By Stephen Bourke
A former Christian Brother who, in the early 1970s, took young boys to the head of his class to put his hands down their trousers and sexually assault them, has been jailed for three years.
Jack Manning (85), who left the order in 1977 and has an address in Donnybrook in Dublin, pleaded guilty to nine counts of indecently assaulting four of his pupils aged six to eight at Westland Row CBS, Dublin 2, admitting the full facts of the prosecution case.
Most of the offences took place during the school year which ran from September 1972 to June 1973 – although one of the boys was abused as late as June 1975.
The four men, now aged in their sixties, gave their victim impact statements at his sentence hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today.
They waived their right to anonymity so that Manning could be identified.
“It would start by him calling you up to the desk,” Kieran Best told gardaí in a statement.
“He put his arm around my waist, opened the button in my trousers and touched my penis, testicles and rectum.”
He said Manning would call him up to the front of the class and “interfere” with him as he read in this manner for two to three minutes as often as once or twice a week when he was between the ages of seven and eight.
“At the time he had no idea what was happening,” said Antonia Boyle, BL, prosecuting. “But he does remember him [Manning] smelling his hand afterwards.”
Mr Best also recalled Brother Manning overseeing a group of boys running around “fully naked” at the school before helping them dress and towelling them off.
Manning taught around 35 second class boys, but was often left in charge of up to 70 on days when another teacher was out sick. That’s when seven-year-old Anthony Doherty was exposed to the abuse.
He told gardaí that on six or seven occasions in that school year, Manning took him to the head of the classroom, unzipped his trousers, and put his hands down the front and fondled his genitals, “flesh on flesh”. He recalls walking back to his desk trying to hold up his trousers.
“He was a terrified young boy and felt he could not tell his mother out of fear of the Catholic Church and fear of the Christian Brothers,” Ms Boyle said.
Thomas O’Callaghan only spent one year being taught by Manning but recalled the abuse being “dished out” several times a week, and says he was fondled in the same manner as the others.
“I distinctly remember him pushing his finger inside me,” he told gardaí. “Sometimes there’d be slagging from other boys, asking: ‘Did you get a bummer?’”
Daniel Lynch described standing at the start of the school day to say the Our Father, and feeling Manning groping his buttocks as he passed up the class.
He was one of the smallest boys in Brother Manning’s class, he said. Manning would call him by his surname to the head of the room, stand him to his right hand side and put his hand down the front of his shorts, fondling his genitals “skin to skin”, sometimes using both hands.
“This went on for the whole term. Not every day but some days,” Ms Boyle said. “Even though he was only seven years old he knew it was wrong. [His family] made a complaint to the school but even after the complaint the abuse continued.”
When he was on yard duty, Mr Lynch told gardaí, Manning would stand at the school’s open-air urinals. “He would never go to the urinals out of fear,” Ms Boyle said. “He would not go and was soiling himself out of fear.”
Although Mr Lynch had left his class, he was abused again on occasions when Manning came in to supervise as a substitute.
Manning was interviewed voluntarily under caution, but made no admissions to gardaí that day. He entered a plea on the first charge on the indictment on the day set for his trial.
“None of my words can mitigate the suffering and seriousness of this case. [The victims] have so bravely and so clearly given in their statements,” Maurice Coffey SC, defending, told the court. “Mr Manning accepts all the facts as alleged, though he may not remember it. He accepts them, and perhaps that’s some comfort.”
Nearly 50 years on from the offences, he said his client suffered from severe vascular disease, an ulcer and enlarged prostate.
“He previously drank alcohol to excess, noted as ‘chronic alcohol abuse’ perhaps in and around the time of these offences,” Mr Coffey said.
Mr Coffey presented a doctor’s letter describing his client as “extremely frail with multiple medical conditions… I don’t believe he can realistically survive in a prison environment”.
He said Manning had joined the Christian Brothers in 1950, when he was just 14 years of age, and started teaching in 1954.
“It’s a very young age, clearly by the standards of today’s society, highly inappropriate,” Mr Coffey said. Manning left the order at Easter in 1977, and married the following month.
“He has written a letter of apology to each one of his victims here today. He instructs me to offer his abject and sincere apologies. In relation to his offending, he doesn’t seek to hide behind anything. His plea, albeit late in the day, comes as some comfort to his victims,” Mr Coffey added.
“He expressed a relief to giving [his plea]. It’s something he bottled up within himself. I don’t know if that’s some comfort to his victims. It may not be.”
“This court over the years has dealt with many of these cases – but this is a particularly bad one,” Judge Martin Nolan said.
“What Mr Manning did was morally reprehensible. He was a teacher who had care of young boys… it is difficult to imagine a greater breach of trust.”
“It’s a sad day for the reputation of the Christian Brothers,” the judge said.
“…It is a sad, sad day for the reputation of that particular school. There have been tens of thousands of Christian Brothers who have given good service to their communities…He abused that trust dreadfully.”
“What to do – that is the question. The doctor at least feels this man cannot survive a term of imprisonment. This court is aware that the prison authority, as part of their job, deals with very very old inmates. Mr Manning certainly deserves a prison term… by reason of what he did in the early ‘70s,” Judge Nolan said.
He sentenced Manning to two years for the first count of indecent assault on the indictment, and a further year to the fifth count, to be served consecutively.
Two of the four men read out their victim impact statements today with two others read to the court by prosecuting counsel.
They spoke of stifled academic achievement, blunted career opportunities, low self-esteem, and guilt and shame bottled up for their whole lives.
“My fear of speaking and reading in public started in his class,” said Kieran Best. “Only recently I brought myself to speak at my brother’s funeral. I could only bring myself to tell my dad recently. I wish he didn’t have to know.”
When Daniel Lynch’s turn came he said: “I can’t.” Ms Boyle read his written statement into the record instead.
“Growing up I was a happy-go-lucky child,” he wrote.
I thought I could be anything I wanted to be.
“The abuse made me angry with the world. I developed a reputation that I wasn’t someone to mess with. I still struggle with the anger that brought me to fight in the car parks and streets.”
“A friend I sat beside in school died in the early 1990s from an overdose. I realise that could have been me. I contemplated suicide.”
He attached a photo of himself on his Communion day to the letter. “That little boy in that picture is still very much a part of me,” he said.
“I’ve spent my life trying to be as happy as I was as a child,” said Anthony Doherty. He left school after his Inter Cert and got a job in a meat factory. “But I didn’t want to be a butcher. I wanted to go to college,” he said.
He only went on dates to “look normal”, he said. “It’s hard to commit to a relationship when you find it so difficult to trust people.”
“I didn’t believe in God. How could you, after morning offering and then 15 minutes later being sexually abused behind a desk,” he added.
“Reflecting back on my life I can see how much this has affected the man I am today,” said Thomas O’Callaghan.
“It affected my career progression. My confidence has been impacted massively.”
“I remember the day I got married. I couldn’t even give my speech. It’s a fear that still here to this day,” he said.
“When I see a collar I am catapulted right back to that classroom.
“It was a huge step going to the guards but it took a little of the weight off me. I bottled up what happened for so long… I was just six and a half or seven.
“I see how kids that age are happy and free. He stole that from me.”