Benedict Paul's story

‘I grew up knowing there was something not quite right. I was raised by a fanatical Catholic family … If you didn’t have your rosary beads at random, you got a hiding, and apart from that, just little things … the age difference between my siblings and myself, and my inexperience with life, because I was very much protected. I could never come up with answers.’

Benedict ‘led a very sheltered life … Any decisions in the household would go through the parish priest … The paper, when I was allowed to read [it], was censored, before I got to it. Pages were removed. A razor blade was used to cut out a sentence … So that was the sort of life I was up against.’

When Benedict was in his early 20s, his father died, ‘or who I thought was my father’. A letter of condolence came from one of Benedict’s aunts and the family tried to hide it from him. ‘Anyway, I did find it. I read it and in it, the very last sentence, it said, “Oh, you must be glad you adopted [Benedict]” … But it turns out I was never, ever adopted.’

Benedict had been placed with the family in the mid-1930s, when he was two years old, but had never been told this. The day he found out, ‘was a day that I’ll never forget. Like it happened yesterday’. He has since been unable to find any record of him being fostered by the family that raised him.

Benedict attended a Catholic school run by the Marist Brothers in Victoria. When he was about 11 or 12, he and another boy were given the strap for misbehaving in class. ‘Whilst Brother Patrick was dealing with Frank, he kept glancing at my groin. He then dealt me the strap, still glancing at my groin, and said I was to meet him after school, which I did.’

When they were alone, Brother Patrick asked Benedict, ‘was I, at the time of giving me the strap, stiff? I said, “No” and began to get worried. I … backed away towards the door … He told me to stop … and again asked me whether I was stiff … He said, “Do you know about the white stuff that comes out of you?” I said, “No”. He said, “You have a lot to learn then”, and I ran. It was two weeks before I could go back to school’.

Until then ‘I had been a good student, but as a result of this incident, I had to repeat intermediate’.

When Benedict was 14, he and his mother went on a holiday. ‘On the beach were several children of a similar age, with two grown men. One was a priest.’ Father William suggested that he teach Benedict to swim.

‘I was very happy about that … He said he would teach me to float first … He then, with his right hand, cupped my testicles … The cupping became gropey and he said “Boy, you sure are big down there” … I managed to get out of his grasp, ran out of the water … and ran back to the flat.’

Benedict didn’t tell his mother what had happened, because he knew she wouldn’t believe him, ‘because [she was] Catholic. Priests didn’t do those sort of things’. It was over 60 years before Benedict spoke to anyone about the abuse.

The next day, Benedict refused to go to the beach alone, so his mother accompanied him. Father William approached her several times, and Benedict suspects that he was trying to find out whether he had said anything to her.

‘My experiences, the two which happened to me many years ago, many decades ago, are not what I consider serious, [but] with the two sexual incidents, and then finding out this family secret … it became an impact on my life, when combined, the both, if that makes sense.’

Benedict told the Commissioner, ‘My birth mother, I was her secret as well. All this secretness, together, tied up with two sexual experiences, which were kept a secret as well, prompts me to tell people that secrets are no good’. After Benedict found out that he ‘was not who I thought I was … I became very rebellious, particularly against all things Catholic’.

As an adult, Benedict became, ‘a person that could never hold a job down … Relationships … there was a couple of nice girls that I let slip through. A woman indicated to me that I hadn’t grown up, and maybe that was a pretty good description at the time’.

Benedict was reading a newspaper at a friend’s place in the mid-1990s when ‘I turned the page over, and there he was. And decades later, I knew who it was straight away … [Father William] was convicted and sent to jail, and from then on, if there was anything about [him], I was more than interested’. The priest died in the late 1990s.

After he read about the conviction, Benedict ‘tried not to be angry. I tried not to be smug, if you like, but at the same time …’

When Benedict approached the Catholic Church and tried to find out details of the Marist Brother who had abused him at school, ‘they were most uncooperative’.

The main reason Benedict came forward to the Royal Commission was ‘to highlight the plight of other mature and older victims. Who would ever think that I would keep the demons inside me for so long? I am doing it because us oldies … have been under this burden for decades, and it’s time all people get their say’.

Benedict would like to see that ‘victims receive help, and that this abhorrent behaviour becomes non-existent and the perpetrators that target children to fulfil their own evil needs are brought to justice’.

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