‘It’s just amazing how it can just creep into your mind and you can’t get it out.’
In the early 1970s, Brendan and his mother moved to a regional city on the east coast of Australia. He started kindergarten at the local Catholic school and began altar boy training when he was about nine or 10 years old. His mother became ill and Brendan began to spend a lot of his spare time at the church.
‘I used to do just about every morning serving, Sundays and stuff like that.’
The priest in charge when he first began training was a gruff older man. ‘He didn’t talk very much, wasn’t overly friendly and … I used to think he was about the next best thing to God once I sort of got into it, I used to think he was the bee’s knees.’
But when he was promoted a new priest, who was ‘a hell of a lot different’, came to the church. He was ‘a much younger guy that was one of the boys – obviously that was his plan’. The priest began grooming many of those he trained as altar boys.
‘He invented a little game. It was when you were by yourself obviously … he’d chase you round the sacristy and get you in a cupboard and fondle you … It wasn’t overly sexually orientated. It was just tickling. A bit of fun and that … I assumed he was doing it to the other altar boys as well.’
This behaviour continued for about six or eight months, until Brendan finished fifth class. Then one day, after a training session, the priest locked the doors to the sacristy, locking himself and ‘about six’ other boys inside.
It was ‘just out of the blue’. The priest ‘got his penis out and started masturbating … sort of like … sexual education or oriented that way ... [made] all of us to have a turn … Then basically started giving everybody oral sex … and he basically got us to try and have anal sex with each other’.
Brendan went home and didn’t think too much about it. But as time went on, it started preying on his mind. His behaviour changed considerably.
‘It didn’t take me too long … I started doing a 180 and I started hating the church … Started on a bit of a personal vendetta against the church. Not really knowing why I was doing it … stealing the poor boxes, stealing money out of the poor boxes.’
At the start of the next school year, Brendan told the principal, a nun, about the abuse. ‘Her immediate reaction was, “You liar. How dare you” … She just basically gave me a shellacking for mentioning it.’ Brendan didn’t tell anyone else about the abuse until he was an adult.
Not long after this, the priest ‘disappeared … Never heard nothing. Never got nothing’.
Brendan graduated to the local Marist high school and was shocked to see the priest officiating at the school mass. ‘I was fuming … I just couldn’t believe this guy was back after thinking he’s been … sent to jail… It’s pretty devastating.’ Brendan stopped going to mass from that moment. ‘It’s not the Catholic religion as such that I’ve got a beef with; it’s the people running the show.’
As an adult, Brendan married and had children. Then, about ‘20 years later [I] ran into an old school friend’. The friend had also been abused by the priest that day. They decided to go to the police together. The second person ‘after my wife’ Brendan told about the abuse was the policewoman from the local child protection unit.
Once the police began investigating, more victims came forward. In the end, there were more than 30. The priest was convicted and went to jail but Brendan still feels that his sentence was too lenient.
‘We worked it out, it was less than five months per victim. I certainly don’t believe that’s enough for the dramas I go through on a daily basis.’
The man is out of jail now.
Brendan has also been party to a successful compensation claim but found the process unfulfilling. ‘I was happy I was doing it but it still hasn’t fixed the problem.’ He found the Church unsympathetic and resistant to taking responsibility for the clergy’s actions.
‘Straight off the bat they’ve gone, “Oh, you can’t hassle the Church because it’s not an entity”. And I thought, “That’s a good cop out. That works really well for youse”.’ He also finds the ongoing behaviour of senior Catholic clergy dishonest.
‘You knew what was happening, you knew what was going on, you knew what the processes were and you’re trying to make out you don’t.’
The court case was difficult for Brendan. He began to see a psychiatrist for self-harming behaviours that became chronic when he was anxious or paranoid.
‘It just unearthed a whole lot of crap that I didn’t really want to know about … That’s still something that I have to sort of keep a bit of a rein on today, if I’m having a dark moment, that I don’t start doing that sort of stuff.’
Brendan has attempted to end his life but now has plans in place to manage the ‘dark moments’. He is a keen coach of children’s sport and worries that parents will vilify him if they find out about the abuse.
‘As soon as anybody finds out about it they’re going to go, “What are you doing with kids?”… That’s one of the common misconceptions: if you’re a victim you are [also an abuser] … I’d just be horrified if anybody came up and said that to me.’
Brendan’s own children know about his experiences and his school friend has been a great support over many years.
‘I don’t have any friends ... I don’t allow anybody to get close to me. I don’t tell anybody about this sort of stuff … Unfortunately, I still get stuck on the embarrassment side of it.’
After all these years, he would still like an apology from the Church. ‘Through all this … I’ve never heard a sorry off anybody. That’s the bit that gets me … Just the way it was all done.’
His ‘death wish’ has lifted in recent years and now he just wants to ‘live for life while I can … The more good days I have, the less bad days you have’.