Violent and sexually 'defective': What the royal commission taught us about the Christian Brothers
It's a lonely walk up the gravel pathway beside Ballarat cemetery's Roman Catholic section.
Monuments dating back to the goldfields era perch above the plots of the faithful.
A marble inscription above a congregation of nuns stands tall: "In Your Charity Pray for the Souls of the Sisters of Mercy".
One after another, the city's Catholic institutes are memorialised in stone, the faded names of priests and brothers buried together under an oblong wall of basalt.
A little further up the hill is a small stretch of identical white Celtic crosses — the final resting place of the city's Christian Brothers.
The white monuments are embedded with the names of about 20 of their dead. The last to be buried, in 1987, was Brother Gerald Leo Fitzgerald.
Brother Fitzgerald's victims were exclusively boys, with an average age of eight years old.
For more than a decade the Irish-born immigrant had his pick of his Grade 3 classroom at the St Alipius Boys School in Ballarat East.
"As students, everyone was very aware what was going on, but it was just accepted," said Elroy, a former student now in his 50s who would prefer not to use his real name.
"I just thought this was the way life was."
He said when he told his parents, they went down to see the school's headmaster.
"[He] said 'Look, you've got nothing to worry about, Fitzy's just a nature-loving kind of guy. That's the reason he's getting your son to pull his pants down and do breathing exercises."
Devout Catholics, they took the brother's word.
"By all accounts, and on the basis of instruction from our clients over the years, [Fitzgerald] was an extremely violent teacher," Elroy's Melbourne-based solicitor Vivian Waller said.
"And that violence tended to make children more compliant when it came to the allegations of sexual abuse."
Brothers 'took no action to prevent assaults'
Thirty years on from his death, Dr Waller has launched action in the Supreme Court against the Christian Brothers over allegations they were negligent in allowing Brother Fitzgerald continued access to children.
The argument will rest on evidence unearthed from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse confirming the Christian Brothers leadership was well aware of the brother's propensity to assault children, but took no action to prevent it.
In a 1950 letter from Brother Fitzgerald's provincial — the regional head of the religious order — he was admonished for his repeat offending.
"I feel it my duty to censure you as strongly as possible for the following matters that have been brought to my notice," the brother in charge wrote.
"In defiance of the command given you by the [Brother] Consultor, you continued to have dealings with the boys … you have allowed one or more boys to enter your room, and you have kissed a boy."
But the letter finished without consequence: "I trust that the retreat has brought home to you your irregular and irreligious conduct, and that it will not be necessary to take further action."
In 2013 the Catholic Church's own insurance arm wrote to the Christian Brothers to reveal they would not be financially backing claims involving Brother Fitzgerald.
The letter stated complaints about his behaviour reached "the ultimate Christian Brothers hierarchy in Dublin", and that despite consideration, disciplinary matters "[appear] not to have progressed".
"It was knowledge that appears to have been held by the upper echelons of that organisation," Dr Waller said.
"It is knowledge that they should have acted on to remove a predatory brother from teaching responsibilities.
"But in fact it was the reverse, and that's just heartbreaking if you actually stop and think about the suffering caused to those boys and their families."
School had prolific paedophiles on staff
Brother Fitzgerald was not alone.
In one of the most enduring and extraordinary examples of institutional abuse, the small St Alipius Boys School where he taught in the early 1970s had some of Victoria's most prolific paedophiles on staff.
His colleagues, former Brother Edward Dowlan (now Ted Bales) and the school's principal Brother Robert Best are ageing in prison for sexual crimes committed against school children, as is the school's former chaplain, the notorious Gerald Ridsdale
Another former brother is due to face court in Melbourne charged with fresh historic offences in February.
Chairman of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of institutional child abuse, Georgie Crozier, remarked at hearings in 2013 that "it appears the only person who was working at the school at that time who did not offend against children was the sole female lay teacher".
Elroy's first day is seared in his memory.
"There were storms. It was a very dark day, and these brothers were just striding around in these long black robes and shouting at kids."
Later were the science lessons, where Brother Fitzgerald would line the boys up in a circle with a hand-wound high-voltage generator.
"We'd all have to hold hands and he'd get this electrical generator on us and it'd go round the whole circle.
He'd probably call it a trust thing. If anyone let go, you'd get a hell of a shock."
Elroy's face is filled with anger.
"That's how I've felt going through my whole life — violence is going to happen to me if I do the wrong thing, step one little foot out of line. We were absolutely in fear."
Questions about why abuse occurred go unanswered
The answer to how or why this was a conceivable reality lies squarely with the Christian Brothers order itself.
But despite forensic questioning at the royal commission's hearings, that question has not been conclusively resolved.
In 2016, the counsel assisting the inquiry, Stephen Free, publicly interrogated Brother Paul Nangle, the superior of the Ballarat Christian Brothers community at the height of the worst abuse in the 1970s.
"Brother Nangle, you now know that during your period as superior of this community, there was abuse being committed of a sexual nature, quite audaciously, within the community, that is, within the dormitory, and also at the St Alipius School and at the St Patrick's School, and it seems on your evidence, you were ignorant that it was going on," Mr Free said.
"What is your explanation?" he was asked. "Why do you think it occurred?"
Brother Nangle's response was somewhat enigmatic.
"A response to that would have many facets," the brother told the commission.
"I think possibly the psychosexual formation of brothers in the spirituality of our congregation may have been deficient, defective."
In his own time, Brother Nangle said, he was taught that the body was at least partially evil and needed to be constrained.
"We were formed in the notion that the world, as we called it, was at least potentially evil and as a result we were secluded from it, we were separated from it."
