14/2/13 Rory Callinan, Amanda Hoh
Eight years ago Brother William Lebler avoided trial on charges of indecently assaulting a child under 12 due to poor mental health. On Monday, Fairfax Media found the elderly brother enjoying an unsupervised outing in Sydney’s CBD. EightT years ago, the mental health of the St John of God brother William Lebler was considered so poor he had to keep a card containing important information handy.
His ”early stage dementia” and ”borderline mental retardation” was presented as so bad that a magistrate released him from having to face trial on horrific child abuse charges, including 14 indecent assaults on a child under 12. But this week there was no information card in sight nor any form of official supervision when Fairfax Media found Br Lebler enjoying a purposeful morning’s outing into Sydney’s bustling city centre.
His solo outing began about 11am on Monday when he was seen arriving in a cab in Pitt Street, after which he had coffee in a cafe. Then walking slowly with a cane, he moved on to Pilgrim’s House, where he appeared to attend a meeting.
An hour later, he was back outside the cafe where he sat with a man and a woman who later walked down the street chatting to him. Br Lebler’s outing has raised concerns that even as inquiries into child abuse involving religious institutions get under way in NSW and at the national level, suspected paedophiles associated with religious orders are still not being properly supervised.
The need for tougher mental health assessments on suspected offenders is also being felt, especially those connected to the Catholic Order of St John of God.
It is understood Br Lebler was one of several brothers associated with the order who have been allowed to move about unsupervised despite being implicated in allegations relating to when they worked at the order’s school at Morisset and at orphanages in Melbourne’s outer east and in New Zealand. In 2005, Br Lebler was the subject of an unsuccessful extradition attempt by New Zealand authorities for charges of abuse at the Marylands School in Christchurch in the 1950s and ’60s. During the hearing, the NSW Local Court magistrate Hugh Dillon heard evidence that the then 83-year-old Br Lebler suffered from borderline dementia and other old-age-related mental health issues.
Mr Dillon noted evidence that Br Lebler kept a card handy to remind himself of important information. As a result of this and other evidence relating to Br Lebler’s mental state, he ruled that Br Lebler would not be able to mount any defence other than to say ”I don’t remember” and would not get a fair trial due to ”his infirmity and the passage of time”. When Fairfax Media attempted to speak to Br Lebler this week, he turned around but then his companions moved to block the filming and Br Lebler left by himself in a taxi. His trip to the CBD has outraged and concerned those who counselled his alleged victims.
The psychologist Michelle Mulvihill, who was employed by the order to counsel the alleged victims in the late 1990s, described Br Lebler as ”having the second biggest list of complainants” associated with his time at the order’s homes and schools in Victoria and NSW. Dr Mulvihill said she was not surprised at Br Lebler’s day out, adding that it proved the order was not supervising suspects and there were questions about his actual mental state eight years ago. Efforts to contact Br Lebler on Tuesday, at the Surry Hills aged care facility, were unsuccessful. Head of the St John of God order in Australia Provincial Br Timothy Graham said while Br Lebler had travelled in a taxi unaccompanied he was met by his sponsor when he went to attend an Alcoholics Annymous meeting the city. ”Brother Lebler religiously attends AA meetings,” he said.