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Braden's story

Braden was in primary school in the late 1970s when he and his family moved to a regional town in New South Wales. A few years later he and his friends became altar boys, a close knit and ‘special group’.

Father Brookes was a new deacon in the parish and would visit children in the playground where ‘those who were closest to him or knew who he was would gather round’.

On occasions Brookes took boys swimming which ‘was a big deal’, and Braden thought he was ‘cool’ and it was ‘like a reward’ to be chosen to travel to surrounding towns with Brookes to assist him celebrating mass.

Braden was about 10 years old when he was asked by Brookes to go to an outlying town to say mass in someone’s home. On the way there, Brookes suddenly reached across while driving and put his hand on Braden’s leg. Braden pushed him away.

‘I know the difference between playing and, you know, it’s not so much aggressive, but being forceful’, Braden said. ‘It was almost like I was made to feel like it was meant to be fun … you’re like, “Whoa, I don’t know if this is serious” and it was at that stage that he was kind of trying to touch me and trying to make grabs for my groin, and at the same time trying to grab me and get me to do the same thing to him while we’re driving along in the car.

‘At the same time as this was an exciting adventure for me it was very confrontational because I didn’t know what I was feeling. I didn’t quite understand what was going on and at this stage I didn’t know if this had been going on with my friends so I wasn’t sure you know if this is what happened to all the boys.’

Shortly afterwards, Brookes stopped the car and retrieved a gun from the boot. He loaded it then handed it to Braden to hold, saying he’d seen some rabbits. Brookes then fired a few shots into the bush and put the gun back in the boot.

‘Then we just drove back off and I’m left like, “What’s gone on?”’, Braden said. ‘I was almost more scared about what my parents would do.’

Brookes tried again to touch Braden who ‘just did the same thing’, and pushed his hand away. They went to the town, Brookes celebrated mass and ‘the rest of the trip was in silence’.

Soon after he returned, Braden ‘started to realise that whatever had gone on was not right’ and told his parents what had happened in the car.

They ‘were forthright in contacting the other parents and letting them know’, Braden said. His father reported Brookes to the parish priest, who replied ‘where’s your proof?’

Braden’s father then went to police but ‘there was nothing done’.

A few months later, Brookes asked Braden to serve as altar boy on another trip away, this one overnight. He didn’t go and only later ‘started to realise how widespread’ Brookes’ sexual abuse of children had been.

Brookes was moved away from the parish eventually, and Braden is sure other priests knew that he was sexually abusing boys.

Meanwhile, Braden and his parents were subjected to ‘a backlash’. Other boys were suddenly getting into trouble with their parents, and berated Braden for saying anything. And Braden’s parents were rebuffed by the community.

‘When my parents said something and tried to do something about it, there was no support. There was complete denial not just from the Church which was in complete denial – they’re not going to say “Oh yeah, well you know, we’re sorry about that”; they still haven’t said sorry to anybody – but the whole community just didn’t want to know.

‘You don’t want to know that sort of stuff is happening in your community … Some of these people had been in the community for a long time you know – second or third generation and they didn’t want to know anything.’

Many years later Braden’s father saw Brookes in the street and confronted him about what he’d done. Brookes ‘wouldn’t deny it’, and replied, ‘what are you going to do about it?’

From the late 1980s allegations of Brookes sexually abusing children were surfacing. However, cases brought before the courts were dismissed. By the mid-2010s further reports to NSW Police resulted in Brookes being charged and convicted of multiple counts of child sexual abuse. Braden and his father made their own reports to police and Braden described officers as ‘wonderful’ and ‘really, really helpful’.

‘I think, and the reason we’re probably here now, is people realise the importance of actually doing something about this even if it’s taken a long time.’

While Braden considered himself ‘lucky’ for his ‘parents’ understanding’ and their action after his disclosure, he was aware they’d paid a price for their stance. Years later Braden’s father ‘had a huge argument’ with one priest who had earlier told him he’d ‘driven a wedge through the community and the parish’.

Braden felt also for those whose lives had been ‘ruined’ because of Brookes’ abuse. He believed the Catholic Church still didn’t understand the effects of its denials.

‘My issues are really with the Church, you know. The individual, well that’s something that they’re dealing with in the courts. I won’t begin to tell you what I think of that person, but you know my issue is really with the Church and their – it’s not even an inability; it’s almost like in their dealings with just about everything, it’s like they’re the Church and they can do whatever they like.

‘And that’s what it feels like, you know. No one’s ever said sorry to me. No one’s ever said sorry to my family. It’s almost like until anything’s even proven with Father Brookes that it’s still not true. And that’s just rubbish, you know. It wouldn’t surprise me if they never said sorry.’

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