Bojan’s parents were European immigrants whose faith was very important to them. He recalled prayers every night at dinner, Sunday mass, sacraments and Catholic schools for himself and his siblings.
At Bojan’s primary school, run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, boys and girls were strictly separated. They weren’t allowed to talk to each other, sat on different sides of the classroom and even had separate playgrounds, divided by a chain wire fence.
‘At all times girls and boys in the senior years of primary school, Years 4 to 6, were not allowed to interact or play together’, Bojan said, reading from a statement he brought to the Royal Commission.
In Year 6, as he started to go through puberty, he found this rule increasingly hard to follow. ‘I started looking at the other side of the classroom and through the chain wire fence in the playground.’ He developed an enthusiasm for music – the start of a lifelong passion – as piano lessons gave him a unique opportunity to be near a girl he liked.
One afternoon he and some other boys and girls stayed back to help a teacher tidy up. Afterwards, they were allowed to play. As he stood watching girls shoot hoops in the adjoining playground, a couple of them invited him to join in. ‘Without being asked twice I accepted.’
Bojan had only been in the girls’ playground for a few moments when he was spotted by the principal, Mother Eudemus. ‘She came and dragged me by the ear to her office across the road, and that’s where my lifelong nightmare started’, he said.
Mother Eudemus made him strip to his underwear and put on a pinafore. She tied ribbons in his hair and held a pair of scissors close to his groin. ‘She said words to the effect – if I wanted to play with girls, she’d turn me into one.’
Bojan had been a sociable, adventurous boy, but this incident changed him. He became withdrawn and suffered panic attacks. At high school, he was ridiculed and bullied for his unsociability. Though he was still interested in girls, he was frightened by them and did everything he could to avoid them. He avoided sport as well because he felt unable to use the changing rooms in the presence of others. The fear he experienced induced him to lose control of his bowels and gave him heart palpitations, shakes and chills.
Bojan’s anxieties in relation to the opposite sex have been an issue throughout his life. He first sought psychiatric assistance in his early 20s, but it proved traumatic and he was unable to continue. In the 1980s he tried again to deal with his issues, this time responding to a call by the Order of Good Shepherd for victims of abuse to come forward.
‘But it soon became apparent to me that this session was more about protecting the interests of the Good Shepherd order than about helping victims’, Bojan said.
In the 90s, he finally found a psychiatrist who was able to help. He had 43 sessions with her, then about the same number with a relationships counsellor. In his 40s, though he still experienced the occasional panic attack, he was able to begin dating. In his mid-50s he met the woman who became his wife just before his private session with the Royal Commission.
Bojan had made detailed plans for his ideal wedding several years ago, as part of a counselling exercise. Marianna, his wife-to-be, was happy to see that plan enacted. She, meanwhile, was to organise the reception.
‘I was well prepared for my wedding ceremony and had nerves of steel’, Bojan said. But at the reception he suffered a terrible panic attack and was forced to withdraw. Nobody knew what had happened or where he was. ‘Everyone on her side of the family turned against me’, Bojan said. Marianna told him she wanted the marriage annulled.
It took three days, but Bojan convinced her that his behaviour was due to the abuse, that he was remorseful and would continue to receive treatment, that they loved each other and should be together. ‘The marriage was back on track but it was a very close call’, he said.
‘I thank Mother Eudemus for the scariest adult moment in my life.’
Bojan has had dealings with several Catholic organisations over the years. In the 80s he tried to obtain a list of students in his Year 6 class from the Order of the Good Shepherd, but was told it didn’t exist. He also recently tried to get a record of his interview with the Order, but that didn’t exist either.
In his written statement, Bojan had a number of recommendations for the Royal Commission.
He believes all survivors who lodge a complaint must be given a caseworker to help them, and that there needs to be complete transparency in the compensation process.
Also, survivors should be able to report offences to police without delaying or affecting any future offer of settlement, and pastoral care should be offered by the Church even if no final settlement has been reached.
Bojan himself is yet to reach a final agreement with the Church on compensation. He is waiting to see how it responds to the Commission’s recommendations, but isn’t hopeful.
‘As a practising Catholic I am truly disgusted by these so-called men of God. Any relationship between true Christian principles and the management of the Catholic Church seems purely a coincidence.’