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Christian Brothers

If you’ve been a victim of abuse while under the care of the Christian Brothers, Coleman Legal LLP is here to provide unwavering support and experienced guidance. Reach out to us at Coleman Legal LLP for the support you need on your journey towards justice.

The Christian brothers

Christian Brothers Coleman Legal LLP

The Congregation of Christian Brothers were formed in 1820. The founder of the Order was Blessed Edmund Rice. In the late 20th and early 21st century, cases of historical physical, sexual and emotional abuse were exposed in Ireland, the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

In 1998, the Congregation published newspaper apologies to former students mistreated while in their care. In 2003, the Congregation took a case against eh Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, seeking to prevent the naming of members accused of abuse. The report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was published in May 2009. The report found that abuse of boys in institutions run by the Christian Brothers was common.

Litigation strategy

The Christian Brothers are recognized for taking a particularly adversarial approach to civil claims taken by survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of their members and employees. Victims, already traumatized by the abuses suffered in their childhood, have found themselves subjected to further trauma due to the litigation strategy employed by the Congregation of the Christian Brothers.

The Christian Brothers – An unincorporated body

The Congregation of the Christian Brothers are an unincorporated body.  That means that they are not a legal entity.  They have charitable status. This poses a particular complication for individuals seeking to take a civil action.

Hickey v. McGowan

In 2017, the Supreme Court considered the issue of those wishing to sue an unincorporated body.  The Court held that those wishing to take an action against an Unincorporated Body must sue each and every member of that body at the time of the alleged wrongdoing.

The consequences of Hickey v. McGowan for those wishing to take an action against the Congregation of the Christian Brothers. When a person wishes to take a civil action against an unincorporated body, they (or usually their legal representative) will request that one person agree to act as a nominee of the body.  Where a case is being taken against a religious order, a request is usually made to the elected Provincial of the order to agree to be a nominee for the order.  That means that the Provincial would agree to act on behalf of all members of the order at the time that the alleged wrong is alleged to have occurred.

While most unincorporated bodies, including religious orders, will agree to nominating a person to act for the Congregation, The Congregation of the Christian Brothers have consistently refused to do so in the conduct of litigation against them. Whilst there is currently no Law that forces an unincorporated body to nominate a member to act, equally there is nothing in Law that prevents an unincorporated body from nominating one of its members to ac in legal proceedings. In other words, the Christian Brothers choose to exploit this lacuna in the Law to the detriment of victims of childhood sexual abuse who are pursuing their legal right to seek justice for the serious wrongs done to them.

Political reaction to the approach to civil litigation by the Congregation of the Christian Brothers

In April 2023, Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councilor Caroline Conroy, wrote to the ten Provincial of the Order, Brother Edmund Garvey, urging him to reconsider the Order’s approach to the civil litigation being taken by survivors of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of their congregation and staff members.  She described the approach of the congregation to civil cases taken by survivors as a form of “double and secondary abuse”.

Question: How do we know this? Was the letter published? If it was published then it’s ok to leave in.

On the 4th of September 2023, members of Drogheda Borough Council passed a formal motion making a very significant decision in favour of removing the Freedom of the Town from Drogheda native Brother Edmund Garvey.

The motion read

“This council recognises the importance of civic leadership in both the recognition of positive contributions to the fabric of Drogheda, but also the bearing of responsibility inherent in all positions of authority and leadership.

The Council reiterates its complete opposition to the legal strategy first adopted by Edmund Garvey on behalf of the Christian Brothers Order.

In recognition of the detrimental impact this leadership choice has had on victims and survivors of clerical child sex abuse, and as a mark of symbolic restorative justice, this council hereby declares that this council will no longer acknowledge Edmund Garvey as a Freeman of Drogheda.”

Read the Irish Times article

Furthermore, the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, very recently publicly condemned the strategy on LMFM radio.

Recent media coverage of the litigation strategy of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers.

