The turning point came in the late 1990s when Brendan read a newspaper article about a victim of child sexual abuse who was taking legal action against his abusers.
‘It was really surprising … Before that, when I told my parents and talking amongst my brothers, the idea was there was nothing we could really do about it.’
The mantra ‘there’s nothing we can do about it’ had played on Brendan’s mind for most of his life. His brothers felt the same. This was one of the reasons why they had kept quiet about what Father Gleeson did to them when they were kids.
Another reason was the community pressure at the time of the abuse. In Melbourne in the 1970s, people just didn’t talk about thing like that, particularly if they were staunch Catholics like Brendan’s family.
‘I think that sort of thing back in those days was just – people probably knew it existed but it was too embarrassing or it was too uncomfortable. I mean, everybody had so much trust in priests you would not dare say anything.’
Time eroded these pressures, and as Brendan and his brothers matured they started to discuss the abuse, but only amongst themselves and never in great detail. They joked about it, making mock plans to ‘pay a visit’ to Father Gleeson’s home. Sometimes it was easy to make light of the abuse; sometimes it wasn’t.
‘I had a couple of breakdowns so it affected me for sure. It definitely affected me, especially when I was younger … I’ve been diagnosed with some nervous disorders.’
It was roughly 30 years after the abuse that Brendan read the article and decided to take action, leading the way for his brothers. Almost immediately he hit an obstacle. The first few lawyers he spoke to – several of them Catholic – wouldn’t take the case, advising him to drop the whole thing because it just wasn’t worth the fight.
But Brendan persisted and ended up making a statement to police. Then it was a matter of enduring the long wait before the trial. Police told him 12 months but it ended up being a few years, which was too long, as it turned out. Before he was made to answer for his crimes in court, Father Gleeson died.
Brendan was disappointed. ‘I was sort of looking forward to going to court with it.’ He considered suing the Catholic Church but gave up the idea because it seemed too daunting.
‘I supposed I’m scared of them. In a way they’re the offenders. I know that’s a horrible thing to say. In a way I don’t feel that there’s anything there to be gained by talking to them.’
Despite his fear of the Church and his anger towards them, Brendan still believes there are many decent Catholics out there, struggling to do their best despite the few ‘bad apples’ in their midst. He knows some of these people personally. In fact, he believes that one of them saved him from Father Gleeson and brought the abuse to an end.
‘Sister Maureen her name was.’ She was Brendan’s Grade 6 teacher. She was there one day when Gleeson brought Brendan back to class at about 11 o’clock in the morning.
‘She took Gleeson outside, and I could hear some heated words going on. I think Sister Maureen knew something about Gleeson … Whatever she said to him, Gleeson walked out of our lives and I never saw Gleeson again. Look, I remember sitting in the classroom – and everyone in the class can hear it. She got heated and got loud. And I was just sitting there thinking, “This is the end”, I think. “Good on you”, you know. “Go Sister”.’
Now having told his story to the Royal Commission, Brendan is hoping that his example will inspire his brothers to do the same. He believes that the best way to manage the impacts of child sexual abuse is to talk about them.
‘I would just recommend to anyone who’s had a similar experience to bring it out. There’s no point in bottling it up.’