In late 1964, after his family moved to Japan from Australia, Jacob Bernstein was enrolled at St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo. His father, Robert, a diplomat, had been sent to the Australian Embassy in the city — his first overseas posting.
One lunchtime late in 1965, Jacob says he was searching for a good spot to eat lunch when he passed the school chapel.
Being Jewish, the 11-year-old Grade 6 student didn’t eat the school lunches served in the dining room as most of the boys did. St. Mary’s, a Catholic boys’ school run by the Brothers of Christian Instruction, aka the Mennaisians, was unable to prepare food that was kosher, so he had to eat a prepared lunch from home instead.
That day, his mother had prepared his favorite food, rollmops — pickled herring fillets rolled around a savory filling and held together with wooden skewers —so he was eager to tuck in.
“I saw the chapel door open and went in and started eating my lunch alone,” says Bernstein. “I did not have my feet on the seats, nor was I making a mess. I didn’t think it was not permitted.”
Suddenly, says Bernstein, Lawrence Lambert and another Catholic Brother at the school entered the chapel, did the sign of the cross and then approached him.
“Brother Lawrence said I was to be punished for eating in the chapel,” he recalls. “I was taken to a table near the door and made to face it and drop my pants and bend over. I thought I was to be spanked, although I can’t recall there was any physical punishment at the school.
“One of them pulled my pants right off.” Then, he says, “Brother Lawrence started to sodomize me. I had no idea of what he was doing, only that it hurt.”
Bernstein says he was then also raped by the other Brother.
“He put his hands under my T-shirt and pulled it up over my head, so covering my face. Then he sodomized me,” he says. “I did not make a noise. I was too frightened.”
After both men had left the chapel, Bernstein noticed the skewer from the rollmop he had been eating was embedded in his palm.
“I had the skewer in my hand — I squeezed it so hard the skewer stabbed the palm of my hand and I later had to pull it out,” he says.
Haunted by the memory of that day, it would be almost 50 years before Bernstein would be able to eat his favorite childhood food again. It would be even longer before Bernstein would receive written acknowledgement and apologies from the school, the Mennaisians and Lambert for what happened to him in 1965, sparking an investigation into historic sexual abuse at the school that is still ongoing.
The Japan Times printed portions of some of these letters in an earlier article on this scandal, but it is only now that Bernstein himself has felt ready to reveal details of the rape.
After the ordeal, Bernstein says that one of the Brothers — he is not sure which — told him to keep silent, and that if he spoke out, his brother, Tom, a Grade 2 student at St. Mary’s at the time, would be similarly “punished.”
The threat worked, and at first Bernstein told no one.
It wasn’t until a few days later that his mother began to suspect something was wrong.
In a signed affidavit — written in 2013 after her son told her of his need to obtain closure about what happened — Mrs. Bernstein explains the circumstances that led up to her discovering that her son had been sexually abused.
To quote from the document:
In 1965, I cannot recall the date, but it was at least mid-year, our maid Mutsuko-san brought me a pair of Jacob’s underpants that were covered in blood. I immediately took him to see Dr. Fair, who was a New Zealander and Tokyo-based. He was the official Embassy doctor. Jacob would not say what was wrong, earlier that day he did not want to go to school and said he had a tummy bug which I interpreted as gastro. He was walking hunched over on the way to the car.
After examining Jacob, the doctor prescribed him some medicines and then sent them on their way, telling Mrs. Bernstein that he was not sure what was wrong with her son. It wasn’t until later, when her husband returned home, that she discovered the shocking truth.
Robert came home suddenly and told me Dr. Fair had telephoned . . . to say Jacob had been sexually assaulted. We immediately thought of perhaps one of the drivers or the gardener. We spoke to Jacob, who would not initially say what happened but indicated it was at school, and that if he told us if he said anything that Brother Lawrence would do it to Tom. We then knew who the culprit was.
The name Jacob Bernstein is a pseudonym and has been used to protect the identity of a victim of sexual abuse. The names of all of all his immediate family members are also pseudonyms, as revealing their real identities would also expose the victim. All other names used are real.
After the incident, Jacob and his younger brother were immediately taken out of St. Mary’s due to their parents’ concerns for their sons’ safety, and they never set foot in the school again.
According to Bernstein’s mother, rather than involving the police, the whole affair was dealt with between the Australian Embassy and St. Mary’s school. Bernstein and his mother maintain that the school made a promise to the embassy and the boy’s father that Lambert would be sent back to Canada and not be allowed near kids again.
The family returned to Australia shortly after, where Bernstein eventually attended boarding school. His father continued to work for the Australian diplomatic service until retirement.
The following year, as promised, Lambert was sent back to Canada, yet records from both the school and the Mennaisians indicate that this was only a temporary measure. School yearbooks from the time, and also newsletters issued by both the school and the Mennaisians, reveal that by 1968 Lambert had returned to Japan. Soon, he would be back teaching at St. Mary’s and in regular contact with boys again.
