‘The teacher and the priest said that I fell and that’s how I hurt my backside … The doctor didn’t ask any questions, just gave me a cursory examination, smoking his pipe all the while.’
However, it wasn’t a fall that had damaged Daniel’s anus, but rather being bent over a table by the priest who had just celebrated mass, and raped. The altar boy was nine. The priest had warned him that if he ‘made up stories’ no one would believe him.
The doctor prescribed a donut pillow, which Daniel used for some weeks. As he recalls, ‘I didn’t know about sex, so I didn’t know what sexual abuse was … But if they didn’t see the results of penetration, I don’t know what they were doing’.
Daniel attended a Catholic primary school in Melbourne, from the late 1960s. ‘The nuns formed a sort of hierarchy: there were nice nuns, kind nuns, aggressive nuns – and just plain horrible nuns.’ Unfortunately, it was the last category that had most impact.
‘The nicer nuns would pass me on to the not-so-nice nuns, the door would be closed and that was the end of it. Nobody knew what was going on.’
What was going on was ridicule and beatings. Daniel had encountered English only when he began school – ‘I was way behind the eight-ball because of the language difficulty’ – but no slack was cut when he faltered in question-and-answer sessions. As he wrote in a submission to the Commission, ‘I was the most frequent visitor to the dunce corner … When I started remedial lessons with one of the nuns, she would make me do my times table out loud. I was so nervous that I got them wrong a lot, and for that she used her open hand to hit me on the back of the head.
‘She would also use a leather strap on my calves with my socks rolled down. After that I was told to pull up my socks to hide the red marks … Then she began to strap me on my bare bottom.’
Fear made Daniel incontinent. As he told the Commission, ‘I would urinate on myself in class – I had to have a spare pair of underpants and shorts right up to Year 6. And, of course, this was just another excuse for ridicule.’
Sadly, there wasn’t much sympathy at home. ‘At family gatherings someone would always say, “He’s nine years old and still wets his bed! What are we going to do with this boy? He’s an absolute disgrace”.’
Looking back, Daniel concludes that ‘the violence and intimidation by the nuns was possibly even more harmful than the actual rape. It went on for a long time’.
He believes it may also have propelled him into the hands of the abusive priest. ‘As a penance for my bad marks I was made to become an altar boy … I consider the nun who beat me to be part of the grooming process for the sexual assaults and eventual rape.
‘After being beaten by the nun, I would get caresses from the priest. And then the pants-down stuff – to see where I had been hit – which was followed by stroking on the buttocks, then leading to handling of the genitals.’
But in the end there was no tenderness. ‘The thing that kicked me over the edge was the venom and vigour of the rape. It was used as punishment.’
Daniel left school early. Now in his 50s, he lives with his wife and his adult daughter, and admits to ‘a long history of drinking and drugs. I’m on psychiatric medication now, I can’t work. I know that I’ve had problems all my life. I know that I’ve severely under-achieved. And I know that things turned to shit after I got raped’.
‘Back then, in the 1970s, priests were seen as God’s representative on earth, beyond reproach. I didn’t say anything because no one would listen, no one would believe.
‘Before the rape, I was doing enough to get by. After it, I had no respect for anyone – my parents and family, priests, nuns. I was really angry.’