Royal Commission on child abuse helps Bega Valley man heal

Justice Peter McClellan listens to the opening address by Senior Counsel Gail Furness into child abuse within Swimming Australia at the Royal Commission, Sydney. Photo: Warren Clarke.

Justice Peter McClellan listens to the opening address by Senior Counsel Gail Furness into child abuse within Swimming Australia at the Royal Commission, Sydney. Photo: Warren Clarke.

A BEGA Valley man who bravely shared his story of childhood abuse at the hands of Catholic teachers with BDN readers, has also had his traumatic past heard by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

John (not his real name) spent 10 days in Canberra as commissioners held private sessions and public hearings into the Marist Order as part of a sweeping inquiry into child sexual abuse and seemingly institutionalised cover-ups.

In 2012, when then Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Royal Commission, John said despite the anger, guilt and depression that has haunted him since his schooldays at Marcellin College in Randwick, he felt “joyful in the knowledge a day of reckoning was coming” (BDN, 16/11/12).

While the Royal Commission is in the process of requesting additional funding to continue for another two years, John believes that day of reckoning has arrived and now some semblance of healing can take place.

“The case study is being continually extended because evidence keeps emerging that those at the head of the Marist Order have tried to cover up child sexual abuse to protect the reputation, influence and wealth of the Catholic Church,” John said.

“The evidence emerging is compelling and damning.

“This particular case study concerns two paedophile brothers responsible for damaging the lives of hundreds of children, both boys and girls – most aged between 10 and 13 years of age.

“One of these men, currently serving a six-year jail term, operated for over 40 years, abusing boys on a daily basis.

“It seems incredulous this could happen, but it did and according to the heads of the Marist Order they were unaware of his criminal activities.”

Flashback to the BDN, November 16, 2012.

Flashback to the BDN, November 16, 2012.

John said sitting through 10 days of this case study was at times very difficult on a personal basis, but “necessary”.

“Emotions swing from being sad to being angry.

“Sad that so many young lives were harmed, many of those lives adversely affected, perhaps irrevocably so.

“Sad too that parents and family members of those abused were good people, practising Catholics who thought they were doing the right thing by sending their children to a Catholic school.

“Many of these people are old now, some well into their 70s.

“They had wanted to believe the Marist Order had a couple of bad eggs, but are now having to confront the reality of a systemic failing to protect children and report paedophiles.

“I have felt anger too as successive heads of the Order – the provincials – and numerous principals have serious memory losses.

“‘I can’t recall’ is the all-too-common phrase to questions asked by the counsel assisting the commissioners.”

John said survivors, their wives, friends and parents have been huddling together offering support to one another as the details emerge.

Facing directly what has happened, what was allowed to happen and how confident the Brothers were they would never be held to account has been confronting and disturbing for all concerned, he said.

“I was abused in 1960 and the Brother responsible was teaching until the late 1990s.

“He was sentenced in 2008 – he is still a Marist Brother today.

“The important thing I believe is to be able to have a voice and say this happened to me.”

However, according to John, that is not the only important thing the Royal Commission offers.

“Slowly you get to put the jigsaw puzzle of your life into a congruent context.

“Things that never made sense you start to understand.

“Coming together with others who were sexually abused provides comfort and support and this has been healing.

“Lastly, knowing that justice is being served and an institution that functioned on its respect for the clergy will no longer be able to hide behind this undeserved respect.

“And those who run such institutions will no longer think a defence is encapsulated in the words ‘I don’t recall’.”

There is healing in all of this, John said.

He said those who have been abused and have not come forward for any number of understandable reasons should consider doing so.

“The Royal Commission is likely to get the increased funding it is seeking to run for another two years.

“The Royal Commission staff are wonderful, so sensitive to the needs of those who do come forward.

“For me, coming forward was important.

“It is bringing peace of mind in to my life and healing long-open wounds.”

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