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 Malawi 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 Mzuzu 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 Irish police called gardaí and child and family agency Tusla for investigation.
The newspaper 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 Mzuzu city, 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 Mail on Sunday and the Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi 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.”
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 Mail on Sunday and the Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi has learned that Brother Aidan converted a garage at his home where boys, collected from the streets, were housed.
Tracked down by the journalists, some of these boys – now adults – said Brother Aidan frequently supervised as they took showers.
As director of St John of God’s (SJOG) services in Malawi, Charles Masulani might have expected to know – especially since he still consults with Brother Aidan almost on a weekly basis.
On Tuesday morning – after the Irish Mail on Sunday informed the SJOG Order in Dublin a- a panicked Masulani arrived into the offices of Collins Mtika of Nyasa Times who is also the director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Malawi.
In October the centre had helped the MoS to track Brother Aidan’s activities in Malawi and spoke to children with whom he had come into contact.
Now Masulani was astonished at what he was beginning to hear from Dublin.
“ You know these people are so secretive. They act like a mafia,” he exclaimed, adding that he spoke to Brother Aidan frequently but had never been told anything like this.
Masulani was not alone in his ignorance.
Harrison Chilale was clinical director for St John of God’s services in Malawi from the very beginning in 1993 until he retired in 2015. He too knew nothing of the mounting allegations against Brother Aidan in Ireland. Had he known he might have questioned the manner in which Brother Aidan began to house street children at his home.
“I knew he kept children – I think up to 10 sometimes under one roof,” he recalled.
“There were a group of children he was keeping there. They would stay at the Brother’s house. I think Brother Aidan had some space where they would eat, wash and clean themselves up.”
That space according to Maxwell Chirwa – Brother Aidan’s longstanding personal cook – was a converted garage next to Brother Aidan’s house.
“There was a place where Brother Aidan was keeping them,” he said. “Built at the back where the garage was. He put some rooms inside. They put the beds there. Some of ‘Made sure we cleaned ourselves thoroughly’ them had no father, no mother so he kept them there.’
We have decided to protect the identities of the former street children by not naming the people who spoke. They explained that Brother Aidan used to supervise their shower routine.
“Brother Aidan used to come and collect about 15 of us and bring us to his house. He had a pickup with a canopy. He forced us to take a bath,” one former street child alleged.
In contrast to these allegations some of the boys spoke in positive terms about Brother Aidan, although they all spoke about taking baths at Brother Aidan’s home.
“He took us from the street when I was 12,” said one. “He took us to his house where he was staying near the Bishop. He was a very good man because he was like a father to us. We grew up with him for maybe 12 years. We used to go there and spend our time in his house… He used to teach us so many things. It was a good house.”
All of the former street children the MOS met spoke of a familiar washing routine which Br Aidan allegedly supervised.
“He took us to his house and then we had a shower and then he gave us some food… that’s how I met Brother Aidan,” said one former street child.
This person was a client of a St John of God drop-in centre for street children called the Umoza Children’s Project where washing facilities were provided.
However, he alleges that Brother Aidan would collect boys from the centre during his lunch break and bring them to his home to wash.
‘Each and every time when he wants us then he was finding us there [in the Umozacentre]. ‘Especially during the lunch hour, he was taking us to his house and doing the same thing. He was giving us new clothes. He was doing this maybe three times a week.’
Suddenly in 2012 Br Aidan disappeared almost overnight without ‘He was a very good man, like a father to us’ explanation for his departure.
There were no goodbyes or farewell parties despite the fact that Brother Aidan had almost singlehandedly built everything from scratch in Malawi and was widely known as the face of his order.
And even now, neither Brother Aidan’s name nor photograph is featured anywhere on the order’s website, even though he founded its mission in Malawi.
‘We had a culture of organising parties for people who are going to go and Aidan used to do that. Why can’t we do a party for him?’ asked former clinical director Harrison Chilale.
The answer appears to be that Brother Aidan had been withdrawn from public ministry because of child protection concerns and is now the subject of a canonical inquiry.
But no one in Malawi appears to have been told this.
- This story was supported by the Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi (http://investigative-malawi.com) and The Irish Mail on Sunday (www.newsscoops.org).
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