ACT News

License article

Marist urged to rename student house honouring Brother Othmar Weldon who protected abuser

Former Marist students have urged the school to rename a student house that honours a brother who helped move and protect a known child sex offender in the late 1960s.

Marist College Canberra has faced private calls to change the name of Othmar House, a student house body that honours the former Marist Brother Othmar Weldon, who held the senior position of provincial leader within the organisation in the 1960s and 1970s.

Brother Weldon's actions came under close scrutiny in the Canberra hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse last year.

The royal commission found Brother Weldon had learnt of complaints that Brother John William Chute, also known as Brother Kostka, sexually abused a boy at a school in Lismore.

Brother Kostka admitted molesting the child, but the provincial council, chaired by Brother Weldon, simply issued him a "canonical warning". He was then shifted to another school, where, disturbingly, he was promoted to principal.

Brother Weldon also failed to pass on information about the complaint to successive provincials, meaning they were unaware of the dangers posed by Brother Kostka.


The royal commission found the shuffling of Brother Kostka between Marist Brothers schools allowed him to continue to access and abuse boys.

After the royal commission delivered its findings in December last year, some members of the Marist College Canberra school community voiced concern about the continuance of Othmar House.

It was argued that keeping a house named after a man found to have enabled child abuse sent a bad message to victims and the broader school community.

The school was initially reluctant to change the house name.

But headmaster Richard Sidorko​ recently wrote to the school community, indicating the school would now consult with students and parents about the name Othmar House.

"As the findings from the Royal Commission were not published until after the final school day of the 2015 year, the opportunity to seek consultation from our College community has been limited," Mr Sidorko wrote.

"Our initial response therefore, was one of reluctance in regards to undertaking such a change until the opportunity for considered and meaningful consultation with our broader community could be sufficiently explored.

"Given we are now at the beginning of the 2016 school year and following further consideration, reflection and discussion of both the findings and the requests which have been received, our intention is to actively seek informed consultation regarding the issue with our extended community."

Former Marist students Mike Desmond and Damian De Marco, who was named ACT Local Hero of the Year last year for campaigning on child sexual abuse, have argued a name change would help show Marist had moved away from a culture of ignoring abuse and preserving its reputation at any cost.

Mr Desmond said the current situation was "appalling", and urged the school to instead honour one of the many great lay teachers, rather than Catholic brothers, who worked at Marist Canberra.

"To name a house after people who are specifically named in the report as having moved, shuffled around paedophiles, is just an appalling situation," he said.

"The optimal position, given it's a lay school now with no brothers, is to recognise the past service of some of the great lay teachers who have been at the school in the past."

Mr De Marco echoed those calls, saying the name change would send a signal that the organisation was no longer plagued by an attitude of prioritising its own reputation over the safety and wellbeing of students.

"It's completely inappropriate to have the house named after Othmar Weldon, after the findings of the royal commission showed that he was aware that he had a paedophile in his ranks, and then he put him in to a primary school as a principal, then did no follow-up," he said.

Another prestigious Marist school, Marist College Ashgrove in Queensland, also has a boarding residence named after Brother Weldon, named Othmar Residence.