Alastair’s mother was a devout Catholic, heavily involved in the activities of their parish, and he and his siblings were ‘indoctrinated’ into the faith.
‘I was taught to believe that the priests, nuns and Brothers were God’s representation on Earth. I was taught that their word was God’s word ... They could do no wrong, being God’s entities on Earth. To question the actions of Brothers, nuns, teachers and priests was sinful. To complain about their actions would not only been have disbelieved, but punishable by psychological and physical means – ie the leather strap – God’s wrath, and sometimes other morbid punishment.’
In the early 1970s, when Alastair was in Year 5, he moved to a Christian Brothers boys’ college in suburban Sydney, where ‘the strap was used by most teachers on a daily basis’. Alastair was struck across the head once for ‘daydreaming’, leaving his ear ringing. He witnessed other students being severely beaten by staff.
One of his teachers, Brother Corbett, used the strap on Alastair several times. ‘He also asked strange, intrusive questions of me. On one occasion I recall he asked me about where I slept in my family home. Corbett had a habit of touching me and other boys in a kind of sexually explicit manner. This was common for him and it felt very uncomfortable. He would walk around the desks and lean over to look at my book. He would then rub his hand over the back of my neck and then place his hand on my leg and rub his hand up and down my leg. My reaction would be to freeze.’
Alastair discussed these events with a friend, Ben, who reported having similar experiences and also feeling ‘uncomfortable’ about Corbett’s behaviour. Another student disclosed to Alastair that Corbett had sexually abused him during a sporting event.
When he was around 15, Alastair was called to a meeting with the deputy principal.
‘When I arrived at Brother Edgar’s office he asked me a significant number of questions regarding school and my personal life. One question which stood out in my mind was that he asked me if I masturbated. My response to him was that, no, I did not. I later spoke to my friend Ben. He told me that Brother Edgar had also asked him the same question during an interview.’
After leaving school because of panic attacks, depression and anxiety, Alastair stayed in contact with Ben. He sought treatment from his doctor, and his mother arranged an appointment with a priest, Father Xavier, for support.
‘I recall discussing or telling him about my anxiety. I remember becoming upset at having to convey my state of mind to him at that time. He then embraced me with his arms. He then began telling me that he had a friend who came to stay with him sometimes but, he had not seen his friend for a while.
‘I remember thinking to myself, “What has this got to do with my anxiety?”
Xavier then began rubbing his groin against the front of mine. I knew then that something was wrong. I pushed Xavier away from me and I backed away. I became scared and looked for an exit. Xavier then came at me and grabbed me again with his arms and continued to say things about his friend.
‘Xavier again pushed his groin towards the front of me and was rubbing his groin against me. I felt his hand grabbing around my groin area. I pushed him away again. This time I backed away and I recall backing out of the room while facing him. I said to him “I have to go”. He continued to talk about his friend and then said to me several times, “Please promise me that you will come back and see me”. I said, “Yes, yes, I promise” and I found my way out of the presbytery.’
The priest was ‘pleading’, ‘crying’ and ‘slobbering’ over Alastair. ‘It was wet on the side of my face’. On his way home he told some mates that the priest ‘had tried to crack onto me’.
At home he told his mother what Father Xavier had done. She ‘questioned me about the matter several times and asked for clarification. She appeared to have the demeanour of disbelief. I recall saying to her, “I will not be seeing any more priests or going to church in future”’.
A few days later his mother said she was going to report the abuse, but it appears she never did. Years later she told him she’d reported it to a ‘higher authority. I can only assume she meant God’. I do not blame my mother for her actions as she probably felt she would not be believed either or other consequences may have resulted.’
Alastair did not make an official report about the abuse. ‘To this day, I always thought that no one would believe me. The Church was God, after all. I did not even consider trying to report the matter myself, to the Church or the Christian Brothers. I had been beaten up and abused enough by them. I didn’t consider the police either as I did not want to get into trouble from them either. There was no avenue to complain to about anything. So I just lived with it.’
A decade after these events, he mentioned what Xavier had done to a family friend, who disclosed the priest had also sexually abused him. That man later took his own life.
Alastair has recently engaged lawyers regarding compensation. He reported the abuse to police, and they have contacted Brother Corbett and Father Xavier, too. ‘They’re not going to be able to pursue the matter because they don’t believe they have sufficient evidence to gain a successful prosecution.’