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Danial's story

‘PTSD is like a shredder. It shreds all your beliefs and values and for the rest of your life you are trying to find out who you are.’

This is what an SAS officer told Danial when he was in the army, and it helped him make sense of the way he has felt most of his life.

Danial was born in the mid-1940s and his Croatian mother, who was single and had very poor English skills, struggled to cope. When he was eight, she placed him in a Catholic-run orphanage in regional Victoria, thinking he would have better opportunities there.

During the two years he spent there, he was the victim of a cruel priest who punished the altar boys with severe physical beatings and emotional abuse.

In the mid-1950s when he was 12, Danial returned to live with his mother in inner-city Melbourne. He wagged school a lot, choosing instead to work in odd jobs for whatever money he could get. One of those jobs was for a butcher and over a period of six months an assistant there regularly abused Danial when they were doing deliveries together.

The following year he was sent to a Catholic boarding school in regional Victoria, where he was once again physically abused by the priests in charge. Danial said he did not experience any sexual abuse there, but he knows of many others who did.

As an adult, Danial served in the Australian army in Vietnam and the trauma he experienced during that war both compounded and helped him come to understand the physical and sexual trauma he had experienced as a child.

‘What happens is you’re trying to find out who you are and with the abuse … it confuses you because you’re trying to walk two tracks and what happens is they don’t marry up … It took me years and years to realise the co-existing internal problems are … the same as in the PTSD.’

He told the Commissioner that what the Church taught about God’s love was completely at odds with how the priests behaved and this remained a source of intense confusion for many years.

‘Sometimes when I think about it, I still think it’s like a split personality. Dissociative order. You actually bring two personalities … You can’t make sense of what you’ve got so what you do is you create another reality and you kind of brush this one aside. But the trouble is the one that you’ve brushed aside is always nagging at you. And that’s where the problem lies.’

However similar the causes, Danial’s experiences with the different organisations following his trauma were vastly different. After the Vietnam War, when it became clear that veterans were experiencing great psychological difficulties, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) was formed to deal with cases. Their processes helped Danial enormously and he feels well supported and compensated by the DVA.

He feels however that the Catholic Church is uniquely unqualified to deal with the crimes of abuse committed by its own members.

‘It’s an absolute conflict of interest to go back to the perpetrator or the organisation and that’s why DVA set themselves apart from the other services. Because they are the people that handle post-traumatic stress in the army – not the army, not the navy, not the air force. So the fact that the victims are going to go back to the original organisation that produced the perpetrators is an absolute no-no and I won’t have anything to do with it.’

Danial said the Church has lost any kind of credibility it might have once had and the best thing it can do for survivors now is provide the funds needed for compensation. It is important to him that the implementation is conducted independently.

He said it has taken him a long time to start to get a sense of normality in his life, but he has found ways to reengage with his faith through a particularly understanding and supportive priest. He does not want any compensation for himself, he just wants victims of the Church to be looked after the way he has been by the DVA.

‘The difference between war-related PTSD and sexual abuse is very fine, the line is fine. In war-related PTSD … there was some ability to say yes or no [to going to war]. The difference is with sexual abuse of young kids they never had a say.’

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