Brent met Christian Brother Norman at a Catholic youth centre in Perth in the 1980s, and the two soon forged a close bond.
‘My parents were divorced and with my father out of the scene I looked up to Brother Norman as a mentor and positive role model and we became close. I saw him as someone who was very wise. He often told me stories and I aspired to his spiritual teachings.’
When Brent was in Year 11, Brother Norman invited him to a vocations retreat where he made the 16-year-old feel ‘special and talented’, saying that he would make a good priest.
Not long after, Brent recalled, he went out for dinner with Brother Norman then back to the presbytery.
‘We sat on cushions in the lounge room watching television and he told me he usually wore jocks around the home so he stripped down to his underwear. He said I could do the same, so I did, even though I felt uncomfortable. Because I had total faith in this man, I believed this type of male behaviour was normal.’
As Brent lay on the floor, Brother Norman touched his stomach.
‘I said to him, “You know I trust you, Norm”. Those words still haunt me today. He said I could trust him. He started to go under the waistband of my jocks and my penis became erect. He began to masturbate me, and I was shocked and confused because I’d become aroused at the touch of another male, who I had no sexual attraction to.’
Brent remembered touching Brother Norman and giving him oral sex.
‘He said he wouldn’t go to confession about what we did, because it wasn’t something a priest would understand or accept. I vowed I would never tell anyone. I felt shame and guilt that I’d allowed it to happen, and repulsion. I wanted to forget it ever took place.’
That was the last time Brent saw Brother Norman for several years.
‘He went to a seminary to become a priest and we wrote to each other a few times. Even though he’d abused my trust severely, I still saw him as a friend and mentor, and still wanted him to be proud of me. In [the 1990s] I invited Father Norman to perform a home mass and enjoy dinner with my wife and I.’ There was no contact after that.
Brent said that in the mid-2000s a friend confided details of being sexually abused as a child and this was a trigger for Brent to start ‘vividly remembering’ his own experience.
‘I finally realised he’d sexually abused me, and found myself crying uncontrollably. For days I was consumed with thoughts of what happened that night, and felt such shame.’
Brent said he began psychiatric treatment and was contacted by Towards Healing after writing to the archbishop of Western Australia. He attended a meeting with Church representatives and gave a statement.
‘I was suffering badly from depression and suicidal thoughts, so I was hospitalised for two weeks. After that, I received an apology from the Christian Brothers and a settlement of $100,000. I was told Father Norman had retired, but was being supervised in his hometown and was not in good health. They said no further action would be taken against him.’
Brent provided a statement to police around the same time. He was told that Father Norman had denied the allegations and that the case would be closed due to insufficient evidence.
In the mid-2000s, Brent travelled interstate to confront Father Norman in person.
‘He opened his door and recognised me straight away. I recorded the visit without his knowledge and he confessed, but denied there were other victims. He finished with a theatrical apology on bended knee. I was totally repulsed by that.’
It appeared to Brent that Father Norman still served occasional masses and did not appear to be supervised, as Towards Healing had suggested.
‘I suspect he was sent state to state to escape allegations of sexual abuse. Meanwhile there have been times when I couldn’t work for months because the medication to treat my depression was affecting me so much. I’ve had a noose around my neck and it felt good. People should know child abuse is a silent killer.’