In the late 1960s, Bede was in his early teens and a student at a Christian Brothers school in Victoria when he was sexually abused by Brother Noel Hara.
Bede described his parents as ‘staunch’ and ‘typical Irish Catholic’, and it didn’t occur to him to tell them what Hara had done. ‘We would always have the priest come and visit or the priest to dinner, you know that sort of thing.’
One of the lay teachers used to take Bede home via his own house and though Bede has no memories of what, if anything, happened on these occasions, he thinks this teacher ‘possibly communicated something to Hara’.
Hara was principal and religious education teacher. He talked extensively in class about sex and once showed boys a pornographic movie as part of a sex education talk.
One day Bede was in the communal shower block changing when Hara came up behind him and patted his naked buttocks. Sometime later Bede was called to Hara’s office and told to take off his trousers and underpants because Hara needed to ‘see how things are down below’.
‘He was telling me that I had to learn to control my sexual desires. I just sort of zoned out and he masturbated me.’
Bede didn’t disclose to other staff or his parents what had happened. ‘It didn’t occur to me to talk to anyone about it.’
Later the same year Bede was again called to Hara’s office. By then he ‘was just terrified’ of Hara.
‘I used to wet myself’, he said. ‘And it’s just absolute terror, ‘cause he was a very big imposing guy you know, well over six foot.’
At some point Bede came to know of several other boys who’d been abused by Hara. One boy told his father who ‘came racing down’ to the school ‘and was going to beat this bloke’. Bede thinks Hara apologised and excused his behaviour as being part of sex education classes.
Another of the Christian Brothers conducted science classes after school and Bede believes that going to these ‘saved’ him. Nevertheless, he always made sure there were other boys around, and at times worried ‘what’s he going to do to me?’
‘I could never be in the same room – in fact this has probably continued through to only a few years ago – I couldn’t be in the same room with another man alone. Just couldn’t do it. And I’ve probably only – amazingly, probably only in the last five or six years have I been able to deal with that. And that’s in spite of all the self-talk, you know, telling myself, “It’s all right. This is not then, this is now”. But I just couldn’t do it.’
As a teenager Bede became rebellious and by his mid-20s, ‘was lucky to be here’. He engaged in high-risk behaviours, including being chased by police while riding a motorbike, and ‘it’s a miracle’ he ‘didn’t get killed’.
Using drugs and alcohol in an attempt to block out memories of the abuse, Bede enrolled in university but dropped out before obtaining his degree. Looking back, he thought his was ‘a life of so much potential’ but ‘not the results that could have been there’.
He taught himself information technology skills and worked for many years in responsible positions, but missed out on promotions because ‘I’d thumb my nose at authority figures’.
In the 2000s, Bede disclosed the sexual abuse to a drug and alcohol counsellor. She recommended he see a specialist counsellor, telling him ‘then the other bits will take care of themselves’. This he did and for several years saw three different counsellors.
‘One was an idiot, the other two were great.’
At about the same time, Bede disclosed the abuse to his mother who started crying and expressed her guilt that it had happened. She asked him why he hadn’t told her at the time. ‘[I said], “I think we know why I wouldn’t have told you”.’
His mother’s faith thereafter ‘diminished quite a bit’, Bede said.
‘It really knocked her. She kept going to mass but she said, “I go to mass because of myself, not to listen to their stuff”.’
Bede had never sought compensation nor approached the Catholic Church, because he didn’t have ‘a lot of trust there’.
In the mid-2000s, he saw a newspaper article reporting that Hara had pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse, and had been given a suspended sentence. Some years later more charges were brought, including several that came as a result of Bede making a statement to Victoria Police. However, Hara died before the matter proceeded to court.
‘The old bastard just got away with it’, Bede said. ‘You know, really at the end he just snuck out the back door.’