Five years jail for St John of God brother

A former St John of God brother has been sentenced to five years imprisonment after being found guilty on charges of sexually abusing boys at a Christchurch school in the 1970s.

Bernard McGrath, 58, was last month found guilty by a jury on 21 charges and not guilty of a further 23. The charges relate to nine victims, who were aged between seven and 15 years, during McGrath's time as a teacher and dorm master at Maryland's School for troubled boys.

McGrath's lawyer Raoul Neave argued physical abuse was not uncommon then.

"This was a different time in the sense that corporal punishment was administered far more readily than would ever think of as being acceptable today."

The jury, which deliberated for almost 33 hours, was told during the trial that McGrath was convicted on similar charges in 1993.

In sentencing, Justice Chisholm said an aggravating feature of the offending was the vulnerability of the victims because of their particular disabilities. Chisholm said the aggravating features of McGrath's offending included breach of trust, the duration of the offending and the deep harm suffered by his victims.

"You were there to be their protector but the dreadful thing is that, in fact, you were their abuser, they were trapped, they just had no where to turn, no one to go to," he said.

But Chisholm said he took into account the time McGrath had already served following convictions in the 1990s for similar offending.

Supporters of the men who were sexually abused by the former brother are angry and the five year sentence was slammed as an insult inside and outside the courtroom.

"Those people really believed that they were going to see justice today and under the justice system that may be justice, but for these guys, what they've suffered over the last 30 and 40 years it certainly isn't so," Ken Clearwater, who chairs the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust, said.

Meanwhile, Mr Clearwater has asked the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark to intervene over the decision not to extradite two Catholic clergymen to face charges of sexual abuse.

Mr Clearwater has asked the Government to get involved after Raymond Garchow and Rodger Moloney had their extradition order overturned by an Australian Federal Court judge last week.

The two men are also facing charges of sexual abuse against children at Marylands Special School in Christchurch in the 1970s but Justice Rodney Madgwick said in Sydney that the delay in bringing the charges meant the pair would not get a fair trial in New Zealand.

He said he was worried there was no guarantee a New Zealand judge would make the problems of dealing with old allegations clear to the jury.

In his submission to Ms Clark, Mr Clearwater said that as many of the boys were wards of state or placed at the school by the former Department of Social Welfare, the Government should support them.

A spokesman for Clark said Clearwater's submission had not yet been received. New Zealand police are still deciding whether to appeal against the judge's decision.

Catholic brother gets five years (TVNZ 27/4/06)
Plea to PM on clergy (Christchurch Press/stuff.co.uk 27/4/06)

Former Catholic brother jailed for sexually abusing boys (NZ Herald 27/4/06)
Plea to Clark on extradition (NZ Herald 27/4/06)
Ex Catholic priest sentenced to 5 years' prison for abusing boys (Radio New Zealand 27/4/06)
Angry reaction at Catholic brother's jail term (NZPA/stuff.co.nz 27/4/06)
Sentence dismays victims (Christchurch Press/stuff.co.nz 28/4/06)
Efforts to change limits on abuse cases called prejudicial to church (Catholic News Service 25/4/06)
Court unmasks Catholic brother in sex case (Dominion Post/stoff.co.nz 25/4/06)
Study: Catholics aware of church's abuse response trust church more (Catholic News Service 21/4/06)

28 Apr 2006