When Charlie told the school chaplain he was being sexually assaulted by two Christian Brothers at the Melbourne Christian Brothers college, the response was shattering.
‘He said, “Some of us have a cross to bear, boy, and that’s yours”. He just sort of dismissed me.’
Charlie recalled that within three months of starting high school in the early 1960s, two Brothers at the college, aged in their mid to late 50s, were molesting him.
‘Brother Jude would come up and sit next to you, kiss you on the side of the head and call you one of his “little darlings,” and start to fondle you. Sometimes he’d take you out to a room and make you perform oral sex on him or do it to you. He’d masturbate you, make you masturbate him.’
Over a five-year period, Charlie said, he was raped by Brother Jude more times than he could count.
‘The other one, Brother Jonas, would sit beside you, lick his finger and insert it up your anus. I was petrified, they had like a power thing over you.’
Seeing Charlie was upset one day, the school principal coaxed him to reveal the cause of his sadness.
‘I told him about the abuse and he said, “Nope, that couldn’t happen, you’re lying”. He called in the deputy principal and told him what I had said, and he didn’t believe it either, and they just dismissed me.’
It was the following year that Charlie confided in the chaplain, and having received no support or guidance, later told his parish priest in confession.
‘The priest sympathised, said the two Brothers were sinners, but that he couldn’t do anything to help. That was when I was 15. In the end I raised it with my mother, and she just told me it couldn’t happen, she didn’t believe the Church could be like that.’
Charlie told the Commissioner that many of the students attending the college were from a Catholic orphanage, and he expressed sadness for those forced to live with the abuse around the clock.
‘These Brothers would go over to the orphanage at night and torment those boys, plus there’d be other Brothers attacking them. The kids would run away, but they’d get brought back because they had no one to go to. All the students knew what was going on.’
For five years Charlie endured the abuse, until he decided to take a stand against the Brothers when he was in his final year of school.
‘When I went back after the holidays, Jonas was the first one to come up and I pushed him off the chair and said “Never touch me again, you bastard”. He must have told Jude because they never come near me again.’
Charlie secured a job when he left school, but said he struggled with relationships for over a decade before settling down with his wife.
‘There were probably five or six years where I wouldn’t go out with a girl at all. I could never have any commitment, couldn’t get close to anyone, even mates. I had this fence around me and a general mistrust of people.’
After watching a documentary about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in the mid-1980s, Charlie called a Christian Brothers hotline set up for abuse victims that was displayed at the end of the program.
‘I told them my story and they were apologetic, but it was just, “Yes, we knew it happened and these men are known to us, they were predators, but they’re deceased now.” There was no counselling offered, they wanted to appear to be doing something, but they weren’t doing anything at all, it was all smoke and mirrors.’
Charlie gave up the Church when he left school, and remains greatly affected by the abuse.
‘Every time something comes up in the paper or on the television, it comes rushing back. I might shed a tear, then bury it again, but I need something to help me cope with it because I can’t get rid of it.’
Charlie said he would like to see students receive greater education about services available to those who’d been sexually abused.
‘There are predators out there. My own mother didn’t believe it, and that broke me in the end, I didn’t know what to do.’