Photographs of Lambert appear in both the 1969 and 1970 yearbooks, and he was teaching English to elementary school students at the school at that time. Brother Benoit Lessard, another Canadian Brother who has also been accused of sexually abusing students at the school (as revealed on these pages on Sept. 2 and Oct. 28, 2014) was working at the elementary school together with Lambert at this time.
By early 1971 Lambert had been transferred to Seiko Gakuin, a junior and senior high school in Shizuoka, where he taught English and about the Catholic faith. Seiko Gakuin is a sister school of St. Mary’s, but mainly caters to Japanese rather than international students. It is also owned and run by the same Catholic order, The Brothers of Christian Instruction.
In 1982, Lambert returned to St. Mary’s, this time as elementary school principal as well as teacher. The same year, he was promoted by the Brothers to the post of vice-provincial of Japan. He remained as elementary school principal at St. Mary’s for around three decades, until he retired in 2011. He also worked in the role of assistant headmaster during that time.
After retiring, Lambert continued to live at the Brothers’ residence located on the St. Mary’s campus, although it is unclear how much contact he had with students during that time.
The sexual abuse Bernstein suffered at the hands of Lambert when he was only 11 years of age has had a profound and far-reaching negative effect on his life.
The trauma was so severe that it took 48 years before he was able to find the courage to break his silence and confront the past.
In May 2013 Bernstein contacted Brother Michel Jutras, the headmaster of St. Mary’s at the time, and told him about what had happened to him in 1965. Jutras put him in touch with Brother Raymond Ducharme, the vice-provincial for the Brothers of Christian Instruction for Japan and the Philippines.
According to emails sent from Ducharme to the victim, of which The Japan Times has obtained copies, around this time Lambert, by then in his early 80s, was moved to the Brothers’ residence on the Seiko Gakuin campus in Shizuoka. Sometime around the middle of 2014 he left Japan and returned to his home country of Canada. It is believed he is now living in the Mother House — the Brothers’ Canadian HQ — in La Prairie, Quebec. Requests to the Mennaisians for comment about these and other matters surrounding Lambert went unanswered.
After having been put in contact by the school, there was a protracted email exchange between Bernstein and Ducharme. In one email, Bernstein tells Ducharme about how the abuse affected his life:
Child abuse has devastating effects, as you should know, and all child abuse has catastrophic consequences. For me, Brother Lawrence Lambert’s abuse has meant I have had a life which is severely compromised from what it might otherwise have been. To give you an example of this effect upon me, I attempted suicide at age 12. The abuse has robbed me of not just my childhood, but also much of the adult who grew from that abuse.
One of Bernstein’s demands, which he negotiated with Ducharme by email, was that he wanted written letters of apology from four people: Lambert, his abuser; John Paradis, who was headmaster at the school in 1965; Ducharme himself, as the current head of the Mennaisians in Japan; and Jutras, the school headmaster until recently.
All of these apologies were eventually forthcoming, except for from Paradis. Excerpts from the Lambert and Ducharme letters were published in The Japan Times in October last year.
Bernstein was determined to also get an apology from Paradis because he believes he, and most likely other Brothers at the school as well, knew about the abuse Lambert perpetrated, covered up for him and allowed him to return to the school a few years later. In one email, Ducharme matter-of-factly lays out what he believed happened to Lambert in the years after he raped Bernstein:
As far as I can gather now, Brother Lawrence was removed from the school and sent to study in the States, I guess, then he went on to study Japanese, probably for a couple of years, and then was assigned to a Japanese school.
Another quote from an email written by Ducharme in November 2013 implies that Paradis may be ready to accept some responsibility for what happened on his watch at St. Mary’s in the 1960s:
Personally, I think that, if he can, Br. Paradis would be ready to apologize concerning the fact that it happens under the time he was principal of St. Mary’s, and I am sure that he has been suffering because a teacher, and at that a Brother, did that to you. I believe that he is very sorry of that it all happened; however, he is 87 now, does not hear very well and he is practically blind.
Yet despite these reassurances, the apology from Paradis never arrived.
Finally, on Jan. 21, 2014, as part of a deal worked out by email, Bernstein, now 60, came face to face with one of the men who raped him as a child, Lambert, and Ducharme at a synagogue in Shibuya, Tokyo. The Mennaisians paid for the business-class air fares of Bernstein, his wife and child from Australia and all their expenses during the weeklong trip.
At the synagogue, the two Catholic Brothers read out loud letters of apology to the victim in the presence of the rabbi, who was there to witness proceedings.
“The simple truth is that still today I cannot understand the fact I raped you,” said Lambert. “It was the first time I did that in my life, and I did not do that again. . . . Somehow passion suddenly took over and I did what I should never have done and selfishly and violently hurt your body and hurt your heart for the rest of your life.”
The letters were then signed and presented to Bernstein. He was also handed a letter of apology written and signed by Jutras, who was not present.
A number of requests for comment, including written questions, have been sent to St. Mary’s International School in relation to this story.
In response, the school says that as a matter of policy, it will not comment beyond the statements that it has made to the St. Mary’s community.
Request for comment from the Catholic order that runs St. Mary’s, The Brothers of Christian Instruction, went unanswered, as did those sent to the office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Tokyo.