Marist College Canberra – which was singled out by the Royal Commission for failing to act on evidence of child sexual abuse – has continued to honour a deceased Brother who was accused of abusing multiple victims.
2015 ACT Local Hero and longterm campaigner Damien de Marco has written to ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry asking the ACT Government to take action over the school’s recognition of Brother Jerome Hickman’s work, commemorated with a plaque at the school.
In 2012 the plaque was placed on the Brothers Way, where exemplary service to the school is celebrated. Mr de Marco believes the Marist Brothers had knowledge of the allegations against Brother Jerome as early as 1998.
The letter, which Region has seen, describes Brother Jerome as “a severe violent paedophile” and states that the ACT Government “is legally responsible for the safety of every child in an ACT school, including Marist”.
“Despite this regulatory responsibility and the extraordinary scale of the paedophilia issues at Marist the ACT Government has never set up any investigation into the epidemic of paedophilia at the school nor intervened to address Marist’s continuing complicit culture,” the letter says.
Brother Jerome did not face criminal charges before his death but the Marist order acknowledged claims of abuse made against him. Kelso Lawyers, acting for the victims, detailed the abuse against “Matthew” and “Rick”*, both of whom received apologies and substantial ex-gratia payments from the Marist order.
Those cases of abuse occurred before Brother Jerome moved to Canberra, where he became principal of the Marist Junior School.
Several Brothers who taught at Marist in Canberra, including Kostka Chute, Gregory Sutton, Gregory Carter, and Peter Spratt, were convicted of sexual abuse and more than 60 separate claims of child sexual abuse have been made against the school to date.
In 2018, Marist agreed to change the name of Othmar House, commemorating Brother Othmar Weldon, who was the subject of strong criticism at the Royal Commission.
Brother Weldon chaired the order’s Provincial Council in the 1960s and 1970s but failed to act on complaints regarding Brother Kostka, a prolific and serial sexual abuser during his time at Marist. Brother Kostka admitted he had abused a child in Lismore, but was only warned by his superior before moving to a leadership position at another school.
In 2018 the school also bowed to pressure to remove a photograph of former headmaster Brother Christopher Wade, who was charged in 2016 with sexually abusing boys at NSW Marist schools and later jailed.
The letter to Minister Berry says “it is outrageous that, for the third time in six years, Marist College needs to be asked to remove items celebrating paedophiles or those who protected them.
“These repeated failures to understand this simple element of child protection leave no doubt Marist’s comprehension of child-safe environments is still dangerously flawed. It shows they have a deeply entrenched cultural problem with clericalism.”
Region has been told the plaque commemorating Brother Jerome was quietly removed last week, ahead of a story appearing in The Guardian this weekend.
In 2018, the school held a “liturgy of lament”, issuing a public apology and unveiling a plaque acknowledging victims. Then Headmaster Richard Sidorko made a commitment that the school would do everything in its power to prevent such acts happening again.
But survivors and advocates say it’s not enough, noting that around 70 victims have come forward in the past decade and there may be more.
“Marist has the same problem as the whole Catholic Church has,” Mr de Marco told Region. “The loyalty to the organisation is so strong – and so misguided – that they cannot see or don’t care about the terrible harm to innocent children.
“This is why we end up with such a culture of cover-up. Faced with the dilemma to protect one or the other, when either way it would be a problem, they chose the church every time and not the children.”
Mr de Marco believes what happened at Marist was “clearly the worst crime spree in the Archdiocese”, compounded by what he says was the school’s failure to seek out victims or take significant action on their behalf.
“In the 15 years that these crimes have been public knowledge, all Marist has done is to conduct a Catholic religious ceremony asking for forgiveness.
“People are literally still struggling and dying within a stone’s throw of Marist as a consequence of this abuse. I ask parents, if this is how they treated previous students, why would it be any different for your children?”
Marist College was contacted for comment on Friday afternoon. Minister Yvette Berry’s office was also contacted for comment. An ACT Government spokesperson said “correspondence has been received and a response is being considered by the Education Minister’s office”.
* Not their real names