The legacy of child abuse

‘Michael’, a former St Patrick’s College, Sale, boarder

The past harbours dark secrets and uncomfortable truths for the Catholic Church in Gippsland.

Some would rather the past was left alone. But for the survivors of historical child sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, brothers and lay teachers, it is not something that is in the past. It is something they live with every day. Survivors, many now aged in their 50s, face ongoing struggles, some to the point of suicide.

The Gippsland Times has reported the continuing rolling out of group actions in the Catholic Diocese in Gippsland, and has copped some criticism for it, but we are not without our supporters, particularly family members of survivors and survivors themselves. They know you can’t just “get over” childhood abuse, and that the ripple effect can devastate families.

‘Michael’, a survivor of abuse, and leader of the group actions being rolled out against the Catholic diocese in Gippsland, explains in his own words the destructive effect childhood abuse has had on his life. It makes for distressing reading, but it is only by hearing these stories and learning from the past that we can understand where we are today.

IN 1979, I was subjected to two horrific events, and then a real letdown, within weeks of each other, when I was a 13-year-old, homesick boy, in my first year away from home at a Catholic boarding school, run by the Marist Brothers. I was sexually assaulted and abused when I was sick in the infirmary at St Pat’s in Sale.

A true predator’s act.

About a week later, he then physically punched me hard in the chest.

He was a strong, 26-year-old dorm master and part-time physical education teacher.

A solid, tall man. I was a skinny 13-year-old.

The punch nearly flattened me, it was so hard. But he immediately then grabbed my ear and dragged me across the school quadrangle, in front of a dozen boys.

I then ran crying to the chapel, but little safety awaited me there.

That night he went berserk in front of all the 50-odd boarders at dinner.

It was enormously terrifying, but what could I do?

After these two huge events, a disgraceful letdown was still to come. But the damage had already been done.

I then went to see the local parish priest, within about a week — surely he would be my sanctuary and protect me.

I already knew him and knew that he liked me, because previously he’d been smiling and friendly with me, being friends with my mother.

Upon seeing him, within a second I knew he was “in on it”, and I was stuffed.

Not only did he refuse to talk to me, but his shockingly angry and aggressive behaviour towards me really upset me.

He turned me away, protecting his paedophile mate.

Shock and confusion was the new norm for me, and this didn’t help.

I honestly never recovered from these acts of sexual violence, aggression and assaults — sexually and physically by far the worst, but emotionally and psychologically also hurt.

I was just destroyed, and I knew I was totally out of options.

Simply, my only way forward was to ‘go quietly’, and retreat from everyone.

And so I did.

In primary school, I had such wonderful selfconfidence and self-worth, particularly in my final year as a 12-year-old.

Mr Confidence, and Mr Cool.

King of the kids, and the ladies, and life didn’t get any better. It was the best year of my life.

At 14 I was a withdrawn, a shell-shocked, destroyed apologising mess, so totally confused, and with deadset zero confidence.

It was like I’d caught an exploding hand grenade, and was still alive, but didn’t know what to do.

In 1980, I then caught up with one of my old ‘girlfriends’ “D”, my first ‘true love’, and she still really liked me then.

In grade four (1976) l thought we were going to get married when we were older. She was awesome.

I was just so embarrassed as to what had happened to me, I couldn’t say a word to her, apart from “sorry” repeatedly.

Completely broken — and I have been pretty much ever since.

I just went from one wreck to another, knowing that something was not right with me when looking and observing fellow peers.

Like then attracts like as a damaged victim, so I just attracted other damaged people to me.

And so the broken cycle continued, for decades, and decades.

At 51, this year, it all came to a head, for whatever reason.

While the parish priest had died and got away with it, my paedophile had finally been charged, (after a long three-year battle — I gave my statement to the police in March 2015) and his day of justice was finally coming.

Until he died in February this year.

Completely unresolved and confused as always, I asked that my contact details be passed onto the three other victims that had also made police statements against this paedophile monster.

Two victims made contact, but with 18 other victims also from St Pat’s appearing as plaintiffs against another Marist Brother from St Pat’s later in the year, (now February next year) this was a new nightmare, yet again.

There were allegations against five paedophiles all up at St Pat’s, and 33 victims had previously made statements to the police.

So on March 13 this year, I began to plead on behalf of my fellow victims, and especially for the 18 victims that were about to go through a very stressful and intimidating criminal trial (as sexually abused victims) up against yet another Marist Brother.

I went from one diocese Catholic department and institution to the next repeatedly for help.

Responses I received were totally inadequate. I actually learned of their own Towards Healing Program when a solicitor bought it to my attention a month or so later.

The lack of an acceptable response finally became a red rag to a bull to me.

I’d had enough.

I was a victim, not the abuser.

So then began my personal commitment to helping other victims and forming group actions, one after another.

For victims just like me.

Five group actions have now been started, with another 22 more to come throughout Victoria during 2018 and 2019.

They’re run on ‘the smell of an oily rag’, and 110 per cent of blood, sweet and tears over the past 17 weeks.

But the good guys are going to win. It’ll take us two years, and then another two years in the courts, but it’ll sure be worth it.

I’d estimate there are between 800 to 1200 new victims that have yet to come forward across the state.

I’ve now briefly spoken with about 40 of my abused brothers and sisters, and we’re all pretty much the same — same devastation, same lifetime of confusion, same pain and suffering, same anger about our lives being taken away from us.

One of the victims shared with me in graphic detail his horror.

Different, but like me, he’ll never recover from it.

He was used like a sex toy.

Offenders like this are sick monsters.

It’s certainly inhuman behaviour to treat a young, innocent child like that, as they did, and do.

As sexually abused victims, we missed the boat ride of life to enjoy, so to speak, and none of it was our fault.

And we’ll never ever get it back again.

I now know there is comfort in knowing we’re not alone; that it didn’t just happen to me, and that we’ve all responded in pretty much the same way to the trauma of the events.

So now, in 2018 and beyond, we litigate to get our power back, to achieve real justice, and to receive proper and meaningful redress and compensation.

For the first time in our lives, we know we need to get expert help, and can start to move on with our lives — whatever’s left of it.

Those seeking support can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyondblue on 1300 224 636.