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Former Marist head denies cover-up, "horrendous failing"

A former Marist College Canberra headmaster has denied he was subservient to his superiors, had deliberately obstructed sex abuse investigations and was protecting a former leader of the order.

Brother Christopher Wade, the headmaster when Brother Kostka Chute was removed from the college at the end of 1993, was testifying on Friday afternoon before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

He said he had been aware of "gossip" that Chute may have been a child molester as early as the mid-1960s but did not follow this up when appointed to a school where Chute was on the staff.

Brother Wade said he had not been told of Chute's history of sexual offending when he took up the MCC appointment at the start of 1993. Chute's history included numerous admissions of touching students and a canonical warning in July 1969. Brother Wade, 78, is now retired. He said his memory of his time at MCC was poor because of his age.

"The only intimation I ever had Kostka may have been abusing children was 20 or 30 years before the date (1993)," he said.

He had not been told directly that Chute was an abuser. "It was more a conversation that was taking place; I think I overheard it. I think it was something to the effect 'Kostka had been misbehaving with children'."

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Mr Wade said he took that to mean inappropriate sexual contact. He had not followed up because it was "vague, old, incorrect and may have been exaggerated ... I did not have an issue in my mind".

Brother Wade said that had he been aware of Chute's history he would have acted to prevent him from having access to students.

"I would have been extremely cautious about having him in any position of trust with students," he said in response to a question from counsel assisting the commission, Mr Simeon Beckett.

Brother Wade was testifying the same day another former Marist Canberra headmaster defended himself against claims he had demonstrated "a horrendous failing" by failing to detect Chute's abusive behaviour in the 1980s.

Peter O'Brien, who is representing victim Damian De Marco, put it to Brother Terence Heinrich he had failed in his duties.

Chute is known to have assaulted at least eight boys at Marist during Brother Heinrich's tenure.

Asked about a complaint Chute had molested a boy during a film night in 1985 or 1986, the 68-year-old,who now works in Cambodia, said he had never got back to the boy or the boy's parents after Chute had "laughed off" the matter.

Brother Heinrich had raised the complaint with the provincial (leader) of the Marist Brothers and had not heard back. "The failure in all of this begins with me," he told Commissioner Justice Jennifer Coate.

Asked if he was disappointed the Marist Brothers hierarchy had not warned him of Chute's history he said yes. "Disappointment; some anger, some sadness."

Mr O'Brien put it to Brother Wade, who said he could not recall a meeting with former student Damian De Marco in 1993 about his abuse at Chute's hands in 1981, he had been deliberatively obstructive when asked about that in 2008 and was being obstructive now.

"It would have been a lot easier for me to pretend I remember him (De Marco) calling on me and what he said and the conversation," Brother Wade replied.

Mr O'Brien put it to Brother Wade that "the die was cast in 2008 when you said `I can't recall it' when the civil action (against the Marist Brothers) was taken".

"I say that is your construction and I disagree with it," Brother Wade replied.

Mr O'Brien then put it to Brother Wade he was protecting the then provincial of the order, Brother Alexis Turton.

"I reject that accusation, I think it is completely and utterly false," Brother Wade said.

He also rejected the suggestion he had been subservient to Brother Turton.

The hearing resumes at 10am on Monday.

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