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Elsworth's story

In the 1960s Elsworth was sent to a Jesuit-run Catholic boys’ school in Victoria that was ‘absolutely brutal’.

Unlike many other students there, Elsworth’s father was neither a Catholic nor an old boy. Begged by Elsworth to ‘take him out’, he had no comprehension of the reality of being taught by ‘sadistic’ Brothers and priests. His father’s approach was to ‘put up with it’ – not knowing what was actually going on’.

Elsworth told the Commissioner that there were many episodes of physical abuse and humiliation by Brothers and priests at the school.

It was a time when parents thought ‘These were nuns and priests’, and it must be good for kids to be punished. ‘It was the 60s. We were still as a society making the transition from a very dark, Dickensian world into a more enlightened place.’

Speaking as both survivor and whistleblower, Elsworth named three perpetrators of physical and sexual abuse at his school – Father Stinger, Father Mulcahy and Brother Wagner – who he was ‘sure will match up with all of your files’. Former boarders had told him Father Mulcahy ‘felt them up’ in their dormitories.

He knows students have since taken their own lives, including a boy aged 11. Elsworth and the boy’s older brother both believe this was connected to the boy’s experiences at school.

Currently there are five in Elsworth’s survivors’ support network. There are others ‘who are too fearful’ to come forward. ‘Many, many people’ are still suffering in their own way, he believes.

‘Even the lay teaches were in on the sadistic, brutal act.’ The form master was ‘the biggest brute of all … They all had their own straps’.

Elsworth reflected, ‘What are you going to do in that situation psychologically? … You’re going to rebel against the authority. You can have all the issues that have been well documented – drug abuse, alcohol abuse, problems with relationships … and I’ve had to deal with all of those things’.

In his final year of school, Elsworth ‘rebelled’ and ‘just walked out of the place never to come back’. He moved interstate and ‘was lost for quite some time’, regarded by his family ‘as the black sheep’. He ‘missed out’ much later when the family business, from which he was excluded, was sold.

He finished his schooling by correspondence and later completed postgraduate tertiary studies.

When his marriage broke up ‘I thought I was bad and that I had problems’ but when he first saw a psychologist in his 30s and recounted not only the school abuse, but other child sexual abuse, he became aware that the blame was not with him.

For several years Elsworth and others have been working behind the scenes of several public inquiries into child sexual abuse, ‘picking up the pieces’. This includes finding funds to feed and accommodate men from his school who are not coping with life.

Elsworth believes that the school may be finally coming ‘to the table’ to ‘start addressing [historical child sex abuse] rather than covering up and bringing in [its] lawyers’.

He wants to establish a ‘contact point’ at the school so other survivors can be directed from there to proposed healing centres, which would include post-traumatic stress disorder workshops.

‘But it’s a lifelong process that needs to occur – of support, of deprogramming, of healing … And [the school] can do something constructive to set up these centres ... They [would be] run independently but it’s a place where people actually can go to recover.’

Elsworth is aware he needs to be careful of vicarious trauma from those he has been helping, and thinks it is time to have a ‘debrief’ with his psychologist.

He is wary of making a compensation claim. Till now it has been useful in his work with others to avoid any charge that he’s only doing it for an increased pay out. He feels he should at least be recompensed for ‘many, many sessions of psychology and therapy that my dear old mum paid for because of their abuse’ and also ‘for the education I didn’t receive’.

The ‘important thing’ to recognise, Elsworth stressed, is the ‘daily’ and ‘lifelong psychological damage’ caused by child sex abuse.

‘I still see photographic images of these priests staring at me inappropriately when I’m naked in the shower. I still have a photographic memory each day of their brutal hateful faces as they belted the crap out of me ... it affects the whole family.’

The confessional and its role in allowing priests to be freed from guilt so they can be moved around and sin again and again, is also a huge issue.

‘It’s a place where crime’s concealed’, Elsworth told the Commissioner. ‘That’s a big thing that has to be, like, dismantled. Truly. How on earth that manages to be a place where still today where crime is concealed, in the name of God.’

While older clergy may be dead, ‘the institutions and the Church that covered it up for years and enabled it to happen certainly, certainly can be held to account and should be’.

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