Arnett was born in the late 1960s into a devout Catholic family in rural Western Australia. At 14 years old, Arnett was given the opportunity to attend a Catholic boarding college run by the Christian Brothers. ‘I very much was looking forward to that opportunity. My local high school in the country only was a district high school in Year 10 and very small, limited opportunities, and I wanted to further my education, go to university.’
When Arnett arrived at the college he found the environment was entirely different from the small country school he was used to. In order to cope with homesickness, he would pray in the school chapel each morning. ‘I used to like to go to chapel before school and pray and this sort of gave me some solace. At that point I was very close to the faith and God was a big thing in my life.’
One morning during Arnett’s first week at his new school, he was praying in the chapel on his own when one of the Brothers, Brother Martin, approached him.
‘He sort of came up to me and was reasonably aggressive and said effectively “What the hell are you doing?” and would have been “Keeping my eye on you” sort of thing. And I started getting upset because I didn’t know where this was coming from. And he struck me with the back of his hand across the face. I was just totally bewildered. And then he said that he was going to introduce me to someone who would sort of sort me out a bit.’
At this point a second brother, Brother Docker appeared. Arnett told the Commissioner that up to that moment he had never seen this Brother at the school before.
‘I didn’t know what the hell was going on. And I was just totally upset and just bewildered. And he was a dark-haired guy with a part, roughly I reckon 45, wouldn’t’ve been much older. But when I did glance at him I was told explicitly “Do not look at us, do not look at us. Keep your eyes down”. And along the lines of “Docker’ll sort you out and you’ll be expecting a visitor” sort of thing.’
A few nights later, Arnett was in bed asleep when he was woken by a hand over his mouth and a hushed voice telling him ‘shut up, don’t say anything’. Arnett recognised the voice as that of Brother Docker ‘because he had spoken in the chapel but very briefly’. Brother Docker proceeded to fondle Arnett for about an hour and threatened him not to tell anyone or ‘it’d be flatly denied and I would be thrown out of the school in disgrace’.
Several nights later, Brother Docker assaulted Arnett in his bed again. ‘He came back, did much the same thing again - came up on the right-hand side of the bed as I’m laying down, left hand over the mouth, said the same thing, groped me again. And then he inserted a digit into my anus roughly. Not that there’s probably a tender way to do that. But I was just totally just in shock. And that was when he put his penis into my mouth and ejaculated.’
After Brother Docker left his dormitory, Arnett was enormously distressed. ‘I went to the loo. I had blood from my rectum and I sobbed, just sobbed. And cried in my bunk, eventually went to sleep. And I didn’t know what to do. There was no, as far as I saw it, there was no recourse available. There was no, there was nothing. You were just isolated, this sense of guilt that somehow you brought this on yourself, which I hadn’t.’
‘I never saw him again, not that I knew that at the time. I was wondering when this monster was going to come back again and what he was going to do.’
After these events Arnett pleaded with his parents to remove him from the school but was too confused and ashamed to explain why. Eight weeks later, his parents picked him up and took him home. ‘I haven’t been back there since. I never intend to.’
The abuse ruined Arnett’s faith in God as well as his understanding of morality.
‘My previous belief in the goodness and sanctity of the Roman Catholic Church had been extremely affected by my experiences. My belief system had been undermined and I turned away from religion …
‘I had a strong faith and after that my belief in right and wrong, and Christianity, and Roman Catholicism and everything was totally turned upside down. And that was something that was important to me. And I became very much an atheist, because how could a god let this happen?’
As a result of the abuse, Arnett became dependent on alcohol which in turn affected his career, relationships and health. ‘I thought I could just try and bury it but it manifested itself. And I’m not saying for one minute it was perhaps the only reason, but I developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol … The alcohol has had an effect on my physical health as well … That in turn had affected my relationship with my spouse, my kids. My earning capacity, I’m currently unemployed seeking employment, keen to work.’
Arnett has recently disclosed the abuse to his parents, spouse, in-laws and a few select close friends. ‘For me the important thing is to put a line in the sand and move on. I spent a long time trying to bury it but it still had ongoing ramifications in a number of aspects of my life and relationships and so forth. And health. And it sort of got to the point where I couldn’t pretend it didn’t happen, and I knew that I had to get some sort of closure … for myself and for my family.’
Arnett’s disclosure has had ‘a profound impact’ on his family, particularly his mother who ‘feels guilty as hell, as does my father. He said “You’re probably lucky you didn’t tell me at the time because someone might be dead by now”’.
Arnett is not interested in compensation from the Catholic Church, as he told the Commissioner ‘If anything, all I wanted was an apology, an acknowledgement’. He has been receiving counselling in addition to the support received in rehab and at AA meetings. ‘I thought I could beat it on my own. I couldn’t. I can’t.’ He has not disclosed to his brothers because ‘I didn’t want to be seen as a victim’.
‘What I’d like to see is probably what a lot of people would like to see, and that is fostering a greater integrity, honesty, transparency from certain institutions that in the past have been very secretive as the way they operate.’