As a religious superior in the 1970s, he said he took for granted "that my brothers were all motivated by a desire for spiritual perfection … at that time in my mind it would have been totally inconceivable to me that a religious brother could have behaved in such a deplorable manner."
With exasperating denial, he concluded: "I trusted them to behave responsibly."
Internal report painted picture of power and control
In all, the brothers operated six schools across the Ballarat diocese, but 61 per cent of abuse claims have related to St Alipius.
In the late 1990s the order commissioned one of its brothers to conduct a study into the prevalence of child abuse within the religious institute.
Tendered as an exhibit to the royal commission, it contains some stark admissions that were not as forthcoming in the hearings themselves.
In a chapter titled The Nature of Child Abuse, the internal report's author painted a frightening picture of power and control.
"We ran our schools; we made the rules; we expected people to obey. Everything was on our terms … We ran a closed system which was not subject to formal public scrutiny.
"This is particularly significant, because the consequent dynamic resembles in principle that of a potentially incestuous family."
The author continued: "Some individual brothers abused their position of trust by exerting power over children in forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse."
Novices were recruited to the order as teenage boys, naive to the future before them.
"There was a truly disturbed attitude to sexuality and intimacy in the church," wrote Graham English in a submission to the royal commission; he became a brother in 1960 at the tender age of 15.
"From the moment we entered … we were forbidden from having a 'particular friend'. They were afraid of homosexuality I am sure, but this was not explained.
"The effect of this fear of particular friends was that we were forbidden from having any real friends.
"We had no teaching about intimacy or friendship, nor any encouragement to have real conversations with anyone."
Abusive brother never taken away from children
The recruits were all drilled with the notion of perseverance.
Mr English's novice master told him, "When you die if it is [a] brother … in the coffin, you will have been a success. If it is Graham English, you will have been a failure."
A brother to the end, Gerald Leo Fitzgerald did not fail in his task of perseverance; he was buried with other men of the cloth.
The last of several hundred Christian Brothers to migrate from Ireland to Ballarat, he died an old man in his college community, in the 69th year of his religious life.
As he has lain buried, officers for the royal commission have drawn up charts and tables of his abuse.
Years, locations and patterns are listed alongside the average age of his victims.
Brother Fitzgerald worked for St Vincent de Paul's orphanage as a probationary officer at the Children's Court.
For 20 years he was charged with supervising young people accused or convicted of committing crimes.
For a further 13 years he taught primary school boys, and then lived out his days on the campus of St Patrick's College.
At no point, over his decades of perpetrating crimes against children, was he constrained from contact with them.
Lives of brothers remain a mystery
Twenty-two per cent of Christian Brothers across Australia have been alleged sexual predators since 1950, according to the royal commission.
Of the almost 2,000 identified alleged perpetrators in the Catholic system, 32 per cent — the highest percentage — were religious brothers.
And yet their lives remain a relative mystery.
Repeated attempts by the ABC for interviews with Christian Brothers across the country, by way of phone calls, emails, letters and doorknocks, have been ignored or denied.
One of the first detectives to properly investigate a Christian brother in Victoria was Blair Smith, whose work in the early 1990s led to the conviction of Edward Dowlan.
As part of his role he executed a warrant at the Christian Brothers headquarters in Parkville, where he requested the file on Dowlan.
He was told, "There's no file. We don't keep files."
The former detective was mystified.
"You've got to have something," he said.
"We've got nothing," a brother told him. "We don't keep files on our Christian brothers."
Detective Smith said he returned to his office flabbergasted.
"[It's] just run like a Mafia organisation," he said. "Any other organisation, you'd have to have a file, on a teacher, or anyone else."
Decision may have been made 'not to record matters'
It may have been deliberate.
Senior counsel Gail Furness noted this in her opening address in the royal commission's case study into the Catholic Church in early 2017.
Ms Furness told the hearing that sexual misconduct against children in Western Australian institutions had been mentioned in visitation reports and provincial council minutes from 1919, but that from 1959 those concerns were no longer put down on paper.
The lawyers for the Christian Brothers told the royal commission, "There may well have been some decision made in the late 1950s not to record these matters."
The commissioners later concluded the Christian Brothers "completely failed … to protect the most vulnerable children in their care", and that senior brothers, including Paul Nangle, had deliberately misled police in more recent statements about their knowledge of abuse.
Since 2007, the order has retreated from providing direct education.
Edmund Rice Education Australia, the legal successor, still operates 50 schools across the country.
Taking the fight as far as he can
Elroy never went to the royal commission because he did not want his name on the public record.
For other reasons, involving his own family, he has waited 40 years to confront the Christian Brothers over their negligence.
It has only made him more determined.
"If I'm going to take this fight on with them, I want to take it as far as I can," he said.
"This goes beyond redress. I want the end of the Christian Brothers as an identity and a risk.
"This evil corporation needs to be delisted, all over the world. No children or vulnerable people are safe while this corrupt and filthy organisation exists.
"It's what's right and wrong and black and white.
"They were the ones that taught us confession. Go in and repent your sins, and face up to what you've done wrong and god will forgive you, and yet they are doing exactly the opposite."
He has written streams of poetry to come to terms with his abuse.
In one, the Christian Brothers are referred to as a group of unnatural predators.
You're worse than the wolves, and I'll tell you why/ Wolves don't stand on a high moral ground
They form a pack to protect their children/ Wolves do not show affection for their prey
But you did/ Wolves lead the vulnerable away, and you did/ And the wolves howled my name.
Despite it all, he said he felt for the "good people of the cloth, for the ones who really tried and went in there for the right reasons and did the right thing".