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Frankie's story

One of Frankie’s earliest memories is of the rough shack he lived in with his parents for a while in 1950s Melbourne. ‘It had no furniture, a mattress and a lot of beer bottles.’ Both his parents were heavy drinkers and Frankie was in and out of institutional care as an infant. He was eventually made a ward of the state.

Frankie told the Commissioner of being dropped off at a Catholic orphanage when he was little, ‘and my father saying, “I’ll come back and see you on the weekend”. Never saw him for years and years.’

When he turned nine, Frankie was placed in an orphanage run by the Christian Brothers in Melbourne. He was subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse for the next decade.

Frankie believes the priests and Brothers put in charge of the children there were deeply unsuited to the role. ‘Like a vampire in charge of the blood bank.’

Frankie was abused across the years by several Brothers at the orphanage. On three occasions, Brother O’Neill accosted Frankie after his shower and made him bend over for an ‘inspection’. O’Neill would digitally penetrate Frankie. Brother Leeder would visit Frankie while he was in bed and fondle his genitals. Frankie was also forced to touch Leeder’s penis.

As Frankie approached puberty, the principal of the orphanage, Brother O’Lachlan, began giving him ‘sex education’ instruction. O’Lachlan asked Frankie about his masturbation habits and forced him to remove his clothes. O’Lachlan then assaulted Frankie and forced him into reciprocal sex acts. This abuse was repeated regularly.

Frankie tried to report the abuse to a priest, Father Duncan. He was called a liar and was given a belting by Brother O’Lachlan. ‘I tried telling – I got the bejesus beaten out of me.’

At 18 years old, he was ‘shown the door’ of the orphanage and left to fend for himself. ‘No money, nothing. Zero.’

‘No one provided any help in putting you into society. There was absolutely nothing. No wonder half the kids ended up in bloody jail.

‘I got drunk a lot … I had no coping skills at all.’

Frankie ‘bottled up’ his feelings and threw himself into work. He held a job with the public service for many years, and then switched to a career in the private sector. Frankie has enjoyed a successful marriage and has adult children now. But he admits he has had trust issues with adults all his life, especially with males. He believes he had trouble talking to his children and was emotionally distant.

‘I found it very hard to verbalise. I kept everything inside and it all comes out to play when I go to bed. I have bloody nightmares every night, just about. These people keep wandering in and out of these bloody dreams.’

He told almost no one about his sexual abuse for over four decades. Then, just a few years ago, an old friend organised a reunion lunch for several of the boys from the Christian Brothers orphanage. During the meal one of the men announced he had been abused by the brothers, and that he was negotiating with the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing program.

The announcement brought on a series of disclosures around the restaurant table.

‘There were 10 of us at this lunch and it turned out that seven of those 10 had been abused … Do the maths. It was horrendous. And no one spoke to each other about it.’

Frankie put himself through Towards Healing and hated the process. He was interviewed by a Church-appointed psychologist, whose eventual report was riddled with factual errors and sought to minimise the impacts of the abuse he suffered. ‘The only thing he wanted to know was if I was sexually penetrated. That’s all he wanted to know.’

The mediation meetings were also frustrating. Cash compensation was offered, but Frankie turned it down, ‘[because of] the attitude of the guy that was conducting it. It was just more of the same. “This is it and bugger off”, basically. I just got my back up and said, “I’m not going to take it”’.

He is now involved in his own legal action against the Catholic Church. He continues to have nightmares where he sees one of the Brothers coming through his bedroom door.

Frankie has tried some counselling. ‘I’ve spoken to a guy, yeah, a psychiatrist. It might have helped a bit. I don’t know, I really don’t know. It hasn’t hurt, but I don’t know how much it’s helped. Because it still goes on …

‘It’s exhausting. I mean really exhausting.’

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