‘I was under the impression that these people were supposed to help me.’
Felix was born into a dysfunctional family. His parents were both violent alcoholics and often left their children at his grandparents’ house. Felix was sexually abused by his grandfather multiple times and his grandmother was violent. He is sure that his grandfather also abused his sister when she was a toddler.
In the late 1950s when he was six, he ran away from home a lot and the police often picked him up. He was labelled an uncontrollable child and placed into a Catholic orphanage in a suburb of Brisbane. He was devastated to be separated from his siblings, who stayed at home with his parents.
The orphanage was a vicious and frightening place. The nuns were emotionally abusive and punished every resident they could. He remembers seeing them forcing children to eat their own faeces if they had soiled their pants. Some children were locked in cupboards for days.
The orphanage had a presbytery on the grounds and Felix saw several priests walking around but didn’t come into direct contact with them, until he met Father Hayward. Hayward sexually abused Felix over a period of two years, forcing him to perform oral sex and raping him several times in the presbytery.
As a six-year-old, he didn’t understand what was happening. The abuse occurred so often that Felix believed it was normal to engage in sexual activity. He didn’t think it was wrong when the nuns started to abuse him as well and he remembers several nuns removing his clothes and fondling him before bed time.
When he was 11, Felix went home to his family. He remembers feeling lost and reserved, and didn’t want to talk to them much. One afternoon his brother stole a knife from a store and his parents threatened to send him to an institution. Felix didn’t want his brother to go through what he had, so he took the blame and was sent to a youth hospital for several months as punishment.
He wasn’t sexually abused at the youth hospital, but he was beaten by several staff members. He also believes he received electroconvulsive therapy during his time there.
Shortly after, he was sent to a De La Salle boys’ home in a different town, where he stayed for two years, hardly seeing his family. The home was violent: the Brothers used thick leather straps and canes often. They also forced boys to fight each other in boxing matches. He recalls the Brothers being so angry that they were ‘foaming at the mouth’.
Felix said there was no way out. He was either punished for being too quiet or punished for speaking up. He felt the only way to avoid beatings was to become a ‘teacher’s pet’ like some of the other boys. He thought he would leave the home sooner if he tried to be good. That’s how he came into contact with Brother Reginald.
As a reward for good behaviour, Reginald took Felix on several weekend trips. On the second trip, Reginald raped him. He raped him again on every trip away from the home from then on. After his 12th birthday, Felix asked Reginald to stop the abuse and Reginald did so.
When he was 15, Felix was dismissed from the home and moved back to his family. His time at home was short-lived because he couldn’t stand the violence. He met his wife at 16 and they moved in together, and over the years he worked in many different careers to support his family.
He has long struggled with the issue of violence and is ashamed that he was violent towards his wife in the past. With the benefit of hindsight, he can understand that his experiences in each of the institutions contributed to his ‘acceptance of beatings’.
Felix said he has spent a long time feeling ashamed, guilty and responsible for letting ‘the abuse happen’ and has had a hard time understanding that it wasn’t his fault.
Throughout his adulthood, he has had difficulty trusting others, especially males, hospital staff and people in authority. He has had suicidal thoughts and used marijuana for several decades. He continues to have flashbacks, is easily triggered and doesn’t socialise well. He has questioned his sexuality many times and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic dysthymic disorder.
In the early 2000s, he first disclosed the abuse to his psychiatrist while he was being treated for his domestic violence and a nervous breakdown. He then told his family about the abuse, but it took him several years for him to engage in the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process.
The experience was harrowing because he had to repeat his story so many times. He was originally offered $5,000 in compensation but ultimately received $30,000 from the Catholic Church. He also received an apology from the bishop but he believed it wasn’t meaningful. He later received compensation from the De La Salle Brothers of about $230,000, leaving him with $150,000 after legal fees.
‘The Catholic Church is in total denial, I’m sure they’re still in total denial.’