Carlton’s ‘working class’ parents raised their family in a western suburb of Sydney. A bookkeeper and a manager who weren’t particularly devout, they nevertheless ‘had aspirations’ which included putting their son through the Catholic school system.
So, in the mid-1940s, Carlton was sent to a strict high school run by the Marist Brothers. He recalled dull lessons filling in worksheets, and being given ‘six of the best’. He also remembered the fear other boys had of being caught outside the classroom by Brother Dilbert who was a teacher and commanding officer of the school cadets. ‘I just couldn’t envisage what was so horrible about what Dilbert was doing, and why people would want to avoid him’, he said.
In the early 1990s, when Carlton was in his 50s, ‘talk in the air’ about child sexual abuse brought his repressed memories to the surface. After 40 years of sublimating his experiences, feelings, and emotions, he suddenly understood why those boys had been so fearful. ‘I … woke up one night … and I simply realised from the expression of Dilbert’s face that he was very probably masturbating himself under his rather dirty and grimy cassock.’
One day at school, Carlton was sitting outside on a verandah feeling ‘bilious’ because of the summer heat. Brother Dilbert’s ‘modus operandi was to come along between class breaks and see what he could harvest’. Dilbert saw Carlton and took him into the science laboratory where he offered to help him by massaging his stomach.
‘He would then ask you to pull your pants down and your singlet, your shirt, up. And he would stand there and start to rub your stomach … He didn’t masturbate me. He masturbated himself. And that modus operandi, I suppose, could enable him in five or 10 minutes to go out and return to the classroom.’
After remembering being sexually abused, Carlton became ‘emotionally disturbed’. For a period of time he experienced ‘pretty low self-esteem’, and according to family members, became ‘very argumentative and an alcoholic’. He also experienced ‘the loss of religious feeling’ which he regrets because ‘being an atheist is not a very comforting philosophical position to hold’.
When Carlton reflected upon the circumstances of his abuse, he ‘saw all that complacency of parents who didn’t ask’. So, rather than shrug his shoulders and walk away, he knocked on the door of the Marist Brothers and delivered a written complaint. He wasn’t invited in. However, during a legal process that was ‘like an oriental bazaar’, he dealt with a Professional Standards Officer, and received an out-of-court settlement. While half the small payout went to his solicitor, Carlton was still pleased that he had persevered and obtained some resolution.
In the early 2000s, and in response to his own correspondence, Carlton received a letter from a Catholic Archbishop. While the writer ‘sounded like a politician who had been well briefed by his advisors’, he nevertheless acknowledged Carlton’s allegation of sexual abuse and referred him to the Towards Healing process. The writer also commented on the likely ineffectiveness of a future Royal Commission:
‘I note your intention to lend your support to agitation for a Royal Commission into church sexual abuse … It is doubtful that a Federal Royal Commission will unearth anything not already known, other than highlight again that sexual abuse is not restricted to the church.’
In the future, Carlton would like to see schools redesigned to ensure the safety of children. ‘The number of rooms that are, as it were, not frequently used, should be minimised,’ he said. ‘And in this day and age of CCT cameras, those that can’t be controlled should have CCT cameras put in’.
However, even if such measures had been in place in the 1940s, Carlton doubts that they would have been able to stop the likes of Brother Dilbert.