‘Brother Armstrong would interfere with me by touching and feeling my bottom and testicles and penis, including inside my pants. This would occur in class. He would do this behind a waist-high vanity screen that was part of the teacher's desk ... He would call me out for tutoring on an aspect of my work while the rest of the class was going on with set bookwork ...
‘When Brother Armstrong would interfere with me he would indicate that I had somehow done something wrong and needed to be corrected or punished. Because the abuse occurred at the same time, my young mind interpreted the sexual touching as being part of that punishment.
‘I did not understand at the time why he did what he did but he made me believe that I was somehow guilty. Catechism religious lessons often revolved around guilt for sins that Christ died for on the cross. To my memory there was considerable emphasis in school on guilt for just about anything a child got wrong.'
It was the early 1950s, and ten-year-old Cedric attended primary school in the New South Wales Hunter region. Armstrong, who was a Marist Brother, sexually abused him numerous times in class.
Sometimes he would hold Cedric close to him, slapping him on his bare buttocks. The Brother would be ‘very red-faced and breathing heavily as he did this’, whispering things like ‘You are an agent of the devil’. He also gave Cedric a nickname with homosexual connotations, which he did not understand at the time. ‘When I did realise its meaning, it increased my embarrassment and distress.’ This abuse continued for two years.
At the end of Year 5, Cedric moved to the local Marist high school. He made it into the swimming squad, run by Brother Paul. The swimmers would get changed for training out in the open, by the pool. Paul would hold out a towel for their privacy, and molest the boys behind it.
This ‘included feeling genitals and bottoms with his hands and at times briefly kissing and sucking of genitals. The interference by Brother Paul was much more intrusive than what I had already experienced at the hands of Brother Armstrong.’ Paul would act light-heartedly as he abused Cedric – ‘he’d laugh and joke and touch you up, and make some sort of comment’.
Paul would often punish an individual boy, making him do extra laps at the end of the session, so they would be alone after the other students left. When Cedric did these extra laps, it lead to longer sessions of abuse. ‘I remember feeling, whenever I had been punished by doing extra swimming, that I was somehow at fault and that the sexual interference was a further extension of my punishment.’
Paul also molested Cedric during class, using a very similar method to Armstrong. By this time Cedric knew the behaviour was wrong, but was unable to fight what was happening. He managed the shame by letting his mind go blank. One time he ‘came out of my “blank mind” state’ whilst being abused, and realised everyone in the class was looking at him.
‘My distress reached a point where ... I told my parents at the dinner table what had been occurring and asked whether it was normal. After I made that disclosure my father said words to the effect, “It is not normal but do not worry, Brother Paul will not do that again”.’
His father contacted the school immediately, and Paul was not at the school after this. Cedric doesn’t think police were contacted and his parents didn’t speak to him about the matter again. He later discovered Paul had been transferred, but not dismissed as a teacher.
Cedric blames Armstrong and Paul personally for abusing him, but also the Catholic Church for teaching him to be submissive to its clergy. Although he knew the abuse was not his fault, Cedric still struggles with feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt.
Accustomed to shutting down when something sexual was happening to him, he found that ‘whenever I got to a point of sexual intimacy my libido would freeze and I could not consummate’. He would tell his partners that he was unable to have sex because he was Catholic, and hence not permitted to engage in this before marriage. He also had troubles opening up emotionally to girlfriends, and never disclosed his experiences of abuse.
These sexual problems continued with his wife even after their wedding day, and prevented them from having children together. ‘I became concerned that I would never have a child because of my inability to be intimate with a female partner and decided, through a deep desire to have a child, to become a donor of sperm.’
Unable to maintain a relationship, he concentrated on building a successful career. Cedric has not attended counselling, but speaks to former classmates who were also abused at the schools about his experiences. He is still ‘in two minds’ about making a formal complaint to the Marist Brothers, as he is wary of the potential trauma of legal processes and investigations.