In the early 1950s, Dennis was driven from his home at a Christian Brothers orphanage in Victoria to a nearby police station to report the sexual abuse he’d just disclosed to Brother Fitzpatrick. Dennis was 11 years old and had been in the home for about a year. He said he and several other boys told Brother Fitzpatrick about a Brother and a priest at the home who were sexually abusing the boys.
Brother ‘Fitz’ was widely trusted by the boys and took their allegations seriously. Dennis knew a priest had raped a boy in the dormitory, and a Brother had been inviting boys, including Dennis, to his room to listen to the radio and once there, making them masturbate him.
‘We went to the police station to tell the story, but they wouldn’t believe us. They told us we were lying. I said, “No, it’s true”. They were in plain clothes and one was standing over us saying, “You made those stories up”. He was over six feet tall. They abused us the whole way. Brother Fitz was outside. After that, we kept quiet and didn’t tell anyone.’
Dennis told the Commissioner that he encountered further sexual abuse from another Brother at the home. The Brother taught at a technical college during the week and came to the orphanage on weekends. I couldn’t remember his name until recently, because I’d blocked it out. I could remember the names of the ones who were good, like Brother Fitz, but not him. With him it was rape.’
Soon after the boys’ report to Brother Fitzpatrick, Dennis said, the Brother was moved to another school in Victoria. The arrival of Brother Bennett a year later brought sweeping changes to the school and orphanage.
‘He came in and cleaned the whole thing up. I was told he got all the Brothers together and said what had happened wouldn’t be tolerated. He said he was in charge and “If anything happens to the boys I want to be informed”.’
Dennis said he also spoke to the boys. ‘He told us, “Things have happened that aren’t going to happen again”. We knew what he meant. After that we didn’t have problems with the Brothers, because he’d nailed it right there and then. We could trust him.’
Dennis didn’t disclose the abuse again until his wife pressed him one day to know what was wrong. ‘I was embarrassed. It was something that happened that shouldn’t have. My self-esteem was very low and I’d tried to bury the abuse and move on.’ He thought ‘everything might go the wrong way’ if his wife knew about the abuse, but found to his surprise that they’d become closer after his disclosure. ‘I thought we would have split if I told her. But now, if I’m feeling or thinking of different things about it, we go out for a cuppa or a walk. She’ll say, “We’ll go down to the garden” and we just walk through it. She’s been my rock.’
In the late 2000s, the Catholic Church awarded Dennis $30,000 compensation, which included $11,000 for legal fees. He felt that the Church fought him all the way and that the amount he received wasn’t fair. In preparation for the mediation session, he had contacted the Christian Brothers to get information including the names of staff in the home and dates they were there. He felt thwarted by their response.
‘I think they knew about the abuse, but were denying it. I tried to get documents and they wouldn’t show them to me or give me a hand. But they’ve changed this year. It’s a big difference. I could ask for anything now.’