Catholic brother accused of sexual, physical abuse
‘The level of abuse perpetrated on these children is in some cases horrific. It is the worst type of abuse that can be placed against children…’
“One day when I was bathing, he came into the bathroom. He said he wanted to help me bath.
“I was surprised because this was the first time for me to undergo such an experience.
“I was young and I could not reason much. He reached for a tablet of soap and started rubbing it from my back all the way to my genitals.
“I was so shocked. He went on playing with my private parts. Eventually, this became a trend.”
This is Yamikani [real name withheld] recounting to Times his days at St John of God (SjoG) in Mzuzu.
That man who intruded into his bathroom was a Catholic brother, Aidan Clohessy, who was serving at the institution from 1993 to 2012. Yamikani, a form two dropout, joined the institution when he was 14 years old.
“When I passed my standard eight examinations, chances of paying school fees at the secondary level were slim. My parents were poor. Well-wishers tipped me of St John of God where I met Brother Aidan,” he said.
Yamikani was supported by the institution from 2003 to 2006 through various avenues. It paid his school fees.
At one point he worked at the same institution as a gardener, learnt horticulture where he had a short stint at grafting lessons.
“I called it quits when I could not stand the forms of punishment that were being meted on us. He [Brother Clohessy] was very harsh. I did my form 1 and 2 only. Every time I failed or was late in class we were whipped severely,” he recounted.
He added that the brother had a secret room which he called ‘court room’.
There he used to beat up ‘unruly’ children. “In the room there was a table which we were told to lay on facing down.
“Before the whipping, we were first told to bath and we were whipped naked. He was so brutal that one could barely sit down after the beating,” he added.
On several occasions, Yamikani said, Clohessy would show up at their bathrooms to watch the teenagers bath.
“It was strange because we were old enough to bath ourselves. My friends attested they were forced to sleep with him.
“But we could not report anywhere because that could be the end of the support rendered to us,” he said.
The Catholic brother, now 82, left the country in 2012.
He now faces a mountain of physical and sexual abuse allegations he is suspected to have committed during his stay in Malawi.
Clohessy has been dragged to court in Ireland, alongside William Forkan, chairperson of St John of God, by Coleman attorneys on behalf of children who allege were sexually abused by Clohessy.
Yamikani is one of the young men who has joined the case.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, Dave Coleman of Coleman lawyers said having engaged lawyers for both St John of God and for Brother Clohessy, they are ready to ask the Irish court to set a date for hearing of the case.
“I was asked by some Irish children who were abused by Brother Clohessy and those cases are with the Irish courts.
“Upon learning about the children in Malawi, I came down here and I have met several of them. We then commenced court proceedings in Ireland against St John of God and Brother Clohessy,” he said.
In Malawi, the lawyers have among others placed an advert in a local newspaper asking those people who were abused to come out and give experiences with the brother.
“If you are between the ages of 19 and 38 and have attended St John of God Centre in Mzuzu you need to be aware of the following; if you received food, work or education from St John of God’s brother by the name of Brother Aidan, you may be able to claim financial compensation by joining a law case being taken in Ireland by many young men who say that they were badly treated by Brother Aidan over long periods of time,” reads the statement in part.
This will obviously attract many people, frank or otherwise, to join the case. According to Coleman who sits on 35 years work experience, they have engaged a psychologist to help in vetting.
As of Monday May 1, 2023, they had about 50 enquiries, 25 of which have been roped in the case. It is expected the inquiries could hit 100 by the end of the month. But what is his motive?
“The level of abuse perpetrated on these children is in some cases horrific. It is the worst type of abuse that can be placed against children and it is very sad to tell you that…
“These were vulnerable children who were taken from the streets and they had nobody to speak for them, their suffering is almost unmentionable…
“It’s one of the worst forms of abuse we have ever heard in 35 years,” he said.
Coleman added that St John of God is one of the reputable organisations in Malawi which is supporting various children in the country and that the case is not witch-hunting.
We also heard another testimony from another young man who was also taken from the streets and is now working.
He said after being educated by the institution, he worked with Clohessy for three years but he said he never experienced such abuses to himself or the children.
“One of my roles was to bathe the children. You know these kids literally refused to bathe. So one time Brother Aidan would come to watch me bath them, not necessarily that he enjoyed the view but to make sure they were bathed and given new clothes. You know these kids could stink and no one would want to be near them.
“Maybe it [the sexual abuse] might have happened when I left the place but during my time I never went into his room and I do not know how it looks,” he said.
We could not get a comment from Clohessy but in various interviews he has denied wrongdoing. SjoG Malawi Executive Director Charles Masulani said he could not comment much as the case is in court.
Clohessey was first accused of child abuse at St Augustine’s School in Blackrock, Ireland, where he was principal.
It is alleged that St John of God order there covered-up the allegations, misled a statutory inquiry, secretly paid compensation to some of the victims and dispatched him to Malawi without informing the authorities here of any potential risk to children.
The children were routinely collected from the streets and housed in a specially built garage at his home.