Dougal's story

Dougal thought it normal behaviour for Christian Brothers to fondle boys’ genitals. ‘You’d be doing your work and they’d come along and they’d slip their hand up your shorts’, he said. As an 11-year-old, he felt it was ‘pleasurable’ and it made him feel ‘a bit special’, so he thought there must not be anything wrong if the Brothers were doing it. ‘I accepted it. I thought this is par for the course.’

In the 1940s, Dougal was in Grade 5 at a Christian Brothers College in Victoria when he was sexually abused by two Brothers who’d regularly fondle boys’ genitals. As well as it happening to him, Dougal saw many other boys abused in the same way.

When Dougal was in Grade 6, a Christian Brother visited his parents and told them their son had a ‘vocation’ and should move to Sydney to board with the Christian Brothers. His mother refused permission. When he turned 18, Dougal entered a Jesuit seminary in Victoria and was ordained a priest several years later. He stayed for 10 years before leaving to get married.

Dougal told the Commissioner that he and others were ‘kept in a state of immaturity’ in the seminary. ‘I say to my wife, “I didn’t hit adolescence until I was 30”.’

Nineteen of Dougal’s contemporaries in the seminary were later convicted of child sexual abuse. ‘How many others are there? … If it is 19 out of 276 who have been convicted of child sexual abuse, an equal or greater number were in adult consensual relations. This whole thing has just got to be blown open. The Vatican won’t. If your Royal Commission tries to, the bishops will come down and give you hell. I don’t know what you can do, but the first thing is to stand up to the Vatican and say, “You can’t be dictating this sort of canon law policy to us”.’

After he’d left the priesthood, Dougal worked with community groups advocating for those who’d been sexually abused as children by clergy. He also remained friendly with some clergy members and was alarmed by their response to reports of abuse. Many of them minimised it and one priest told him that he’d been to see 55 parents of children who’d been sexually abused in a diocese, and that he’d ‘fixed it up, it’s the end of the matter’. Dougal however, knew the parents were furious and their wishes for acknowledgement and apology hadn’t been met. They felt like they were fighting the Catholic Church’s lawyers and insurance company every step of the way. In one case the bishop had offered $50,000 to someone with the comment that if the person didn’t like it they could take the Church to court ‘and see how you go’.

Dougal said he wasn’t confident senior members of the Catholic Church understood child sexual abuse and its impact. The Truth, Justice and Healing Council set up to coordinate the Catholic Church’s response to the Royal Commission and propose reforms reported to the Bishops’ Council, Dougal said, and it was limited in what it could recommend. ‘[The bishop] doesn’t know how to give people independence.’

Although the Brothers who’d abused him were dead, Dougal wanted it formally recorded and he’d reported the abuse to Victoria Police and to the Victorian Inquiry.

He told the Commissioner that he was sure there was a system of moving offending priests and Brothers around. He was in London once when he happened to see a priest he knew was wanted by Victoria Police in relation to child sexual assault allegations. Dougal went to the local English police and told them there was ‘a publicly known paedophile priest living here’, but he was told Victoria Police didn’t have the resources to extradite the man. ‘[The Church] was giving him his pension. They knew all about it. They knew where he was. If that’s not collusion and vicarious liability, I don’t know what is.’

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