Clay hardly saw his father when he was growing up. The family had migrated to Australia when Clay was young and none of them could speak English. Like many immigrant families, they set up their own business and worked long hours to make it succeed.
So, in the mid-1960s, when one of the Christian Brothers at his school in regional New South Wales showed an interest in Clay, he looked up to him.
The Brother was his teacher, swimming and football coach, and Clay thought of him as a father figure. ‘He had such an impact on me. I was going out with [a girl] at the time … and he said you have to break off the relationship, so I did.’
In his mid-teens, Clay asked the Brother for some advice on a swimming stroke. The Brother took him to an area away from the school and, while they were in the water, he fondled Clay’s testicles.
Despite feeling uncomfortable, Clay didn’t say anything. On the way back, when they were on their own, Clay and the Brother started to wrestle on the grass.
‘He was making this crazy grunting sound and I couldn’t make that out because I’d never heard it before’, said Clay. ‘It was like a big, guttural throat grunt.’
Sometime later, Clay and some other students were invited to a meal at the Christian Brothers’ house. After dinner the Brother took Clay to show him his room. Clay revealed he was thinking of joining the Order, and the man suggested he go into the bathroom and try on his habit.
‘When I came out he just went berserk and jumped me. He got me on the bed and got hold of my testicles and it was excruciating pain. I was absolutely terrified. I grabbed hold of his throat and I was fairly strong then – he was stronger – and he said let go and I couldn’t because I was beside myself as to what was happening.
‘He had the grunt. The grunt was going on for … it seemed like an eternity. Then he just snapped out of it and I said I’ve got to go and I got out of there as fast as I could.’
Clay told another student, who said he’d also been groped by the Brother. That boy reported Clay’s incident to the bishop, who called Clay in for a meeting.
‘I wanted to not say anything and forget the whole thing. I didn’t know it had a huge impact on me’, said Clay. ‘I was terrified because I was also an altar boy at the time.’
The bishop and other Brothers asked Clay a lot of questions.
‘I was sort of trying to protect him, even after what he did … but they got the message that something went on in that room.’
When Clay was next at football training, ‘This big black hearse pulled up and the next thing was he was escorted off the field, never to be seen again’.
Later, Clay heard from another student that the Brother was teaching at a different school. ‘In those days you didn’t go and see a psychiatrist or anything like that because that meant you were weak. I hid it inside me, which is probably not a good thing because I became a bit wild after that.’
Clay gave up being a Catholic, lost trust in people and began drinking to excess. He managed to hold down a good job, got married and had children, but his marriage fell apart. His ex-wife was the first person Clay had told about the abuse since he left school.
In 2004 Clay found out that the Brother was still teaching. He hated knowing that other children were at risk so he reported the abuse to the Church.
There were numerous, lengthy meetings but he didn’t feel they got anywhere. ‘It was pretty upsetting to go through it all again’, said Clay.
‘They were just trying to make it too hard. So I said that’s it, no more. It seemed like I was being fobbed off and I thought there’s no way anything’s going to come out of this.’
Clay said he didn’t want money and hadn’t reported the abuse to the police. ‘I said I just want him away from children.’
This became a very difficult time in his life, including excessive drinking and gambling.
He is now under financial pressures and for the past three years has lived overseas, where costs are much lower. He continues to struggle with alcohol.
Clay is in regular contact with his sons and has recently opened up for the first time to some of his friends, who have been very understanding. He thinks his anger has reduced as a result. ‘The more you open up and talk about it, it tends to help the healing process.’
But he says the trust issue has been the biggest factor for him: ‘It will always be with me.’