For more than 50 years Doug kept the abuse to himself. His session with the Commissioner was the first time he had ever spoken about it in detail.
Doug was 10 when his father died. His father’s final wish was for Doug to take care of his mother. Doug took the responsibility seriously, but he was only a small boy living in a tough situation where he witnessed his mother physically and sexually assaulted several times. When he stepped in to help he was knocked aside. Doug still feels guilty that he couldn’t do more to protect her.
Sometime later, Doug was sent to live at a Catholic boarding school in Tasmania. For the next five years he suffered a relentless onslaught of physical and sexual abuse. The main perpetrator was Father Eugene, a priest who sexually abused Doug almost every night. He also subjected Doug to ‘sadistic’ psychological torture, such as when he sent Doug to the shed to catch spiders, knowing that the boy was petrified of them.
Of all the abuses he suffered, Doug said that the one that ‘really sticks these days is the way they used material from the confessional’. Early in his stay he sat in confession with Father Eugene and told the priest some of the things that had happened to his mother. Later, Eugene used this information as part of his grooming and abuse, asking Doug questions about what had happened to his mother and whether he had erections.
Doug also described how the two priests who imposed discipline in the school often sexualised their punishments by caning the boys while they were naked.
Doug wrote letters to his grandfather, trying to report the abuse. Father Eugene intercepted Doug’s letters every time and tore them up in front of him.
One day Doug mentioned the abuse to his grandfather in person. He didn’t go into detail but did convey that he was being touched in a sexual way by one of the priests. His grandfather’s response was, ‘priests don’t do that’.
Around this time, Doug was also sexually abused by the school photographer while on a weekend trip to the man’s beach house. He later discovered that the photographer had been developing ‘candid photos taken by priests of boys in a variety of situations in the shower’.
The abuse lessened as Doug got older. He said that Father Eugene, ‘ultimately lost interest in me because he found someone else’.
Doug went on to build a respected career, holding a number of positions of high responsibility. Over the years he suffered bouts of depression but never sought treatment. He said he had no interest in reporting his abusers to police or pursuing legal action against the Church.
‘I just haven’t wanted to speak to anybody about it until I saw this is my real opportunity to say something ... Had the Royal Commission not been established, I would have gone to my grave with this.’
Ahead of his private session, Doug spoke to a counsellor who then helped him to start writing his story. Doug said he found the process worthwhile.
‘You kind of reflect on what a lot of the issues were. And they’re different now to what they appeared to be at the time … Putting it in writing has helped. At least it’s got it in a box.’