Australian diplomat’s son in Tokyo St Mary’s child sexual abuse story

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The Age (Australia)


Simon Scott

Jacob was 11 years old when he was raped, in a Catholic school chapel, by two Brothers who threatened to do the same to his younger brother if he spoke out. It took 48 years to break his silence. He tells Simon Scott his story. 

Recent pictures of Catholic Brother Lawrence Lambert, second from left, a teacher at St Mary's International School in Tokyo.

Recent pictures of Catholic Brother Lawrence Lambert, second from left, a teacher at St Mary’s International School in Tokyo.

In late 1964, after his family moved to Japan from Australia, Jacob Bernstein* was enrolled at St Mary’s International School, a prestigious, private school in an upmarket Tokyo neighbourhood. His father, Robert*, a diplomat, had been posted to the Australian embassy in the city.

Late in 1965, Jacob was searching for somewhere to eat lunch when he passed the school chapel. Being Jewish, the 11-year-old grade 6 student couldn’t eat the lunches served in the dining room. St Mary’s, a Catholic boys’ school run by the Brothers of Christian Instruction, or Mennaisians, was unable to prepare food that was kosher, so he had to bring lunch from home.

He put his hands under my T-shirt and pulled it up over my head, so covering my face. Then he sodomised me. I did not make a noise. I was too frightened.

*Jacob Bernstein

That day his mother had prepared his favourite, rollmops – pickled herring fillets held together with skewers – so he was eager to tuck in. “I saw the chapel door open and went in and started eating my lunch alone. I didn’t think it was not permitted,” says Bernstein.

Brother Lawrence Lambert in St Mary's 1969 Yearbook. It shows that he was back teaching 6th Grade elementary students at the school by 1969, just four years after the sexual assault of Australian schoolboy 'Jacob Bernstein'.

Brother Lawrence Lambert in St Mary’s 1969 Yearbook. It shows that he was back teaching 6th Grade elementary students at the school by 1969, just four years after the sexual assault of Australian schoolboy ‘Jacob Bernstein’.

Suddenly, Lawrence Lambert and another Catholic Brother entered, made the sign of the cross and then approached him. “Brother Lawrence said I was to be punished for eating in the chapel,” he recalls. “I was taken to a table near the door and made to face it and drop my pants and bend over. I thought I was to be spanked. One of them pulled my pants right off.” Then, he says, “Brother Lawrence started to sodomise me. I had no idea of what he was doing, only that it hurt.”

Bernstein says he was then also raped by the other Brother. “He put his hands under my T-shirt and pulled it up over my head, so covering my face. Then he sodomised me. I did not make a noise. I was too frightened.”

After both men had left the chapel, Bernstein noticed the skewer from the rollmop embedded in his palm. “I squeezed it so hard the skewer stabbed the palm of my hand and I later had to pull it out.”

Catholic Brother Lawrence Lambert was teaching at St Mary's International School in Tokyo in 1965 when he sexually abused Australian schoolboy "Jacob Bernstein", whose father was a diplomat in Tokyo. Neither the school nor the embassy reported the abuse to police, instead covering it up.

Catholic Brother Lawrence Lambert was teaching at St Mary’s International School in Tokyo in 1965 when he sexually abused Australian schoolboy “Jacob Bernstein”, whose father was a diplomat in Tokyo. Neither the school nor the embassy reported the abuse to police, instead covering it up.

Haunted by the memory of that day, it would be almost 50 years before Bernstein would be able to eat his favourite childhood food again. It would take even longer to receive apologies from the school, the Mennaisians, and Lambert, for what happened in 1965, sparking an ongoing investigation into multiple, historic cases of abuse at the school.

To date, there are three confirmed instances of other students being sexually abused in the 1970s, although these known cases involved a different Canadian Brother who taught at the school, Benoit Lessard, who is now deceased. There are also two former lay teachers from St Mary’s who faced child sexual abuse charges relating to crimes committed in the US after returning from Japan. One of them, Donald Andrews, was convicted of an assault against a 13-year-old boy in 1997, and the other, Frank Selas, fled the US after two arrest warrants were issued against him for molesting at least six young boys in 1979.

After the ordeal, Bernstein says he was told to keep silent or, if he spoke out, his brother Tom*, a grade 2 student at the time, would be similarly “punished”. The threat worked, but a few days later his mother began to suspect something was wrong.

In a signed affidavit written in 2013, Jacob’s mother Jane* explains the circumstances that led to discovering her son had been abused: “In 1965, our maid Mutsuko-san brought me a pair of [Jacob’s] underpants that were covered in blood. I immediately took him to see Dr [Alan] Fair, who was the official embassy doctor,” Mrs Bernstein wrote.

“[Jacob] would not say what was wrong, earlier that day he did not want to go to school and said he had a tummy bug. He was walking hunched over on the way to the car.”

After examining Jacob, the doctor prescribed some medicine and told Mrs Bernstein that he didn’t know what was wrong. It wasn’t until later that she discovered the shocking truth.

“[Robert] came home suddenly and told me Dr Fair had telephoned to say [Jacob] had been sexually assaulted. We spoke to [Jacob], who would not initially say what happened but indicated it was at school, and that if he said anything that Brother Lawrence would do it to [Tom]. We then knew who the culprit was.”

