died after being beaten. Bodies were disposed of secretly somewhere. These deaths were never reported to the State authorities. And there was no inquiry by a coroner.

"The victims who are able to tell their story to the Royal Commission are those who are alive to do so but many of the earlier boys are no longer alive to tell their story.

"My father's traumatic upbringoing under the Christian Brothers created difficulties for him when he became a parent, and this has caused disruptions to my life. I am now aged 50. Thus, the mis-deeds of the Christian Brothers are impacting on later generations.

"The Church needs to be held accountable for what it has done"

The future of the Christian Brothers?

The Royal Commission was told that the Christian Brothers Order in Australia is much smaller today than in past decades. The commission was told that while recruitment to the Order is drying up in Australia, it is expanding in Africa, India and Papua New Guinea. (Broken Rites does not have a branch in those countries, and this is fortunate for the Christian Brothers.l)

Formerly, the Christian Brothers in Australia were divided geographically into four provinces, with their respective headquarters in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Each province had its own leader. However, with the decline of the order, the four provinces have been amalgamated into one, now called the Oceania Province, which also includes New Zealand, New Guinea, the Philippines and Timor Leste.

The deputy leader of the Oceania Province, Brother Julian McDonald, wrote in an article in The Australian newspaper on 12 May 2014: "There will be no future for the Christian Brothers unless and until we do all in our power to address the devastation inflicted on the lives of children and vulnerable adults by the sexually, emotionally and physically abusive conduct of some of our number."

As the public reputation of the Christian Brothers declines, this order now likes to submerge itself under the brand-name "Edmund Rice Network" (in honour of Edmund Rice who founded the Irish Christian Brothers in 1808).

  • For an example of how the Christian Brothers have trashed their own public image, see the story of Brother Ted Dowlan HERE.
  • And see the story of Brother Bob Best HERE.