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Ethan Thomas's story

‘I’m not actually crying for me. There are tens and tens of people I know that are fucked, their lives have actually been a mess. And this whole thing is only the tip of the iceberg.’

Ethan had already heard rumours about Brother Lionel and Brother Corban before beginning at the Christian Brothers boys’ school they both taught at in regional Victoria.

In the early 1970s, when Ethan was in Grade 3, he started at the school. Brother Lionel was ‘eccentric’ and his behaviour changed quickly during lessons. One minute he would hit the children for giving wrong answers, ‘and then he’d get you on his knee and be kissing you and carrying on, and hugging you, that’s after he belted ya. This happened with everyone’.

Every afternoon when the boys left the class ‘we had to line up and we had to kiss him before he let us out. And if you tried to escape, if you tried to sneak out, you got a belting’.

Ethan told his mum about the kissing. ‘I said “Brother Lionel makes us kiss him and that”. She said “If you lie again your father’s going to give you a belting”.’ Even when, many years later, reports of sexual abuse at the school surfaced, and he raised this, his mother would not discuss the matter. He feels this is ‘pretty sad’ on her part.

Lionel also took the boys on hikes, marching military-style with the captain at the front. If a boy could not name a particular plant or rock, another child would have to whip him. One time at a school picnic Lionel made the boys go swimming naked while he sat and watched them. ‘The [other] teachers would have known about that. The whole society knew he was a nutcase, and we had to kiss him and all that crap.’

Brother Corban had built a small soundproof room at the back of his classroom. One day after class Ethan forgot his jumper and went back into the classroom to get it. He heard noises from the small room and pulled back the curtain to see Corban sexually abusing a boy from his class.

Ethan believes a friend’s father reported some of what had happened at the school to a high-ranking Church official, and ‘beat the crap out of him’ when he denied it.

Many of the boys Ethan knew at the school were sexually abused, and a number have died by suicide. Ethan himself has ‘always wished I was dead’. Although he now has a good GP and psychologist and takes antidepressants, he doesn’t find counselling very helpful.

Ethan no longer attends church and has lost his faith in humanity, but not in God. He thinks the abuse reported to the Royal Commission is only the tip of the iceberg, and feels like he should speak up about what happened to him as he owes it to all the other people who can’t share their experiences.

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