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Bob Francis's story

Bob’s devout parents sent their ‘shy’ and ‘pious’ son to a Christian Brothers High School in an inner suburb of Sydney.

In the late 1940s, when Bob was in Second Year, his class teacher ‘Brother Dillon, abused me by … undoing my fly and fondling my penis every lesson for the whole year … That went on for the whole lesson too’.

‘He’d start the lesson off, and he’d sit on my desk … and put a folder down here so the kids couldn’t see me. And he’d sit there and play with me. And that was very, very challenging to say the least.’

Bob ‘had nowhere to go’ and ‘was never game to ask’ the other boys if Brother Dillon did the same to them.

‘I was too naive. Didn’t tell anyone except a colleague at school. He didn’t know what to do either.’ Bob was ‘certainly not’ going to tell his parents. ‘They would’ve probably given me a hiding.’

Bob said that ‘as a result of that continuing episode … I got a very mediocre result in the leaving certificate … and I believe that that can be attributed in a fair proportion to the abuse I got’.

This had a ‘deleterious effect’ on his options for higher education, and cost him a chance at a scholarship. ‘I would have liked to be a doctor’, Bob said.

Despite this ‘very poor start’, Bob combined part time study with work. He eventually obtained degrees in science, and went on to hold senior and high-pressure positions in the energy industry where he managed ‘various projects of various magnitudes’.

In his 40s, the ‘financial pressure, political pressure, technical pressure’ of Bob’s work triggered a ‘mental breakdown’. He also suffered other mental breakdowns in his 50s. Bob said that ‘one of them was due to manic, the other two due to depression’.

With no history of mental illness in his family, Bob believes that the abuse he suffered, and the breakdowns he had later in life, are connected. ‘All I know is that this was on my mind all my life. And I guess when the pressure came on at work, which it did, that didn’t help at all. So I’m not saying it was totally due to my earlier abuse, but I do say it was in part due.’

At that time, Bob didn’t disclose the sexual abuse to his doctors. However, after almost 40 years of marriage, he confided in his wife Janet who has ‘a very strong faith’. ‘My recovery if you call it that … is due to my good wife,’ Bob said. ‘She has taken me in a faith-filled direction.’

Bob went through a period of drinking too much, and still hides alcohol around the house. He took early retirement in his mid-50s, and currently sees a psychiatrist who knows about the sexual abuse. Some of his children also know, and one in particular was the ‘catalyst’ for Bob coming forward to talk to the Royal Commission.

A few years ago, Bob reported Brother Dillon to the Professional Standards Office of Towards Healing. Although the Church ‘had no record on him’, and no other registered complaint, they did not doubt what Bob had to say.

‘He made the point, the chap in charge, he said, “You’re an 82-year-old man, and we believe everything you told us, because 82-year-old men like you don’t come and tell a story”. You know, they accepted what I said.’

Bob is less happy with the forensic psychiatrist who recently prepared an impact assessment for his pending court case against the Church. ‘In his opinion, my breakdowns were primarily caused by genetic factors. Now I have challenged this. I’m not saying it wasn’t, but I’m saying it’s not totally. He didn’t ask me one question about my mother or father or my sister, so I’m seeking another, a second opinion.’

Bob bears no grudge against the Church, and has ‘tried to be very Christian’ towards Brother Dillon ‘because he’s human like everyone else, and needs help’.

Bob also said that he has been ‘very faithful to the Christian Brothers all my life. Actually, I went through a bit of pain deciding to do this [speak to the Royal Commission], because I had great Brothers there who taught me, great men. This one bloke, one Brother, wasn’t. But it wasn’t enough to knock the whole lot over. So I felt a bit for the whole order of Brothers, but I still love them very much’.

Looking forward, Bob would like to see ‘a new ethos in the training of the Brothers’. ‘That was obviously not present in that period. They were not given enough guidelines as to what was expected of them in their moral obligations … That’s what can come out of this, to make sure they are trained in the moral aspects of their faith they’re trying to teach.’

‘The other point I’d quickly like to make is that Edmund Burke was a famous Irish novelist. He said for the point of evil, it is only necessary that good men do nothing. And that’s what’s needed too. When you see something wrong, nip it in the bud. Stop it.’

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