In recent times, the media has noted the aggressive approach of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers to civil litigation initiated against them. Recent reports have highlighted the refusal of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers to provide the identities of member of the community, forcing survivors to make applications to the Court compelling the leader of the order to disclose their names.  Furthermore, they have been forced to seek leave from the Court to serve proceedings on all members, causing significant delays and expense to victims, as well as further undue stress and trauma.

Philip Treacy, Senior Solicitor at Coleman Legal LLP, recently spoke to Michael Reade of LMFM in relation to the litigation strategy being pursued by the Congregation of the Christian Brothers in relation to historical child sexual abuse cases being brought against them. Philip Treacy represents many victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Philip stated that while this strategy is not illegal, it is a matter of choice on the part of the Christian Brothers. He pointed out that the Order was an “outlier” and other religious congregations were not pursuing this strategy. He noted that the Order were “playing the man, not the ball”. Speaking of a recent case, he stated that the Order had only handed over the names of all members at the time of the abuse when the High Court had ordered that they do so. This was despite repeated written requests made by Coleman Legal seeking the names.

Philip spoke of the devastating effect of childhood sexual abuse, which has been carried by victims throughout their entire lives. “Every barrier is being put in the way to those seeking justice for the wrongs perpetrated on them”. He noted that the Christian Brothers were putting themselves before the victims and that this was morally unconscionable. He also expressed the view that the purpose of the congregation’s intention was to dissuade victims  from asserting their legal right to pursue their civil cases.  He asks the simple question “Why are they doing this?”

Recently, Noeline Blackwell, Director of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, has criticised the strategy of the Christian Brothers.  Speaking to Michael Reade on LMFM, Ms. Blackwell, also a human rights lawyer, stated that while the approach of the Christian Brothers to litigation was technically within the law, there were questions about the reason for it:

“The question is, does it actually allow people to access justice?”

“When we focus on the technicality, we actually deny people access to justice”.

She noted that the strategy was taken only by the Christian Brothers, but not by other Orders who put forward a nominee, even where they themselves were not the perpetrator. She noted that Irish law allows orders not to do so and that while it is legally possible to do this it is “not right in a legal sense”.  She noted that the cost of having to sue every member of the order at the time of the abuse and that this was prohibitive to survivors seeking justice and recognition.

She noted that the Order had adopted the strategy and kept it going through changes in leadership, although they had not always taken the approach. She stated that she would like to hear from the Order what values they were adopting in taking this approach. Ms. Blackwell noted that part of the harm done by sexual violence is due to the feeling of not being able to talk about the abuse, and that it was only within the past 10 years that people could really talk about the issue. She noted that now there is support for victims, and the healing that acknowledgment and discussion of the wrong is important, and being able to hold somebody responsible for that harm is equally important. She stated that there must be support for those harmed and that reparations must be made for those harms.

Ms. Blackwell stated that the Christian Brothers could clarify that their current process “is for themselves”.  While not all victims want to be heard in court, all should be allowed to be heard in the manner that they wish, pointing out that “different people have different approaches”. She noted that all are entitled to have their voices heard and often feel that “people want them to go away”. She noted that the interactions experienced by many victims over the years was that they were being “brushed aside”.

Our team

Christian Brothers abuse team at Coleman Legal LLP

Coleman Legal LLP fully stands with and supports victims of abuse while attending institutions run by the Congregation of the Christian Brothers. Our office is challenging this particular strategy of the Christian Brothers in Court, in the media, and in written correspondences to the Church and to Government Ministers. If you have been affected by sexual abuse while attending a school or institution run by the Christian Brothers, please reach out to us at Coleman Legal LLP.

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Clodagh Magennis

Clodagh Magennis

Head of Client Services

[email protected]

”At Coleman Legal, excellence in customer care is paramount. We aim to meet both prospective and existing client’s needs in a professional, engaging, and friendly manner with a clear objective to give quality legal advice and reach a positive outcome.”

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