As a new migrant to Australia, 10-year-old Dan had trouble fitting into his new Salesian Brothers school. He told the Commissioner:
‘I can remember I still had quite an accent, so I was picked on at school. And my parents always described me as being sensitive and gentle, and compared to children my age now, I was very naive.’
It was the late 1960s and Dan was in his final year of primary school. His teacher was a priest named Father Tomlin. In those days, Tomlin administered two forms of punishment. Sometimes he would take a boy aside in private and cane him on his bare buttocks, or, as Dan told the Commissioner:
‘Other times he would, I suppose in inverted commas, “counsel” you by coming up behind you, giving you a hug and what we used to call in the schoolyard, “bumming”. To us kids then, there wasn’t any notion of paedophilia; I had no notion of sex whatsoever at grade 7, so we just put it down to him being a bit funny.’
Dan said that Father Tomlin picked on ‘boys who didn’t stand up for themselves’ and he suffered the priest’s attentions six or seven times before the year ended.
During that time Dan tried to tell his mother what was going on. She didn’t listen.
‘Coming from a strict, Catholic background we were always taught that priests and police officers were beyond reproach. So to tell my mother that the priest was bumming me was: “Dan, stop being so silly and stop making up stories about the priests and brothers”.’
In high school things got worse. Dan and a friend were targeted by another priest who often took them to his flat during break times to show them pornographic videos. However, the incident never escalated to any touching and Dan said that the real ongoing trauma for him stems from the non-sexual forms of abuse he suffered.
‘That side of it, the physical and emotional abuse, makes me more angry, and I still feel it now more than the sexual abuse because I think the sexual abuse we just laughed off because we didn’t know what it was. But the physical abuse, because you felt it, because your eyes teared up with the pain, that still gripes me now.’
In particular, Dan recalls being repeatedly attacked by his Latin teacher, Father Vaughn, who would ‘come up to you with his fist in the knuckles like that, and as hard as he could he would knock you on the head like that’. He also recalls another teacher who never struck him but would bombard him with verbal attacks, insulting his European heritage and telling him he would never amount to anything.
Dan said that it’s the memories of this physical and emotional abuse that still keep him awake at night. He said that he runs the scenarios over in his head and worries about what he should have done.
‘With me, it’s more anger centred at myself for not standing up then.’
Dan told the Commissioner he doesn’t have much interest in pursuing legal action against the Church or his abusers. And, as an adult, he’s never discussed the abuse with his family or his partner.
‘I think she’d start asking too many questions, and I don’t know whether I want to talk about it. I think I’m more a person who likes to keep it to himself and work it out himself.’