A TERRIFIED eight-year-old boy waited to be raped as another boy’s screams could be heard from a nearby room where two St John of God Brothers had taken him.
It was 1981 and Brother Bernard McGrath’s shocking reign of terror as principal of Morisset’s Kendall Grange boys’ home still had five years to run.
The boy was raped that day in a typically brutal attack that left him bleeding and limping. On another occasion he vomited after choking when McGrath forced him to have oral sex.
In a Sydney courtroom on Friday mothers wept, fathers hung their heads and victims gasped, cried and left the room as a judge recounted how McGrath rubbed the boy’s face in the vomit, before ordering the sobbing child to clean up the mess.
There was anger that McGrath’s crimes against Kendall Grange boys between 1978 and 1985 occurred after the St John of God order transferred him to the Morisset facility after allegations against him at a St John of God facility in New Zealand in 1977.
But by 3pm on Friday, after hours of a gruelling sentencing hearing, there were cheers, applause and spontaneous calls of “Thank you” to Judge Sarah Huggett after McGrath, 70, was sentenced to 33 years’ jail for 64 offences against 12 boys at Kendall Grange over seven years.
McGrath, 70, must serve a minimum sentence of 21 years, and will be 88 before his earliest release date in 2035, after his sentence was backdated to December, 2014 when he was taken into custody in New Zealand and extradited to Australia to face more than 250 charges.
“He’ll die in jail,” said the mother of one of his victims who was nine years old when he was sent to Kendall Grange, shockingly molested by McGrath and told that if he spoke to anyone about the abuse he would be “taken to the Morisset mad house and never see the light of day again”.
I didn’t think he’d get more than 10 years because he had to be sentenced according to what they gave them in the 1970s and 1980s. I was very surprised but it’s brilliant. We got justice today.Paul, a victim of St John of God Brother Bernard McGrath
The mother repeatedly wept in court as Judge Huggett detailed offences against her son, Paul, including when he choked and vomited when McGrath forced him into oral sex. He was one of two of McGrath’s victims whose evidence included vomiting after violent forced oral sex.
Paul cheered after Judge Huggett completed the sentence and McGrath was led away.
“I didn’t think he’d get more than 10 years because he had to be sentenced according to what they gave them in the 1970s and 1980s. I was very surprised but it’s brilliant. We got justice today,” Paul said.
Another of McGrath’s victims yelled at McGrath as he was led away.
“I hope you rot in hell you f...ing piece of shit,” the man said after struggling to control his emotions throughout the sentencing hearing.
Judge Huggett described McGrath as a predator who moved from victim to victim, often in circumstances where the risk of detection was high, and in some cases in the company of other Brothers. He did so because there was “little to no danger” of him being held accountable for his crimes, she said.
“The particular offences committed by this offender took place where other abuse was being meted out by persons other than this offender,” Judge Huggett said.
“I have no doubt at all that systemic abuse of children at Kendall Grange was taking place during the relevant years.”
McGrath was guilty of “deliberate, determined and to varying degrees predetermined” offences against children, some with intellectual, social, academic and behavioural difficulties, Judge Huggett said.
She said McGrath joined the order in 1966 when he was 18. Although he wanted to be a veterinarian his father – who felt that he was a failure because he did not complete training to be a Catholic priest – filled out the paperwork for him to become a St John of God Brother.
McGrath’s father was a violent and abuse man, the court heard.
Judge Huggett said she accepted McGrath’s evidence that he was indecently assaulted as a child by at least one neighbour and another man.
She recounted the St John of God order’s knowledge of McGrath’s offending over many years, including attempts at treatment in New Zealand and a Catholic facility known as the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico in 1993.
McGrath was forced to leave the order in 1997 after he was convicted in New Zealand of 21 offences against nine victims at a St John of God facility, and convicted again in Australia of another six offences against a Kendall Grange victim.
In court on Friday the sister of the Kendall Grange victim from the 1990s trial was stunned and relieved when McGrath received a 33 year sentence, after he was sentenced to nine months’ jail in the 1990s for crimes against her brother.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s great. It is such a vindication of all these men who had the courage to speak about what happened to them as children. Finally there’s justice for them,” she said.