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Institutional Sexual Abuse: Marist College

In classical literature, ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ has become widely popular within schools, even entering the wider curriculum. But who would have thought that Marist College Burnie would have had their very own Jekyll and Hyde replica serving under the guidance of God?

Father Roger Michael Bellemore was a teacher, carer and priest for the students at Marist College Burnie, otherwise known as Marist Regional Centre from 1960 to 1972. By day, his colleagues, friends, and family would describe him as a caring professional – doing his best to ensure the successful maturing of young adolescents. But by night, he preyed upon those students he swore to protect.

Belonging to the Marist Fathers (Society of Mary), a Catholic institution founded in 1816 that controlled some parishes and secondary schools in Australia, Father Bellemore had taught at various schools and institutions including:

  • Marist College Burnie
  • St Anne’s Parish Belmont
  • Holy Spirit College
  • Edmund Rice College
  • St Patrick’s Presbytery
  • Marist Fathers Residence
  • St Pius X College

After three trials, a quashed conviction through appeal, and harrowing testimonies Roger Bellemore was convicted of three counts of maintaining a sexual relationship with a child under the age of 17 whilst serving as a teacher and priest at Marist College Burnie. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment with two of those years to be served without parole.  However, his sentence was backdated to April 17, 2007, when he was originally tried for his crimes.

During the original trials in 2006, Father Roger Michael Bellemore received a five-year sentence consisting of 3 years imprisonment without parole. Unfortunately, it was quashed on appeal by the Marist Fathers institution.

Whilst at court, it was argued that Father Roger Michael Bellemore would use his private dormitory above the junior student’s dorm rooms to conduct a series of additional tutoring sessions; only there was something more sinister occurring.

It was found that Mr Bellemore would lead the young boys individually to his room. It was there that he would use them for his comfort and sexual gratification. Often these select students would be summoned to his room, in which he would await them naked and erect.

As Marist College Burnie was a Catholic School, rules were extremely strict, and any allegations made against staff were seen as disobedience. Both Father Bernard McFadyen and Father Anthony Corcoran gave evidence for the defence of Roger Bellemore, quoting that many students would often go and see teachers in their private room for tutoring and that this circumstance could take place up to three times a week.

During victim statements, it was found that some students had even told their parents and guardians about the events which were continuously occurring. However, they were often rebutted with comments regarding the religious nature of a priest at a school: holy men did not participate in those sorts of behaviours.

Whilst the Marist Fathers had originally quashed the conviction on appeal in 2006, they had issued an apology by the time Father Bellemore was convicted. Fr Bill Ryder, the Provincial of the Marist Fathers “expressed deep regret and sorrow to everyone involved and their families.” He continued to apologise for any harm suffered by former students of Marist College Burnie whilst under the conduct of the Marist Fathers Institution.

But with the trial of Father Bellemore’s traumatic crimes solved, it is the environment of Marist College Burnie that is brought into question. It was brought out in evidence during Father Bellemore’s trial that it wouldn’t be ‘uncommon’ for priests to see students in their rooms before bed for additional support. Whilst it is evident that Bellemore was one of these perpetrators, who were the others?

More recent allegations have come to light with the surfacing of a letter written by Father Bernard Hosie – Former Marist College Principal – to the Marist Provincial, Peter Guiren in 1971, inquiring about action steps regarding reports one of their staff members had been ‘fooling around with boys at the school.

It is now known that Greg Ferguson was the subject of that letter, who was convicted of child sex offences in 2007, whilst being employed at the Marist College – directed by the Marist Fathers – during the early 1970s.

Within the letter, Father Hosie highlighted his concerns that there could be an impending court case regarding the abuse, which was known to be a popular rumour around the school at the time.

His suggestion was to see how the year played out whilst leaving Greg Ferguson in his position despite the growing accusations that lay at Mr Ferguson’s feet. Whilst he left Marist College in 1972, the same time as Father Bellemore, his teaching placements continued around Australia for many decades.

Over the years five staff members have been convicted of sex offences including:

  • Stephen Grant
  • Paul Ronald Goldsmith
  • Greg Ferguson
  • Roger Bellemore
  • Thomas Fulcher

Not only was Marist College aware of the sexual abuse of young boys taking place in the very rooms above junior boys’ dormitories, but there is physical proof through the letter written by Father Hosie highlighting that they tried to cover it up for fear of a court case.

Koffels Solicitors & Barristers are proud of the work we do and the groundbreaking results we obtain for our clients. If you are a victim of institutional child sexual abuse, we believe we can give you the support and advice on obtaining proper compensation to which victims are truly entitled. Please do not hesitate to contact us on our secure encrypted form. Alternatively, you may contact Mr Koffel confidentially on 02 9283 5599.

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