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Christopher James's story

Christopher had hopes of high academic achievement at school and asked his parents if he could leave his country town in Victoria and enrol in a Catholic boarding school run by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Thinking he would get a better education, he spent his last three years of high school there in the early 1980s.

‘The physical and sexual abuse that went on at that school … was just unfathomable’, Christopher said. ‘They were all drunks’, who took ‘perverse pleasure’ in abusing the boys.

In a statement Christopher wrote, ‘I was caned … whipped often with a fan belt … by a priest. I wasn’t the only one. He used it almost nightly on some boys. The fan belt had metal bits in it and he had a name for it, but I can’t remember what, but it drew blood’.

One of the lay teachers, ‘an awful person’, had a large dog and ‘he used to set that on us. I was chased down a few times.’ Christopher remembers one boy jumping off a third floor balcony to escape the dog.

When Christopher strained his back during football training, it gave Father McDonald an excuse to give him massages ‘and he used his fingers in me. Other things were done, but I have blocked them out and don’t willingly wish to relive it all … Father Stanley … an old priest, joined him. He then gave me a couple of sessions by himself a couple of times. He used his penis in me’.

Just before his final exams, Christopher became quite ill and was confined to the school infirmary. ‘Their medical person, a Brother Garret, bathed me in bed by hand. He masturbated me and penetrated me. I couldn’t do anything or say anything.’

After the physical and sexual abuse, Christopher’s behaviour changed dramatically. When he was younger, he had been an altar boy, attending church every week, but ‘that all changed. Hatred of people. Hatred of the Church. But also, my focus wandered. I got smoking, drinking suspensions … just got in all sorts of trouble …

‘I just have so many regrets that I could have done so much other things in my life … I’ve had issues all my adult life … hidden as much as I can … It’s being disgusting in your own skin’.

Christopher felt that he couldn’t talk about the abuse at the time because ‘it was embarrassing. It was terrifying, scaring’. He told the Commissioner that he got a switchblade. ‘I had it just as a … I don’t know what, as a security, as a defence.’

When someone saw Christopher playing with the knife, he was sent to the headmaster’s office and told to hand it over. ‘I sort of started outlining things with him. He just said he’d discuss it and then just fobbed it off.’

That was the last time Christopher talked about the abuse to anyone, until many years later when he approached an organisation investigating sexual abuse by the Catholic Church. ‘All this stuff that goes on with the cover-ups and George Pell and that in the newspaper, it’s just an absolute disgusting … you know. It makes me angry.’

Christopher has suffered from depression and attempted suicide a number of times. His last attempt was just after he contacted the Royal Commission. ‘It’s amazing how much your mind almost gets into a focus of going down that bad path. Once it starts it’s like a slippery slope and you have to find handholds to just hold onto it until it stabilises, and then come back out of it …

‘I’ve been a complete basket case for decades now.’ He finds it ‘very difficult to get involved with anything really. Swing between things … following through life in a tumbleweed manner’.

Christopher told the Commissioner that he would like to ‘thank people in your position for bringing it out into the open and pursuing it … [it] leads people to come out and talk when they realise there’s an avenue for things to get heard and understood, and perhaps acted upon’.

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