Benito was brought up in a strict Roman Catholic family and attended a Catholic school in Tasmania in the 1950s.
When he was about 10 years old, Benito had Brother McDonald as his teacher. Once a week McDonald would take gym class and Benito said some of the boys talked about McDonald touching them inappropriately as they jumped over the horse.
Then McDonald turned up in the toilets where the boys changed after class. Benito described him fondling himself under his habit.
‘There seemed to be a singling out of people’, he told the Commissioner. ‘There was nobody else in the toilet when I went there so obviously he was watching.’
A week or two later, Benito was in the toilet cubicle and McDonald pushed open the door, fondled him and masturbated again. McDonald didn’t tell Benito to keep quiet but he didn’t need to as the boys all feared the Brothers.
Benito was very confused by what had happened. ‘I knew something was wrong. I wasn’t in puberty or anything by then … I was in some sort of daze. I know this sounds crazy but I actually thought maybe this is normal.’
The Brother continued to target Benito.
‘This went on for about another six or seven months and that’s when it became normal. It was a normal thing and I thought oh well … I said nothing.’
The abuse continued until one day in class, Benito had a seizure.
‘He thought I was mucking around because I was on the floor and I was being sick and he laid into me with the strap and then pulled me out of the classroom and took me to … it must have been a sick room. Then I woke up with my pants down and semen over me and I was bleeding.’
Brother McDonald told Benito to clean himself up. His parents were called to pick him up because of the seizure but Benito said nothing about the abuse.
‘My mother’s a really strong Catholic and I actually think she knew right through my life what happened but she never ever said anything.’
The abuse continued until the end of that year.
‘There was nobody else in the classroom and he approached me again and I lost it and picked up a letter opener and I said “If you touch me I’ll kill you”. And he went right off and said get out and that was it. It was over and done with. It never happened again.’
During his teens, Benito often got into trouble. He frequently skipped school and ended up leaving when he was 15 to get a job. He had another seizure and doctors put him on medication for epilepsy.
At 21 he had another seizure and his driving licence was taken away, which had a significant impact on his ability to work. About six years later he wanted to get his licence back and went for tests. The tests showed no evidence of epilepsy so doctors changed his diagnosis to anxiety.
Benito said he struggled emotionally for a long time.
‘I never coped with anything. The sexual thing was out of control. I had no idea of the right thing and the wrong thing. At one time I thought I was gay. I just had no idea. And it’s still mixed up in my brain even now. Crazy.’
Benito told his children about the abuse in the late 1990s during the course of his marriage breaking up. His next wife urged him to seek help and he disclosed to a psychiatrist, who prescribed the anti-anxiety medication he still takes.
Benito went through Towards Healing with the Church and feels extremely disappointed with the outcome, especially after finding out McDonald had been moved to his school from a different school in another state.
‘If I had have known that at that time I certainly would have knocked back anything they gave me because I thought I was the only child in the school that it happened to.’
Benito said it was ‘a huge thing’ that the Church apologised for the abuse, but later he felt ‘absolutely duped’. He was offered $25,000, which he accepted, but then found out others had received much more. He asked for money towards counselling but the Church didn’t provide this. He had no legal representation and found the process very intimidating.
Benito wrote to Towards Healing to request a review of his compensation and is still awaiting an outcome. To his knowledge, McDonald was never charged or convicted, and has since died.
Benito described himself as a survivor, but he continues to struggle with mood swings and depression, when the memories come back ‘with a vengeance’. He’s angry about lost time and opportunities.
‘What I’ve got a lot of is terrible regrets of my teenage years, of the strop I got into and hurting people … I wish I could go back and say I’m sorry to everybody and fix it. But I can’t.’
The abuse has also had a lasting impact on Benito’s faith.
‘It’s affected me a lot because I’m so Catholic it’s not funny. It’s so entrenched into my psyche. I don’t go to mass anymore … I don’t feel any resentment towards the Catholic Church but I do feel resentment against the clergy and what’s happened there. It’s a big conflict, absolutely.’