Elliot was a boarder at a Catholic school run by the Marist Fathers and as a good student rarely came in for punishment. However, in the 1960s during Year 7, he was corrected for writing the number ‘4’ incorrectly and summoned to the office of Father Brookes after ‘lights out’. Brookes told Elliot to drop his pants and started hitting him across the buttocks, stopping only when Elliot pretended to cry.
‘He had this horrible smelly breath and he got me on the bed and cuddled up to me, and I thought, “This is wrong”, and “I have to get out”. Later on I thought some boys wouldn’t have been quite as confident as I was and who knows what happened to them?’
Elliot told the Commissioner there was a culture of paedophilia among priests at the school and boys warned each other about who to avoid. Father Crane was one they tried to steer clear of. He’d appointed himself as the school’s sex education expert and one day Elliot unwittingly found himself in the confessional box with Crane hearing his confession. Crane asked Elliot if he’d had his ‘sex lecture’ yet. When Elliot replied he hadn’t, Crane told him to come to his room that night.
When Elliot arrived, Crane locked the door and started drawing pictures of male and female genitalia. ‘He said, “Just to make sure everything’s all right down there, drop your pants”. Then he said, “Just to make sure everything’s working, can you get an erection?” He had magazines of a naked woman.’ Elliot backed away and started remonstrating as Crane came towards him.
‘It almost got to fondling. It didn’t quite get to that with me because I bailed out and I can remember he scrambled to unlock the door and out I went.’
In later years, Elliot occupied a senior position in community services and came to hear many ex-students’ stories of abuse by Marist priests. At least four priests – not including Crane and Brookes – had been charged and jailed for child sex offences, but there’d never been any apology or acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the Catholic Church.
Recently, Elliot’s brother disclosed he’d been sexually abused in Year 6 by the principal, Father Williams. ‘There was clearly a culture of paedophilia and this went on, not just for a couple of years, it went on for decades … The tentacles of these priests reached across the coast. They were tied up closely with parishes and it’s unfathomable that it was not known in the Catholic Church hierarchy. Why were they transferred? What happened to them?’
Part of the reason, Elliot thought, was because there was no openness and transparency, a situation that continued today. ‘You need to acknowledge the past before you can have a future, and that hasn’t happened. These guys have snuck under the radar ... but sooner or later the past will catch up with them. And if we don’t learn from the past what sort of future have we got? They need to be open and transparent about what happened. Only then can they move on.’
Elliot said that as a boy he hadn’t disclosed to anyone what Brookes and Crane had done.
‘What I can’t understand is why I didn’t tell my father. That’s the baffling thing for me, and I still don’t know. Dad was a very strict Catholic so there was probably the thought that he wouldn’t have believed us. Mum would have though.’
He was concerned, he said, that Marist Fathers still had a strong missionary presence overseas, and knew of at least one offender who, after his release from jail, had been posted to Africa.
Elliot thought there was little oversight generally of Australian organisations based overseas, particularly considering the work they did with vulnerable people.
‘We will resolve these issues in Australia eventually I think, but what’s happening in less-developed countries is unfortunately, I think there are organisations putting themselves in situations where exactly the same thing’s happening. You’ve got groups masquerading under the aid umbrella, and I would love to get amongst some of them and see what they’re actually doing. Are they missionaries or what are they doing? It’s another day, but I think we are opening ourselves up to having to do this in all those countries as well.’