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St. Mary’s school in Tokyo to investigate child sex abuse after teacher’s rape confession

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St. Mary’s International School is setting up a panel to conduct an internal investigation into reported cases of child sexual abuse — including one confirmed case of rape — at the school in Tokyo, according to a letter issued to alumni earlier this month.

In the letter, dated Oct. 4, Headmaster Saburo Kagei says he has recently heard from “several alumni who shared stories of abuse.” He continues: “It is very distressing to hear these accounts. . . . I want to make sure something like this never happens again.”

The letter says the school is focusing on making sure there are policies, procedures and training in place to ensure the safety of its students.

The letter was the third issued by the school addressing allegations of past child sexual abuse at St. Mary’s. In the second, issued on Sept. 11, Kagei writes, “In the spirit of transparency, I want to tell you what we know and ask for your help in uncovering the truth about what occurred.”

This letter primarily addresses what the school refers to as “allegations” made by a former student against a Catholic Brother and former principal and teacher at the school, Lawrence Lambert. It also mentions another former teacher, Brother Benoit Lessard, now deceased, who has also been accused of sexually abusing students while working at St. Mary’s.

The Japan Times was the first media organization to publish accounts from Lessard’s alleged victims in an article that ran on Sept. 1, less than two weeks before Kagei’s second letter. The article also addressed the abuse committed by Lambert.

In the Sept. 11 letter, Kagei says that he learned of the allegation against Lambert in January of this year, five months after he became principal of the school, and that the former student had come forward about the abuse in May 2013.

He also states that at that time, he learned that Lambert had written a letter of apology to the former student, who was abused in 1965. The Japan Times has managed to obtain a copy of not one but two letters of apology written by Lambert to his victim where he confesses to the crime.

To quote from the first letter, dated Jan. 21: “I finally take this opportunity to offer you my sincere apologies for assaulting you in 1965. It should never have happened. At that moment, I chose selfishly my pleasure, putting aside your value as a human being, the values that I wished to live by, the true endeavor of an educator, and the mission of my congregation. I am ashamed of what I did.”

The second letter, dated the same day, reveals details of the sexual assault: “The simple truth is that still today I cannot understand the fact I raped you. It was the first time I did that in my life, and I did not do that again. I was on my way to my bedroom upstairs when I saw you and saw nothing wrong with talking with you on the way. But then somehow passion suddenly took over and I did what I should never have done and selfishly and violently hurt your body and hurt your heart for the rest of your life.”

The victim also received a letter of apology from the Brothers of Christian Instruction, or the Mennaisians, the Catholic order to which Lambert belongs and which founded St. Mary’s. The letter is signed by Raymond Ducharme, the vice-provincial, or leader, of the Brotherhood for Japan and the Philippines at the time, and is dated the same day as the Lambert letters. Ducharme apologizes for Lambert’s actions and acknowledges the brotherhood’s failure to properly deal with the issue of child sexual abuse.

To quote: “Our Congregation also bears responsibilities concerning the evil that was done to you. A warmer community life, a better awareness of the sexuality of men living in communities, and also a strong willingness to cope frankly with the evil done to you could have helped in preventing such wicked actions, or could have helped you get through that ordeal, but it was not the way the situation was dealt with. I am sorry.”

Lambert is no longer working at St. Mary’s and has now left Japan. He is believed to be living in Canada.

In addition to these latest developments relating to the abuse committed by Lambert, further allegations against Lessard have surfaced.

One former student of the school, Joe Adams, died from alcoholic liver disease last year, and his long-term partner believes the trauma he suffered at St. Mary’s played a part in his early death in Kobe at the age of 44. Adams also had a tumor on his esophagus that was removed at a hospital in Kobe shortly before he died.

“Joe did anything not to feel. He drank beer, 12 to 24 a day,” says Kelly Rooney. “Later, I found out he was also using heroin.”

Kelly, the daughter of Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney, met Adams 17 years ago. They were in a relationship for five years, she says, and lived together in Los Angeles for the final two years of that period.

“During these years I noticed very painful behaviors,” Rooney says. “He had opened up to me about being molested by a priest. He said this Brother Lessard made it seem like a natural thing — asked him to pull down his pants, gave him an erection, showed him how to handle himself, saying this is all natural.

“This stole Joe’s innocence, I believe. I know he carried so much hate for himself and this Brother Lessard.”

Rooney was not with Adams when he died, as he had moved back to Japan to be near his mother in Kobe. She says that she learned of his death from a former classmate of Adams who telephoned her shortly after Adams died.

“This was the saddest time of my life. I loved him,” she says.

Rooney is no stranger to tragedy herself. Her own mother, Mickey Rooney’s fifth wife, Barbara Ann Thomason, was killed in a murder-suicide by her Serbian lover, Milos Milos, in 1966. Mickey Rooney died this April at the age of 93, and Kelly says that dealing with her father’s death, coupled with Adams’ a year earlier, has been tough.

“It’s been a rough time that I’ve been working through,” she says.

A former St. Mary’s classmate of Adams, Tony Jackson, who became a confidant in Adams’ final years, says his friend often spoke to him over the telephone about the alleged sexual abuse that occurred at the school.

Jackson says Adams told him for the first time in 2005 that he was molested by Lessard on the annual trip for sixth-graders to the KEEP Camp, at the Seisen-Ryo complex in rural Kiyosato, Yamanashi Prefecture. Adams’ account of his alleged abuse at KEEP was very similar to accounts from other former students who have come forward.

“Joe told me that they had a class on sex education at KEEP in Yamanashi Prefecture. . . . The boys had to line up outside a room and go in for a private one-on-one chat with Brother Lessard,” explains Jackson.

“Brother Lessard talked to Joe about what is an erection and how to get an erection. He then had Joe pull down his pants and fondled Joe, causing him to have an erection.”

Jackson says Adams told him the same story again and again during the last years of his life, and that he often became very distressed and angry when talking about it.

“He would even shout at the top of his lungs at me,” says Jackson. “I tried, without success, to calm him down.”

A year or two before Adams’ death, Jackson says he encouraged him to report the alleged abuse to the Brothers’ superior in Japan and the Archbishop of Tokyo, but that Adams instead reported it directly to Brother Michel Jutras, the headmaster of St. Mary’s at the time.

“Brother Michel replied, ‘Maybe it was not what you thought it was and you misunderstood Brother Lessard.’ Joe insisted that it was molestation,” Jackson recalls. “Brother Michel accused John of having a bad attitude. Joe contacted me afterwards, very upset.”

Adams attended St. Mary’s from 1978 to 1981. According to Rooney and Jackson’s accounts, Adams was abused while attending the KEEP Camp in the summer of 1979. He was a classmate of Fredrick Smith, who also says he was abused by Lessard at the same camp, and who told his story in an earlier Japan Times article. Both Frederick Smith and Tony Jackson are pseudonyms that the former students requested The Japan Times use for privacy reasons. Joe Adams is also a pseudonym and has been used out of consideration for his family’s privacy.

Approached by The Japan Times for comment, St. Mary’s Headmaster Kagei was not prepared to speak about specific cases, and instead paraphrased the content of his Oct. 4 letter to alumni.

“We are outraged by the thought that any member of our community might have been harmed,” he said in a written reply. “We do everything we can to provide a safe and nurturing community for every one of our students. That is our No. 1 concern.”

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