The former head of the Marist brothers in Australia has denied he made a hasty decision to put a prolific child sex abuser on a plane to Canada three days after it became known police were investigating him.
Brother Gregory Sutton subsequently pleaded guilty to abusing children in schools in NSW, Qld and the ACT and had taught at Trinity Catholic College in Lismore.
Although he knew Brother Sutton had confessed to molesting a boy who later committed suicide, Brother Alexis Turton, the order’s provincial in 1989, thought it best to get him therapy at a Canadian centre for priest sex offenders.
Br Turton denied repeatedly at a child sex abuse royal commission hearing in Canberra on Wednesday that he sent Sutton to the Southdown centre near Toronto because police had begun asking questions.
Sutton was extradited from Canada and jailed for 12 years in 1996 after pleading guilty to multiple charges of assaulting school children from 1975 to 1986.
He had quit the Marists in 1991 and Br Turton said he lost track of him after that.
Br Turton said he sent Sutton to Canada because treatments in Australia had not worked.
One Australian therapist had said he could not work ‘with this man (Sutton) because he does not have sufficient self awareness to have true therapy with me’.
A document dated August 31, 1989, produced at the commission showed that Sutton was telling people at the centre his provincial had sent him ‘due to the fact that investigations were occurring on himself for school activities five years ago regarding his child abuse.’
Br Turton said on Wednesday: ‘No. That is incorrect. That is wrong.’
When it was put to him that sending Sutton to Canada was first raised by him on August 15 and he was on a plane on August 18, Br Turton said, ‘I didn’t see it as excessive haste, I saw it as continuing the process that we had been through to get him through to intensive therapy’.
At the time, parents of children at St Thomas More School in Campbelltown, NSW, had gone to police alleging Sutton had abused Year 5 girls.
Simeon Beckett, counsel advising the commission, put it to Br Turton that his account to the commission of why he sent Sutton to Canada was false.
‘That is not correct your honour,’ Br Turton said.
He also denied writing a memorandum detailing Sutton’s history of abusive behaviour with children going back to the 1970s.
The document used a name other than Sutton’s and Mr Beckett suggested the false name was an attempt to deceive readers such as police or civil litigants.
‘I am totally mystified by this document. I can’t make any other assessment of it,’ Br Turton said.
He was also asked if it was Marist Brothers’ practice to transfer a brother from a school where an allegation or admission of child sexual abuse had been made.
‘I can’t say it was the practice. Certainly we have a number of cases (where) that happened. Yes.’
The commission has been told that the order normally moves brothers around a lot.
Br Turton said assurances by alleged offenders they would cease their inappropriate behaviour was often accepted when no complaint of specific sexual molestation was received.