‘He was our football coach. He was always touchy-feely, always grabbing you. That’s what he did. From the beginning, from the first term, first week. He’d rub himself up against you from behind. Reach around and grab you, take your hand and put your hand on his penis.’
On weekends Conall often went to his Marist Brothers school in Sydney, called there by Brother Felix to talk about how the football team was going. As captain, Conall appreciated the attention paid by Brother Felix who knew a lot about the sport and was himself a referee. Conall’s parents and siblings also liked the game and often attended matches, encouraged by the Brother’s enthusiasm.
When Conall moved to high school in the mid-1970s, he kept contact with Brother Felix and the sexual abuse that had started the year before continued. Brother Felix often gave him gifts and took him on outings to watch football and cricket. About halfway through Year 7, Conall felt rejected when, without explanation, the contact ceased.
‘Obviously, he’d found someone else, I’d say. It just stopped.’
Conall told the Commissioner that he changed over the year the abuse took place. His grades dropped and in subsequent years he was frequently in trouble and suspended for fighting. ‘I went from being a leader to being a follower type of thing, you know what I mean? I was always captaining the school then I didn’t really put much effort into it.’
At 12, Conall started using drugs and for the next 40 years he continued to use marijuana, speed, cocaine and more recently, ice.
‘I’m not healthy, I tell you that’, he said. ‘I’m overweight, I still take drugs today. I took drugs today before I come in here … I think the drugs helped me not be as aggressive a person as what I was. I went through a period there where I was in trouble a fair bit with the police –
He said he ‘played hard’ and did things he shouldn’t have. ‘I put me arm through a window and nearly cut me arm off. Broke me neck, had a spinal fusion done when I was 23 or so. So I’ve had some major injuries. I suffer from arthritis now.’
In the early 90s, news of Brother Felix’s sexual offending against students was published in the media. When Conall’s mother said she was glad it had never happened to him, Conall’s eyes filled with tears. ‘As soon as she looked at me, she knew.’
Conall’s sister, who accompanied him to the Royal Commission, said their mother went from being a devout Catholic to someone who wanted nothing to do with the Church. She was troubled, not only by the abuse against Conall, but that Brother Felix’s offending had been so widespread and known by the Marist Brothers hierarchy who’d moved him frequently between schools whenever new allegations surfaced. At her death, Conall’s mother requested her funeral not be held in the Catholic Church.
In the late 90s she accompanied Conall to the Church’s hierarchy to make a statement of complaint. He asked for – and received – confirmation that Brother Felix no longer had contact with children. He also asked for counselling, but didn’t find it very helpful.
‘I had a couple of appointments with that bloke but I knew exactly what questions he was going to ask and I knew what answers, you know what I mean? There wasn’t much point in me answering things I already knew, like knowing the answer he was going to give me back. Saying it wasn’t my fault and all that. I knew he was going to say that.’
No compensation was offered and Conall didn’t know if it was a path he would want to pursue now. He also wasn’t sure if he would report the abuse to the police. ‘Where I grew up, that’s a give-up, you know. You don’t go to the police.’
His current focus is on finding a permanent place to live. He’s often been homeless and wants somewhere his adult daughters can visit him. Though he’s never disclosed the abuse to them, his eldest daughter found out, and Conall told her about his appointment with the Royal Commission. Of his other daughters, he said, ‘I think they know something’s happened to me’.
Conall’s sister said the abuse has been devastating for the whole family. Until she found out what had happened to him she’d never understood why Conall was always so negative and troubled. ‘I believe what’s happened to him has affected his whole life’, she said.
Conall hopes children now have a safe place to report things like abuse. ‘There was no school counsellors back then’, he said. ‘There was no one to go to … This is the first time I’ve really spoken about it, to tell you the truth.’