Fionn's story

Fionn was born in England to an Irish father and English mother. The family lived in a small village and Fionn went to a Catholic primary school, where he had a good experience.

In the late 1960s the family migrated to Australia, thinking there would be better opportunities here, but leaving behind the strong connections from their local community put greater stress on the family than expected and when Fionn was 14 his parents separated.

Fionn’s sister went to live with his mother, while Fionn and his younger brothers lived with their father in a Housing Commission flat in a rough area of Sydney. His father started drinking a lot and Fionn acted up and got into trouble with the police.

By the end of Year 10 he realised he would have to get out if he was to have any kind of future and he considered entering religious orders. Father Thomas, a priest at his Catholic school, offered to let him live with the Brothers in his order while he completed the HSC, to work out if religious life was what he wanted.

At the training novitiate, he was abused first by Father Thomas, and then by Brother Mitchell, who later became a priest.

Fionn said he was obviously vulnerable and Thomas took advantage of that. He told the Commissioner, ‘I was in an unfamiliar environment, and … that’s where he got in, that was the gap’.

Fionn said Thomas groomed him from the start, with offers of help. When Fionn was stressed about his studies, Thomas would comfort him. The physical closeness gradually progressed to abuse.

‘[There was] this incremental grooming and erosion of physical boundaries until at some point, in hindsight you think, “Well, where did it begin and at what point was that threshold crossed?” Before you knew it he was fully abusing you.’

Thomas continued to abuse Fionn over the two years he spent at the novitiate, with increasing severity as time went on. Alongside this, he was emotionally abusive and manipulative.

Mitchell abused Fionn on two occasions, when he took Fionn and another boy to a retreat house away from the monastery.

Fionn did not disclose the abuse because of Thomas’s very high standing in the Church at the time, and blamed himself instead, thinking there must be something wrong with him.

He moved out of the novitiate to finish his HSC, but became more religious and devout as a way of managing his stress. That led him back to the Church and he became a Brother himself, serving for 16 years within the same order. However he spent many years on high levels of medication for depression while he was a Brother, which he said left him unable to process what had happened to him.

In the early 1990s there was an inquiry into sexual abuse allegations within the Order but Fionn was not interviewed, he believes because he was the only victim who was under 18 at the time of the abuse and the Church was not willing for his story to come into the open. Fionn left after the inquiry revealed the extent of abuse within the Order. Thomas was subsequently convicted for sexual offences.

The Church had been paying for Fionn’s counselling, but in 1994 he made a complaint to police about Thomas. The Church then told him to sign a deed of release for a lump sum or get nothing further. He signed and received $50,000. Fionn had concerns about the legality of that release and went back to the Church. They offered him another $35,000 and he signed another deed of release, obliging him to withdraw any criminal complaints.

He wanted to go through Towards Healing but said he was denied the opportunity. Despite the deeds of release, he said the issues of criminal accountability, compensation and pastoral assistance are unresolved, as he has never been offered a formal settlement or apology. After so many years, he has been exasperated by his negotiations with the Church and the process of Towards Healing.

‘I’m an educated intelligent person, I’m not only a victim of sexual abuse, I was a Catholic religious Brother for 16 years, and … If I can’t work it out, then who can?’

For many years, Fionn suffered from the notion that he was somehow responsible for the abuse, even after years of therapy. That only changed very recently.

‘One of the products of engaging with the Royal Commission is that it’s finally dawned on me, you were a boy, you weren’t responsible for this. He was the adult. And he was more than an adult, he was a priest … he was a peer of cardinals and archbishops and you were a schoolboy.’

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