The Christian Brothers hired a private investigator in 1995 to "dig up dirt" on victims of a notorious paedophile priest in Ballarat.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was told today the private investigator, Glynis McNeight, of Ballarat, visited two victims of Brother Ted Dowlan at home just before Dowlan was charged by police for historical sex crimes against boys.
The object of the exercise, the commission heard, was for the Christian Brothers' legal team – from a small firm in Ocean Grove – to find out what kind of witnesses the victims would be in court and whether, according to counsel assisting the commission Stephen Free, they would be "easily torn apart in the witness box".
One victim Ms McNeight visited ended up crying and agitated and she reported to the law firm – which was being paid by the Christian Brothers – that the victim was "nervous" and "excitable" and was prone to tears and bad language. He would have "no credibility" as a witness, she wrote.
The investigator, who called herself an "inquiry agent", asked Victoria Police for details of the victims but police refused. A policeman involved in the investigation warned her that she could pervert the course of justice.
Senior Christian Brother Brian Brandon – the former headmaster of St Kevin's College in Melbourne – told the commission he paid the law firm. At the time he was in charge of legal affairs for the religious order. The investigator, he said, was charged with "investigating who they (the victims) were and what their circumstances were".
But he stopped the tactic after realising it was invasive and could re-traumatise the victims.
"I didn't imagine they would go into homes," he said. Brother Brandon said it was a legal strategy and not a church strategy - yet he apologised on Wednesday in the commission.
"I am sorry that such a strategy was adopted."
Under forceful questioning from Jim Shaw, a lawyer for two Ballarat victims, he said that the strategy "petered out partly because they were not getting anywhere." Asked if it was to "dig dirt"on victims ahead of court appearances Brother Brandon said: "I am not prepared to say that."
The law firm was paid $7000 by the Catholic Brothers. The private investigator also tried to find out more about Broken Rites, the victim advocacy group, but failed.
"It was a waste of money," said Brother Brandon.