As the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into child abuse looms, Archbishop Denis Hart and three of his bishops have forewarned their Victorian flock of imminent disturbing reports about past failures of the Catholic church in responding to clergy sexual abuse.
His Grace and their Excellencies need to be brought up to date with the latest evidence from my research which shows that the “failures” of the church to respond to sexual assaults do not attract the past tense alone – they remain palpably current.
There has been an equally inadequate response by the Catholic church to the brutal physical assaults on children, which continue to be a source of distress for victims to this day.
A few weeks ago in Ballarat, eight men gathered to get help with writing a group submission to the Victorian Inquiry. The issue of physical assaults was aired and it was distressing.
One man said:
He used to push my head down the toilet and hold it there by force until the toilet finished flushing.
The others nodded their heads in acknowledgement of this example of brutal physical assaults by Christian Brothers at St Alipius primary school in the 1970s and 1980s.
Another man revealed:
I had the bones around my eye and jaw fractured when I was beaten on the face and head by a ball-peen hammer.
Once again there was group recognition of this brutal attack by, or modus operandi of, the particular Christian Brother.
I recall being terrified when I was locked up in this very small storage room, more like a cupboard, and just left there.
One man, with a hearing disability, was strapped regularly on the buttocks, never knowing what he had done to deserve this torture. When this same 9-year-old boy was eventually anally raped by a Christian Brother, he assumed it was a more serious form of punishment, was terrified and thought he was going to die. When he complained about the rape to another Brother, he was repeatedly and viciously beaten until he complied and said that nothing had happened to him.
Another man recalled:
When I protested by pushing his hand off my genitals, he proceeded to march me to the back of the classroom saying to me ‘How dare you lay a hand on me’. I was then brutally beaten.
Another victim at the meeting said he was put into a mental asylum for two weeks because he told other clergy about the sex crimes and had physically fought off the offending Christian Brother.
There were many other forms of physical assaults including repeated bashing, whipping, kicking and punching. All victims described much of this treatment as torture. The mental anguish remains to this day.
A culture of fear
It is little wonder these men find it very traumatic and stressful trying to put a complex submission together. A further 20 or so men who, because of those past traumas, could not even make it to the meeting, want to be part of this group submission – they want to be able to tell their truth.
It seems the sex abuse was but one element of a school environment and culture that formed an amalgam of physical assault, torture, sexual assault and rape, all accompanied by constant fear, terror, confusion and bewilderment.
But where do the physical and sexual assaults begin and end? Were the physical assaults an insidious precursor to the sexual assaults? One man at this meeting told of being bashed and reduced to tears, comforted and then raped. Sadly, this was a recurring sequence of events. The Parliamentary Committee needs this information.
Working with what we have
The terms of reference for this inquiry are silent on the matter of suicides and premature deaths. Family members and friends of someone with a history of clergy sex crimes and who has died prematurely, can lodge a submission.
With an extended closing date of 21 September for submissions, there is still time for people to tell their story – to tell the truth.
Guidelines from the committee clearly indicate any interested party can make a submission and there is an array of issues about which to inform the committee from whether victims were in any way discouraged from reporting and, if such abuse were reported, how such reporting was handled, and, importantly, the consequences of abuse, including the effect on the victims and others.
All we have at the moment is this Parliamentary Inquiry. We need to work with it. Despite its many limitations, the community must inform the inquiry of the vast breadth and severity of the decades of sex crimes, devastating suicides and premature deaths, the ongoing concealment and cover-up by the church and the physical assaults.
This inquiry is the first step.
The second step must be an uncompromising, independent and legally and forensically sound Royal Commission.
Those revealing cracks in the church’s marble façade are now well beyond repair.
Justice must be attained.