By: Michael O’Farrell

Investigations Editor

THE St John of God order covered up 20 child abuse allegations against a school principal and allowed him to work and live with vulnerable children in Africa for decades – even as payouts were made to his Irish accusers.

Brother Aidan Clohessy was principal of St Augustine’s in Blackrock in south Dublin – a school for special needs boys – from 1970 until 1993 when he was relocated to a city in Malawi.

The first serious child abuse allegation was made against Brother Aidan in 1985 and claims continue to emerge. As recently as this week, two new sets of allegations of sex abuse against Brother Aidan – unearthed by the Irish Mail on Sunday – have been referred to gardaí and child and family agency Tusla for investigation.

The MoS has also confirmed that a number of alleged victims in Ireland received compensation through the Redress Board – even as Brother Aidan remained working and living with children in Malawi.

Despite this the order appear to have ignored the danger Brother Aidan may have posed to children in the city of Mzuzu in Malawi – where many children were housed at the brother’s home – and its own childprotection guidelines. As a result of one allegation in Ireland, the order says it instructed Brother Aidan ‘not to work with children’ in 1997.

In 1998, amid further claims, the order informed the then Eastern Health Board that Brother Aidan ‘was no longer involved in services to children’. But a 10-month investigation by the MoS in Africa and Ireland has found that, despite mounting allegations back home, Brother Aidan’s contact with children appears to have remained unaffected.

SJOG staff in Malawi say they were not told of any allegations against Brother Aidan. Harrison Chilale, SJOG clinical director in Malawi, said, ‘There was not even a single rumour.’

Brother Aidan Clohessy in Dublin recently Photos by Sean Dwyer, 17/09/17

Brother Aidan Clohessy in Dublin recently
Photo by Sean Dwyer.

This apparent cover-up allowed Brother Aidan, who was in charge of all SJOG operations in Malawi, to remain living and working with children for almost two decades. The MoS has learned that Brother Aidan converted a garage at his home where boys, collected from the streets, were housed.

Tracked down by the MoS, some of these boys – now adults – said Brother Aidan frequently supervised as they took showers.

By 2003, Brother Aidan was the subject of 10 child sex allegations in Ireland relating to his time at St Augustine’s, some of which had been forwarded to gardaí. That year, the order wrote to Brother Aidan, directing him ‘not to have direct contact responsibility for programmes attended by children’.

But the mounting allegations against him appear to have been kept secret from the authorities in Africa. By 2010 his work in Mzuzu was the subject of a promotional drive by his order, and journalists were flown to Malawi to see the services he had set up.

In 2011, allegations against Brother Aidan continued to mount in Dublin. After the 14th abuse claim, the order conducted a risk assessment. It recommended he receive ‘therapeutic input’ and concluded that he presented a ‘low risk’ of abuse ‘given that he is not in a position of authority over children’.

Our inquiries in Malawi appear to show that during this period Brother Aidan was in a position of authority over children. In 2012 – as a Garda investigation commenced into allegations received in 1998 – Brother Aidan was withdrawn from public ministry and returned to Ireland.

In Dublin, a set of rules, known as a Covenant of Care, was implemented to control his access to children.

In 2013 and 2014, further allegations were received against Brother Aidan, bringing the number of those alleging abuse to 20. All of these allegations relate to his tenure as principal of St Augustine’s.

This week, when asked for a comment, the order said: ‘All of the allegations reviewed by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland have been reported to An Garda Síochána and Tusla. In accordance with its own procedures, the SJOG has sent the allegations in your email to An Garda Síochána and to Tusla. The Saint John of God Order will co-operate fully with their investigations.’


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  1. Paul says:

    I know Br. Aiden and I am one of the people who was being assisted by him in my life. It might be true there in Ireland that he was abusing people but in Malawi, he was a changed man. I have never heard one of us being abused.
    By leaving Malawi, children have suffered. In fact we still need his work here. Brother Aiden was a clean man here in Malawi.


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