Brother Bernard Hartman pleaded guilty to four charges of indecent assault and was found guilty of three additional charges in the County Court of Victoria in Melbourne. He was sentenced late last month to three years in prison, with one year suspended.
Hartman, 75, sexually assaulted two young girls in Australia from 1973 to 1979. He also was found guilty of fondling a teenage boy in 1981 and 1982.
The two female complainants in the case were 9 or 10 years old when Hartman began abusing them. They were younger siblings of students at a suburban Melbourne school where Hartman worked from 1972 to 1984.
The prosecution argued Hartman’s actions were at the “high end” of the offense of indecent assault. Judge James Parrish told Hartman his sentence would have been longer had he not pleaded guilty. The judge noted that Hartman was taking high doses of antidepressants and is unlikely to commit more assaults.
“The Marianists thank the Australian legal and judicial officials who worked on the case of Brother Bernard Hartman,” said the Rev. Martin Solma, provincial for the Marianist Province of the United States. “We continue to pray for all concerned, especially the victims in this case.”
One of the women said in her victim statement that “her trust was shattered and that whenever (Hartman) came to her house, it would cause her to sometimes vomit and instill a feeling of dread in her,” according to court documents.
The other female victim spoke of “being unable to have told her adoptive parents of the ‘unspeakable truth’ that their dear friend and member of the church had betrayed their charity and generosity and sexually abused their only daughter in their own house.”
Hartman pleaded not guilty to charges that he molested a teenage boy in 1981 and 1982 while working as a biology teacher. He was found guilty on three charges.
“I was a confident and content boy and his actions changed everything for me,” the victim, Robert Hopper, wrote in an email from Australia. “I was scared and angry and didn’t know how to stop him as nobody would have believed me over a Brother.
“I was so messed up I even thought about bringing a gun to school to finally stop him. He only stopped the assaults after I threatened to kill him if he touched me again.”
In addition to indecent assault, Hartman was found guilty of hitting Hopper in the ribs and head when he tried to resist. Hopper said Hartman “repeatedly” abused him over an 18-month period.
“I’m very relieved that he has been jailed,” wrote Hopper, now 50. “It should have been longer for the disgusting crimes he committed against me and the other children, but the sentencing laws used had to be the ones at the time the offences took place.”
The three victims said they all carry psychological scars from their encounters with Hartman and have been in counseling. Hopper said he is on anti-anxiety medication and has frequent panic attacks.
“I have been so shocked at how poorly the Marianist Order has treated me,” Hopper said. “I have received no apology and no compensation — not even for my medical bills — for the crimes against me.”
Hartman was working at a high school in Pittsburgh when the Marianist Provincial received a letter in 1997 from the Archdiocese of Melbourne alleging that Hartman “abused young women” in Melbourne in the 1970s.
Hartman was removed from his teaching duties by the Marianists and referred for psychological assessment.
He moved to Dayton in August 1997 and resided at 141 Washington St. He worked on a grounds crew and underwent therapy, according to the court documents.
In the late 1990s, the court said, the Marianists formulated a “safety plan” that prevented Hartman from being involved in “ministry sittings with children, adolescents or vulnerable women, nor could (he) be alone with, or visit families with children or adolescents.”
Hartman lived in Dayton until late 2011 and also worked as a clerical worker at the Marianist Mission.
In March 2012, Hartman was admitted to a secure Marianist facility in Missouri and in September 2013 was sent to Australia at the request of authorities there.
A Marianist Brother who helped supervise Hartman in Australia said Hartman intends to return to the United States upon his release from prison and find a role “assisting older brothers in the Order.”
“Unlike a diocese where a priest is in service of the bishop, members of religious congregations belong to a ‘family.’ If a member of a family commits a crime, even a serious one, he or she does not stop being a member of the family,” Solma said.
“Our future plans for Brother Hartman will always include strict supervision under our safety plan, which has been in place for many years. He will be closely monitored.”