Eight days after Braith’s birth in the late 1940s, the state of Victoria determined that his mother couldn’t look after him and he was moved into a baby’s home. Over the next 16 years he lived in five different institutions, four of them Catholic.
Braith remembers the nuns at the home he was in from the age of seven as ‘very rough’. He and other boys were frequently kicked and punched for no apparent reason, and the two nuns allocated oversight of the kitchen and laundry were ‘always angry’.
In the late 1950s, Braith transferred to a boy’s home run by the Christian Brothers where he encountered more physical abuse at the hands of the Superior, Brother O’Dowell. Whenever O’Dowell’s football team lost, boys would be ordered into bed by 6 pm, and O’Dowell would walk through dormitories punching and kicking them. Any boy who misbehaved was paraded before the dining hall with his pants down while O’Dowell strapped him and encouraged other boys to laugh.
Going to his fifth home, a hostel, in the early 1960s, Braith was pleased to be transferred with his friends, all training for work and getting ready to earn a wage. Brother Andrews taught at a nearby college and was resident in the hostel during the week, returning to his own community on weekends.
Braith told the Commissioner that about six months after arriving at the hostel, he was woken one night by Andrews who had come into the boys’ dormitory, drunk.
‘One of the boys yelled and woke the rest of us up. Andrews always had a small torch and was carrying a dark brown bottle of methylated spirits. The smell of metho was very strong. He was wearing a white towel around his waist and nothing else.
'He had dropped his towel and was standing at one of the boy’s beds. I don’t remember who was sleeping in that bed or who had called out. I was about three beds from the door. I was about in the middle of the room. He moved to the centre of the room and asked for oral sex and for us boys to touch his penis.’
Braith said Andrews then walked from bed to bed forcing boys to touch his penis. ‘He moved to my bed. He tried to grab my hand and put it on his penis. I pulled my hand away. He rubbed his penis down the right side of my face and I pushed him away.’
Andrews staggered from bed to bed for about an hour until he finally left. ‘We didn’t know how to react’, Braith said. ‘Some of the boys stood next to their beds and stayed awake all night out of fear. We were frightened he’d return the next night.’
The following morning, Braith reported Andrews’ behaviour to the Brother in charge, who told Braith he must have been dreaming. Over the following two years, Andrews repeated his pattern of abuse two or three times a week, each time coming to the dormitory drunk, waking boys and forcing them to touch his penis. Braith repeatedly reported Andrews but kept being told he was telling stories or that he was dreaming or imagining it. Other boys who reported Andrews were told the same thing.
In the mid-1960s, after leaving school, Braith began training for the priesthood. He didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until the late 1970s when he was asked to take time off from training to reconsider whether he had taken on the vocation ‘for security’. Given no financial or material assistance, he set about forging another life. ‘I only had the clothes I had on. If members leave, you’re treated pretty roughly.’
Connecting with a friend who was a police officer, Braith happened to mention being abused by Andrews as a boy. His friend recommended making a formal statement about Andrews, but Braith started to experience declining physical and mental health. Over a period of nine years he had ‘four or five breakdowns’, and was hospitalised for anxiety and depression. Between these acute episodes he held teaching jobs, which he enjoyed. He also married and had a son.
In 2009, Braith saw an online article citing civil action brought against the Catholic Church by an ex-student who’d been sexually abused by Andrews.
‘Everything came back to me and I was shocked’, Braith said. ‘I still didn’t want to deal with it. I had put it out of my mind for so many years and I didn’t want it brought back.’
The parliamentary inquiry initiated by the government of Victoria in 2012 changed Braith’s mind. ‘I felt it’s probably time to come forward regarding my experiences’, he said. He made a statement to the inquiry and to Victoria police who investigated and found Andrews living in a nursing home for retired religious. When questioned, Andrews clearly remembered being at the hostel but denied knowledge of or responsibility for any abuse.
Police told Braith they’d been advised by staff of the Office of Public Prosecutions that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Andrews, but they were keeping the file open in case further information emerged or others came forward. Braith also began exploring legal options to bring civil action against the Catholic Church.
On two occasions, Braith had asked his son to read his police statement, but his son declined. He hoped one day he’d change his mind. ‘He said, “No Dad, it’s not going to change anything”. I just felt if he read it he’d understand his father.’
He was grateful that he could tell his story to the Royal Commission. ‘I never thought I’d have this opportunity but I deeply thank you because to tell my story after many years of hanging back, I’m very glad I’ve done it.’