‘I’m ruthlessly determined not to let it destroy my life.’
Finbar was abused by Brother Bennett for two years at a Christian Brothers’ school in regional Victoria. Just over 20 years later he found out that many other boys, including his brother, were also abused. He told the Commissioner that out of six religious teachers in the school, four were sexual abusers, and though he was warned about two of the men, no one told him about Bennett.
Finbar was nine years old in the 1970s when the abuse by Brother Bennett started. ‘The first time it happened to me I was taken to the sick bay and it happened and I didn’t know what was going on, and by the time I did, it was out of control.’
Finbar told the Commissioner that Bennett was close to his family and had stayed on their property and gone with them on a caravan holiday. He assaulted Finbar and his brother on these occasions as well as at school.
In the 1990s, Finbar and his brother disclosed the abuse to each other and made reports to police. They were positive about the response of the police. ‘They got onto it quick, they got him charged very quick and he indicated he would plead guilty very quickly, but then the court process became one of delay, adjournment, adjournment, adjournment, till the last adjournment the judge actually said … there would no more adjournments.’
In court, six witnesses attested to Bennett’s good character, but nothing was heard from the victims. The victim impact statements that were meant to be read out were instead considered privately by the judge. Eventually, Bennett was convicted of child sexual offences and given a two-year suspended sentence. During the court hearing, it emerged that Bennett had been referred to a Catholic Church psychologist in the early 1970s after sexually abusing a boy, but there’d be no further action taken afterwards to supervise Bennett or restrict his access to children.
After his disappointment with the court process, Finbar sought resolution with the Christian Brothers. He approached the order’s provincial who seemed open and supportive and met Finbar to apologise. ‘I think he owed an apology – or the Christian Brothers owed an apology – to Mum and Dad, because they’d made great sacrifices to a school that wasn’t in our home town so he did that.’
Finbar negotiated a settlement which included a payment of $26,000 each to him and his brother. He thought the amount ‘paltry’ but didn’t want to put his family through any more stress. They also signed a confidentiality agreement. ‘Part of the agreement was that they would do some things: they would keep in contact with us; they would organise the principal who was Bennett’s boss when he came back from [seeing the psychologist] to come and see us and apologise to us, and we’d have a discussion with him. And they didn’t do those two things. No follow-up and the two things they’d agreed they’d do, they didn’t do.’
Finbar’s parents were devastated when they learned of the abuse. His mother, Marj, accompanied Finbar to his private session. ‘We feel so guilty that we sent our kids into that school’, she said. ‘We had so much trust in the Church. We feel abandoned by the Church in a lot of ways because of the attitude of, well, religious people … Like I pleaded, I went to see a priest after we knew about the boys and spoke to him and he was going to follow up, he was going to contact Finbar. We never heard anything. Lots of broken promises, so we feel, and I think it’s difficult having been reared the way we were within a Catholic community … to be so deserted by the Church.
‘And I don’t blame all of them, I know there are still some good people in it, but we were deserted and I suppose the hardest thing for us to deal with is a lot of this could have stopped if when they first knew about it – it’s the same with the way they’ve moved priests around – if they hadn’t done that there wouldn’t be all the harm that there is now. It’s the harm to our family but also to other people.’
Finbar told the Commissioner that he’s now involved with a support group that was initiated in response to sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. He and others go into communities and talk about the effects of abuse and they support parents and victims, work he thought that the Catholic Church should be doing.
‘I’d like to see the Church held to account’, Finbar said. When [they] said [the bishop] destroyed documents and moved perpetrators around, I don’t care whether he’s 65, 75, or 95, I would like to see him charged. Where do we get accountability? It doesn’t matter how old the Nazi perpetrators are, right, they’re charged. I would like to see the same thing … I think the Church should tell the full story and be honest and be forced to tell the full story. Where they’ve sent documents back to Rome, they have to be gotten back …
‘I think they should look at the compensation side for victims. They should give them fair-dinkum compensation and realise that they have destroyed people’s lives. And I think they should compensate victims’ families as well. Parents made huge sacrifices to send some of their kids to these schools … Nothing will compensate us for what we’ve gone through, but I don’t see how you get them to acknowledge it other than compensation.’