The Marist Brothers deal with problems internally and privately, says a former principal giving evidence at a child sexual abuse royal commission.

“Leave it with me.”

That’s what a Marist Brothers school principal was told by the head of the order after reporting a teacher suspected of child sexual abuse.

The principal, Brother Terence Heinrich, on Thursday revealed a culture of secrecy among the Marist Brothers where delicate matters were dealt with in-house – “privately, internally”.

Head of Canberra’s Marist College between 1983 and 1988, Br Heinrich – who is still with the order – recalled being visited by the father of a student in 1986.

Then-brother John Chute, also known as Brother Kostka, had touched the man’s son on the genitals during a film night at the school.

Br Heinrich was shocked and embarrassed by the allegation and told the boy’s father he could take the matter to police “or you might choose to leave it with us to deal with”.

The principal then immediately confronted Chute, who reacted “light-heartedly”, reassuring Br Heinrich it was a misunderstanding.

“The implication was that this was in the dark, that there was some movement, some fumbling, but that nothing was intended by it,” the former principal said of his discussion with Chute.

Nevertheless, Br Heinrich took the matter to the Marist Brothers provincial, Alman Dwyer.

“I can’t remember what he said but the implication was ‘leave it with me’,” he said.

It was not common practice to go to the police with problems, he added.

“We tried to manage them privately, internally.”

It has since emerged that Br Kostka abused 39 boys at the school between 1976 and 1990.

His abuse also occurred at schools in NSW and Queensland and in 2008 he was sentenced to prison on 19 counts of child sexual abuse.

He has since been released.

A royal commission looking at how institutions responded to reports of child sexual abuse, currently sitting in Canberra, is examining the cases of Chute and former brother Gregory Sutton.

Sutton has also served jail time, convicted on 67 counts of child sexual assault stemming from his time at schools in NSW, the ACT and Queensland.

The commission was told earlier on Thursday that a deputy principal at St Carthage’s School at Lismore had suspected Sutton’s behaviour was odd, partly because he always kept the blinds drawn in his classroom.

The hearing continues.