Former North Catholic teacher charged with abusing children in Australia
March 21, 2014 11:48 PM
Brother Bernard Hartman
By Peter Smith / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A Roman Catholic religious brother who taught from 1986 to 1997 at North Catholic High School in Pittsburgh is facing trial in Australia on multiple charges of beating and molesting four children in that country more than 30 years ago.
A Melbourne court this week found sufficient evidence to order Brother Bernard Joseph Hartman to stand trial in April 2015 on 18 charges of abuse.
He returned to Australia in 2013 -- two years after one of his accusers first went public -- to face the charges. But his superiors with the Marianist Province of the United States first learned of accusations against him in 1997, when they removed him from his teaching position at North Catholic in Pittsburgh and sent him to a treatment center, according to the Rev. Martin A. Solma, provincial for the Marianist Province of the United States.
"He never returned to educational ministry and was assigned to internal ministry under a safety plan," Father Solma said in a statement.
There have been no allegations of misconduct during Brother Hartman's time in Pittsburgh, including two shorter stints in 1961 and 1979, according to Father Solma.
There is also no record of the order letting students, alumni or the general public know about the allegations.
But a national victims' advocacy organization -- which called attention to Brother Hartman's Pittsburgh connection in a statement issued this week -- is calling on officials with his religious order and the Diocese of Pittsburgh to alert the public and urge any potential victims here to come forward.
"Frankly our concerns are heightened by the fact that when he was in Pittsburgh, he was around the most vulnerable population for a guy like him," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, vicar general of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said Friday the diocese plans to contact alumni of North Catholic who attended in those years and urge anyone who has been abused to contact police or the diocese.
He said the diocese had no record of the Marianists or anyone else informing them of accusations against Brother Hartman until the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette inquired earlier this week.
He said the diocese also regularly posts notices on its website and in parishes urging any victims of abuse to report it and seek help.
Brother Hartman, 74, who has been a Marianist brother since 1958, faces 18 criminal charges, including indecent assault, act of gross indecency and assault dating back to the 1970s and early 1980s, when he was posted at St Paul's College in Melbourne.
He is charged with molesting two boys at the college and two girls whose families he had befriended.
"He was a bit of a sadist," one of his accusers said in a statement to Melbourne Magistrates Court this week, according to an Australian Associated Press report. "After more than 30 years I am still suffering. ... My innocence has been taken by a man of God."
The man said if he didn't comply with Brother Hartman's demands, he received a beating -- and did get caned when he told the headmaster what was happening.
Court documents also said Brother Hartman abused a young girl between ages 8 and 11 and offered her 50 cents per photo if she agreed to be photographed nude, according to the Australian Associated Press..
Brother Hartman, in addition to his 11-year teaching stint at North Catholic High School, was also assigned to the Marianist community at the school in 1961 for a few months and in 1979 during a sabbatical break, according to Father Solma.
He lived in Australia from 1972 to 1985.
"The first notice we received about allegations in Australia came in 1997, and Hartman was removed immediately from North Catholic and sent to a treatment center," Father Solma said in a statement.
Father Solma said the order has cooperated with Australian authorities' investigation and that Brother Hartman voluntarily returned to Australia to face charges.
Those charges only ensued after one of his alleged victims, Maireade Ashcroft, went public in 2011. She told The Age of Melbourne that she brought allegations against Brother Hartman to his order's attention in 1999 and that he signed a letter of apology -- but that the order never told police or encouraged her to.
Other accusers then came forward, and a subsequent police investigation led to Brother Hartman's arrest in 2013.
Brother Hartman lived in Dayton, Ohio, for much of the time between his removal from Pittsburgh and his later arrest and, according to the Marianists, performed clerical duties such as letter-writing and did not work with children.
According to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People -- the policies on sexual abuse adopted by Roman Catholic bishops in Dallas in 2002 -- a confirmed abuser is no longer permitted to "present himself publicly as a priest." While Brother Hartman is not a priest, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men -- the umbrella group for male religious orders -- agreed in 2002 to "honor the values and principles of the Dallas Charter."
Brother Hartman continued to present himself to the public as a religious brother in the years since he was accused, with no indication he was in bad standing. A 2008 photo of a smiling Brother Hartman alongside other brothers appears next to a news item on the Marianist website celebrating their 50th anniversaries with the order. Brother Hartman returned to North Catholic in Pittsburgh in 2009 to take part in celebrations of the Marianists' 150th anniversary of ministry in Pittsburgh, and the homilist recognized him by name during the celebration.
"If the order knew he had sexually abused kids, that was totally inappropriate and insulting," said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Virginia-based priest, canon lawyer and contributor to a 1985 report warning of the sexual-abuse crisis about to explode in the Catholic Church. He has long been one of the hierarchy's most outspoken critics and an expert witness on behalf of plaintiffs suing the church.
"You have yet to find a religious order or diocese that knows how to do the right thing right out of the gate," Rev. Doyle said. "They all have to be forced."
The charter mandated removal from ministry of any priest found to have abused a child.
It also required dioceses "to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor" and "advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and support this right."
Peter Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416; Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.