‘Croft was simply an evil man. I think he should have been punished more and so there’s a personal aspect to it. But I’m angrier with the Christian Brothers and I’m angrier with the Catholic Church that has failed in its responsibility to have an ethical education system that protects children.’
Edmund entered the Catholic education system in the mid-1960s after his parents enrolled him at a Christian Brothers school in Victoria. He has fond memories of his first two years at the school when he could wander safely through the playground and enjoy his classes, achieving top marks.
That all changed when Edmund entered Year 6 to find that a newcomer, Brother Croft, had been appointed principal of the school.
‘He changed the tone of the school … The Brothers also, particularly after Croft got there, were very violent to us, with corporal punishment and all that. I just wanted to roll up and crawl up and say, “Don’t hit me, don’t touch me”. You couldn’t.’
Edmund, a naturally timid boy, became more so under the Brothers’ strap. Timidity alone was probably enough to make him a target for Brother Croft’s attentions, but there was another factor that conspired against him. For the sake of convenience his father had arranged to pick him up from school every day at about five o’clock. This meant that Edmund spent a good while each afternoon walking the grounds alone.
During one of these afternoon walks, Brother Croft approached him. ‘He said that he wanted to talk to me, and took me into his office. And essentially he wanted to talk about puberty and sex education, but that led to him telling me to take down my pants, and fondled me. And I was frightened.’
The first incident ended there. The second happened a few days later.
‘He stopped me in the yard and said that he wanted to see me. Virtually the same thing happened except the second time involved digital penetration. He then approached me another time in the yard, it was during school hours. And I said to him that, “No I don’t want to come with you”. And he didn’t approach me again after that.’
From that time on, Edmund continued to achieve well at school but his success only masked the pain and confusion underneath. He was angry, often speaking out vehemently against any injustice he saw. He suffered from crippling migraines and intense periods of anxiety that gave way to depression. These afflictions persisted as Edmund got older. He tries to view them from a broad perspective.
‘I thank God that I don’t suffer from chronic depression. I don’t know how anyone survives that. For me it’s specific to particular times and it’s always associated with reliving these experiences.’
To escape the bad memories, Edmund distracted himself with study and work, excelling professionally and once again masking his trauma with success. He even started providing support to other survivors of sexual abuse. Eventually, in the mid-2000s, the load got too heavy. He told the Commissioner:
‘I couldn’t separate myself from memories of the incidents and the sort of psychological responses that I’ve described to you. I didn’t sleep well for 18 months.’
He left his job and took six months off. Eventually, with the help of his wife, who was ‘extraordinary during this time’, Edmund managed to lift himself back to a functioning level.
‘I’m not going to say that my life has been, you know, a disaster, that there’s only been unhappiness. Far from it. But I think it’s been the stability of that relationship and other people whom I care deeply about that enabled me to get through a lot of things.’
But Edmund was convinced that he could never completely overcome the anxieties associated with the abuse. So when he felt strong enough, he made a deliberate choice to spare his wife further heartache.
‘I got to a point where I, at some level of consciousness, decided I could no longer place that pressure upon her and that I needed to manage this myself and go back to what I’ve always done and hold it in and not telling people and managing. And somehow that has led me back to a point where I can manage.’
As for Brother Croft, he was convicted of several offences against children but escaped a jail sentence. Edmund did what he could to contribute to the case, completing a statement for police. For him, however, the real problem is not Croft – it’s the Church.
Several years ago Edmund tried to hold it to account through the Towards Healing process. It didn’t work. The Church offered him money but refused to make any written acknowledgement of its responsibility. In the end Edmund’s lawyer advised him that the Church was never going to budge on the issue and so Edmund settled the matter for about $50,000.
Though he has maintained his faith in Christianity, Edmund is now deeply suspicious of the Catholic Church.
‘At an intellectual level I have a concern, a worry, that the Catholic Church may not be incidentally evil but intrinsically so, in the sense that it is built so much on power structures which inevitably lead to abuse of power.’