After some unhappy times being bullied in primary school, Denny left regional New South Wales in Year 7 to start boarding at a Jesuit school in Sydney. He described himself as a quiet ‘average achiever’.
In Year 8 one of the Brothers began to take an interest in Denny. He believes the Brother saw him as a soft target, a young boy who was shy and lacking in confidence. In his session with the Commissioner, Denny described the Brother as ‘manipulative’ and ‘evil’.
Denny was first sexually abused by the Brother soon after the Brother became interested in him. The man took Denny and one of his friends into a room, made them completely undress in front of him and then try on new clothes. On the pretext of helping the boys get changed, the Brother touched the boys’ genitals.
Denny said the Brother would often stand in the bathroom watching the boarders shower, and have ‘special talks’ with students in his private rooms. During one of these talks, he again sexually abused Denny.
There were instances of abuse away from the school, too. Afterwards the Brother told Denny it was all part of developing and becoming a man, and it was their secret.
The Brother was also threatening. Coming from a religious family, Denny took great pride in being an altar boy. The Brother made it very clear, if Denny told anyone about the abuse, his days as an altar boy were over.
Denny said the initial impact of the sexual abuse was to make him unstable and very unsettled. He desperately wanted to go home and twice ran away from the school, only to be found and returned. After that he locked the memories of the abuse away for many years.
When Denny left school he became career driven and didn’t give himself much time for relationships. He studied and worked hard, often seven days a week, and had success in his field. In his mid 30s he married and became a father, but the real impact of the abuse was starting to hit him.
Denny was drinking heavily, taking antidepressants and putting his wife through ‘absolute hell’. He had an affair with a man and tried several times to take his own life.
‘I didn’t know how to get out of this hole. It was awful. It’s a place that you just don’t want to go.’
Finally, Denny decided he had to talk about the abuse. He received love and support from his family, but the Catholic Church gave him no help whatsoever. ‘Looking back, this is where the evil comes out’, he said.
Denny spoke to a priest who kept referring to his story as ‘alleged abuse’ and made veiled threats that the Church couldn’t protect him or his family from the media.
Denny said he wasn’t after money. What he wanted was a letter of apology from his abuser ‘acknowledging what he did to me’, and a support system set up within the school for other victims.
Years went by, with Denny ‘begging for communication’, but he never heard any more from the Church. However, he did get a letter from his abuser. ‘It was well-written by a solicitor – but it was something’, Denny said, laughing.
Eleven years after first reporting the abuse, Denny was contacted by the police. The Church had sent them his file, but when Denny was asked to make an official statement, he declined. ‘If this was done five years ago, I would’ve gone hell for leather and I would’ve crucified him.’
Denny’s thinking had changed. He wasn’t after his abuser anymore, he was after the institution. ‘They’re the ones that really let every single thing down, in every way, shape and form.’
Denny made contact with the current headmaster of his old school and, along with other abuse victims, started working to set up a proper support system. ‘It’s a good thing that it’s finally happening, and it’s a good thing that the school is doing what they’re doing … to make it right.’
Denny knows he has a long way to go. He sees a psychologist regularly, and said he’s never been better mentally, but he’ll never forget the way he was treated by the Catholic Church when he came forward. ‘The thing that was really shown to me through all of this is that it was too easy for them to cover it up.’
Denny told the Royal Commission he’s ‘on a mission’ for accountability. ‘If doing what I’ve done, if I can save one life, somebody from suffering in silence, then that’s a good thing because we can only grow from this.’