A mysterious memo about “Frater Bart”, an email from a lawyer suggesting a pedophile brother be kept under wraps after doing time and a sudden journey to Canada.
All three surfaced at a royal commission hearing into how the Marist Brothers Australia handled child sex abuse allegations against two men who over decades molested children at schools in the ACT, Queensland and NSW.
Below the surface is the devastation of victims.
The commission sitting in Canberra this week heard first from survivors. There were the victims of Gregory Sutton, jailed for 12 years in 1996 after pleading guilty to 67 charges of sexually assaulting 15 different children, and those who as children fell foul of predator John Chute, known as Brother Kosta, who was sentenced to six years’ jail in 2008.
The mysterious memo was revealed when Brother Alexis Turton – who has been vice-provincial and provincial, and until 2012 head of the order’s professional standards office – entered the witness box.
The confidential memo for the attention of church lawyers detailed Sutton’s history with the order back to 1974 – when he was grooming and molesting boys at a north Queensland primary school – up to August 18, 1989, when Turton sent him to a Canadian therapy centre.
The memo was detailed and contained the kind of information only the heads of the order would know.
Observers know this because the order did not keep file notes about the predatory brothers or, it seems, tell principals of schools to which they were sent about their history.
Only the top brass held all the information.
But back to the August 20, 1989, memo.
The date is important because it was two days after Turton put “Frater Bart” – aka Greg Sutton – on a flight to Canada and the Southdown clinic.
It was also seven days after Turton learned “Bart” had confessed to the father of an ex-student, who took their own life, that he had interfered with his son in 1975 when the boy was 11.
The sting in the memo was in the second last paragraph. It said that, five days before “Bart” was sent off to get himself cured, “Alexis” was told authorities were investigating parent complaints the brother had sexually molested two girls.
“Police were investigating and regarded it extremely seriously,” the memo said.
This could imply Turton put Sutton on the plane to avoid police – an interpretation apparently supported by Sutton’s statements to his Canadian counsellors shortly after his arrival, when he was still having difficulty accepting he needed therapy.
But Turton, 74, rejects this and insists he didn’t know about the police investigation until after Sutton left.
“I am totally mystified by this document. I can’t make any other assessment of it”, he told commission counsel Simeon Beckett.
Turton could not recall the memo, had no idea why Sutton was called “Bart” and couldn’t recall having conversations with Tony Carroll from the legal firm for which the memo was written.
For two days, the senior religious leader had been telling the commission he often consulted legal experts. At one stage he told how he would need to consult them on what type of “inappropriate” sexual behaviour was criminal.
And Keith Turton – who gave his life to God and the Marists at 17 and became Brother Alexis Turton – was visibly shocked when Beckett asked him sharply: “Is that your honest evidence today, sir?
The commission counsel withdrew the question when a church lawyer objected.
Turton and others who joined the order – some at 15 – appeared naive in their evidence about handling sex abuse matters.
But however they dealt with it, for the Marist Brothers the consequences of not informing police risks the possibility of being charged with concealing a crime.
An email from another lawyer in 2009, present at the hearing, sheds more light.
This time the advice was about insurance indemnity against claims arising out of abuse by Brother Kosta Chute.
Chute had said in psychiatric reports he never got adequate help when he sought it.
When the lawyer visited him in jail noted he had joined the order very young.
“Trouble is, fundamentally he has high honesty and integrity levels and all of my `suggestions’ about not dumping on others excessively go out the Window (sic) pretty quickly once there is a conversation under way,” the lawyer reported.
“The reality is he came in at a very young age, was assaulted, and back there then his conduct was probably not regarded as being at the serious level – naive touching only involving a good man with a fair bit of self discernment not a classic predator.
“We would need to keep him well away from the legal arena upon release”.
This was the second child sexual abuse commission hearing for Turton.
In January, he agreed when commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan put to him that all things considered there was a “significant problem” in the Marist Brothers order.