It is unclear why  the embassy doctor first notified the Australian ambassador, Sir Allen Brown, rather than Jacob’s parents or the police, but that decision, and the Australian embassy’s response, has had long-reaching consequences, the effects of which are still being felt to this day.

According to Mrs Bernstein, her husband informed her that “the ambassador would not have the police called” and had decided to deal with the matter internally. The following day, a Saturday, Jacob’s parents went to the embassy.

Mrs Bernstein recollects: “The ambassador’s wife met me and took me for coffee. We later entered a small room and there was a glass one-way mirror allowing us to see into the ambassador’s office. [Robert] and Phil [Philip Searcy, another embassy official] were there, and a younger man who I knew was the cipher clerk, a Mr McRae, and also Les Baken [the commercial counselor]. They were all dressed in tennis whites except the ambassador, who was wearing a suit and tie.”

Through the one-way mirror she watched as Lawrence Lambert, the man who raped her 11-year-old son, was brought into the room, accompanied by Brother John Paradis, headmaster at the time.

“There was a lot of yelling. Phil and Les grabbed Brother Lawrence’s arms from behind and held him, and Mr McRae started punching him in the stomach and chest. Brother John got up to perhaps intervene and was pushed to the ground, causing his glasses to fall off. The ambassador stepped on them, his wife and I then both left.”

About an hour later, she was able to observe them leaving the embassy. “I recall seeing Brothers John and Lawrence being pushed hard out of the chancellery door to the driveway, down, perhaps, five steps. They hobbled away. It was like something I expected from the Soviet embassy.”

Mrs Bernstein adds that she was later informed that Paradis had promised to send Lambert back to Canada, and he would not be permitted to be near children again.

Jacob and his younger brother were immediately taken out of St Mary’s, and the family soon returned to Australia. Mrs Bernstein says her husband was “advised to not mention it again if he wanted a career”. Robert Bernstein continued to work for the Australian diplomatic service until retirement.

The following year, as promised, Lambert was sent back to Canada, yet records indicate that this was only a temporary measure, and by 1968 he had returned to Japan. Soon, Lambert would be back teaching at St Mary’s and in regular contact with boys again. Photographs from the 1969 and 1970 yearbooks show he was teaching English to elementary students during that period, despite the fact the school and embassy knew he was a child abuser.

Lambert’s career as a teacher and Brother didn’t just continue unchecked, it flourished. In 1971 he was transferred out of Tokyo to Shizuoka City to teach at another Mennaisian school, Seiko Gakuin. In 1982, he returned to St Mary’s, this time as elementary school principal. The same year, he was also promoted to vice-provincial of Japan for the Order. He remained elementary principal for around three decades, until 2011.

After retiring, Lambert continued to live at the Brothers’ residence situated on the St Mary’s campus until 2013. In 2014 he left Japan and returned to Canada. He is now living in one of the Brothers’ residences in Trois Rivieres, Quebec.

The abuse Bernstein suffered at Lambert’s hands has had a devastating and far-reaching impact. It took 48 years before he found the courage to break his silence. In May 2013, he contacted the then headmaster of St Mary’s, Brother Michel Jutras, and told him about the abuse. This led to negotiations between Bernstein and Brother Raymond Ducharme, the vice-provincial for Japan and the Philippines, which ultimately culminated in a face-to-face meeting between Bernstein and the man who had raped him.

At that meeting, held in January 2014, at a synagogue in Shibuya, Tokyo, both Lambert and Ducharme read out letters of apology in the presence of the rabbi.

“The simple truth is that still today I cannot understand the fact I raped you,” said Lambert. “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 letters were then signed and presented to Bernstein. He was also handed an apology written by Jutras, who was not present. Bernstein had also asked for an apology from John Paradis, who was headmaster at St Mary’s in 1965 and had known about the abuse since that time, but no such letter was forthcoming.

The Mennaisians paid for the airfares from Australia for Bernstein, his wife and child, and all their expenses during their week-long trip to Japan.

In an email Bernstein sent to Ducharme in 2013, he talks about how the abuse impacted his life: “Child abuse has devastating effects. For me, Brother Lawrence Lambert’s abuse has meant I have had a life which is severely compromised from what it might otherwise have been. To give you an example, I attempted suicide at age 12. The abuse has robbed me of not just my childhood, but also much of the adult who grew from that abuse.”

In 2013 the government established a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is the largest inquiry of its kind in Australian history and covers cases of abuse at a variety of institutions in Australia. Although Jacob Bernstein was abused at an institution in Japan, he says he made a submission for a private hearing on the basis that institutions and representatives of the government, namely the embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the ambassador to Japan at the time, Sir Allen Brown, all colluded to cover up his abuse. Bernstein says he has been granted a hearing, but that a date has yet to be set.

St Mary’s International School in Tokyo says it is unable to comment beyond formal statements released to the school community. Requests for comment from the Brothers of Christian Instruction went unanswered, as did those sent to the Catholic Archdiocese of Tokyo.

A copy of Mrs Bernstein’s affidavit was sent to the Australian embassy in Tokyo. The embassy responded by saying, “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has deep sympathy for victims of abuse. It takes these allegations seriously and has provided the information you passed to the embassy, to the Australian Federal Police.”

*The name Jacob Bernstein is a pseudonym and has been used to protect the identity of a victim of sexual abuse. The names of all of his immediate family members are also pseudonyms, as revealing their real identities would also expose the victim. All other names used are real.

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