Former students at a prestigious all-boys parochial school in Japan have alleged they were molested or raped by religious brothers who taught there decades ago.
Three former students at St Mary’s International School in Tokyo told the Associated Press they were sexually abused by brothers there. One described “health checkups” in which a brother touched boys’ testicles. Another says he was raped in the chapel by two brothers at the age of 11.
That former student reportedly received an in-person apology from one of the men, Brother Lawrence Lambert, in 2014. The former student’s account of the meeting suggests Lambert might have initially confused him with another victim whose assault went unreported.
The former student said the school sent Lambert away after the 1965 attack, only to have him return to serve as elementary-school principal for nearly two decades.
Allegations from former students have been published in an English-language Tokyo newspaper but otherwise have received little attention in Japan. There are only about 500,000 Catholics in the country of 127 million, and the school is aimed at foreigners like the three former students rather than Japanese.
Many sex-abuse victims choose not to come forward in conservative Japan. Unlike in the US, in Japan victims must press charges for cases to proceed. Japan’s statute of limitations is 10 years for rape and seven years for sexual assault.
School officials say they reported the chapel rape allegations to Tokyo police when the victim approached them in 2013. Yet Tokyo police spokesman Satoru Matsunaga said there were no records of the case in their files and no investigation is ongoing.
Though the victim said his family made St Mary’s aware of the attack in 1965, Saburo Kagei, who has headed the school since 2013, said he had been unaware of them.
In October 2014, St Mary’s set up an investigative panel to look into sex abuse at the school. Their findings are not ready, and the head of the panel declined to comment.
Kagei acknowledged Lambert’s apology without confirming the attack or any other sexual abuse.
“The last thing we would want any child to go through is any kind of harm,” he said. “We want to uphold and take care of the children who are placed in our care.”
Founded by the Brothers of Christian Instruction in 1954, St Mary’s 900 students hail from 60 countries, and it boasts having 13,500 alumni. It bills itself as the “most prestigious international school for boys.”
The Archdiocese of Tokyo declined to comment, saying St Mary’s is handling the matter. Conrad Lord, a lawyer for The Brothers of Christian Instruction, which runs St Mary’s, said Lambert’s apology had been obtained by “coercion,” and that both brothers were wrongfully accused, but declined to comment further.
The Vatican does not get involved in specific cases.
Brother Albert Heinrich, who heads the brotherhood in the US and taught at St Mary’s in the 1980s, said he learned of the abuse only in recent years. “I had no knowledge at that time of any alleged problems at the school,” he said in an email from Alfred, Maine.
Religious brothers are not ordained as priests, but take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and work in a variety of ministries, including education.
Teja Arboleda, 53, a former St Mary’s student who says he was sexually abused by a brother in the mid-1970s, said students at the time “were told not to say anything. Otherwise, they would do something bad to us.”
Arboleda, a movie producer, is working on a documentary about sex-abuse survivors at Catholic schools around the world, including St Mary’s, entitled Ring Around the Collar.
“Most of them will not talk about it for the rest of their lives. Many of them are in denial,” he said in a telephone interview from Dedham, Massachusetts. “People, I think, often believe this only takes place in the United States because Americans are much more vocal.”
Arboleda says he was sexually abused by a brother who died in 1980. Ferdinand Stoer, another former St Mary’s student, said he was abused by the same teacher.
Stoer, 56, said his class of about 30 students underwent a health checkup in which they were told to take off all their clothes; then the brother touched their testicles while they coughed. He was not a medical doctor.
“It was weird,” said Stoer, who lives in Sacramento, California, and like Arboleda agreed to have his name published. Some of the boys talked about it among themselves, but he did not tell his parents, and the checkup was not taken up as a problem at the school at that time.
In fall 2014, Stoer and some other alumni received an email in which Kagei acknowledged sex abuse allegations had been made against former teachers. Stoer assumed it was about the checkups.
In fact, the email was sent after the former student who said he was raped began reaching out to school and Church officials and authorities in Japan and Canada. Police in Quebec, where the Brothers of Christian Instruction are based, said they have no jurisdiction over crimes in Japan.
No lawsuits have been filed over any of the allegations. Now 61, the former student believes he deserves compensation but has little hope that will happen.
“Nothing can be done,” he told the AP. “They decided to do nothing.”
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