In his first year at boarding at a Sydney Marist Brothers’ College in the mid-1960s, Bruce was forced to join the school choir. Not at all musical, he was told to mime the words rather than sing. He told the Commissioner that within a week of joining the group, the choir-master was sexually abusing him.
‘Brother Dominic would ask me to stay back and help pack up after choir practice. I was touched, handled, fondled. It went from fondling through my pants to undoing my zip. There was no set pattern.’
When Bruce’s sister-in-law was involved in a serious accident in the late 1960s, Brother Dominic offered him comfort and gave him some sleeping tablets. ‘Next thing I woke up and he was anally raping me. Several days later, I told him if he touched me again, I’d knock his fucking block off. So that came to an end then, after three and a half years.’
Despite the ongoing and traumatic abuse, Bruce finished school and pursued a successful career.
For 30 years he kept the memories to himself. Then in the late 1990s, following a mental breakdown which prevented him returning to work, he disclosed the abuse to his wife and his psychiatrist. A few months later, he decided to contact Towards Healing, the process set up by the Catholic Church to address child sexual abuse within the Church.
‘I was still feeling ashamed of what happened to me, like somehow I’d asked for it. But at last I thought I was going to get an apology and some just compensation.’
Bruce said he and his solicitor attended the meeting with two Towards Healing lawyers, a mediator and a Marist Brother (who later apologised for the abuse).
‘They asked me to tell my story. It was very difficult exposing myself to total strangers. I was feeling very insignificant. I was in a very poor state, very damaged at the time. They told me [Brother Dominic] hadn’t abused anyone else, and that he’d denied my claims. I refused the $10,000 they offered, and I went into shock and disbelief. The whole process was very disturbing, the bond of trust was broken.’
Following the meeting, Bruce became withdrawn and depressed, and used binge drinking as a coping mechanism.
‘I had no money to continue seeing my psychiatrist, and eventually in desperation I accepted $35,000 and received $22,000 after legal fees, in return for signing a deed of release. I felt worthless and like a failure. My self-esteem was and still is pretty shot. It felt like no one in authority believed me, so what good was it going to the police? The Towards Healing process simply added insult to injury.’
Bruce later contacted a support organisation and found out that Brother Dominic had targeted other boys. ‘Knowing I wasn’t the only one, I decided to make a police statement in the early 2010s. A few months later I was informed that he’d been charged and arrested, then a few days later I was told he was in palliative care, was very sick and dying. This was confirmed as true when he passed away approximately one month later.’
In pursuit of ‘fair and just’ compensation, Bruce said he was working with a new legal team.
‘I want loss of wages to be considered, a formal apology and justice for other victims of abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church. I can’t change the past, but I can change the future.’