'The Church was my greatest passion when I was a child, and into my youth; I wanted to become a priest. But circumstances led me away from it.’
Growing up south of Sydney in the 1970s, Franky says he came from a 'loving family – but I went through a lot of abuse by my brother, who was 10 years older than me. It began as hard physical punishment, then became more sexual as I grew older … Of course, it turned out he was being abused himself, by the man who later switched to me’.
That man, Ralph Jones, would haunt Franky's life for decades. ‘It started when I was four … Jones was a friend of the neighbours and also my aunty. I was in the backyard. He’d been under the house with my brother Peter – as I got older that’s where some of the abuse happened – and when he came out, I didn't want him there, I screamed and carried on.
‘Jones picked me up and threw me back; I landed on a rock about 10 metres away and snapped my right femur.’
This would have been explained away as an accident. Jones seems to have been trusted in the neighbourhood to a remarkable extent – so much so that his regular presence in the grounds of the local boys’ primary school was not remarked upon.
‘He used to grab me [in] the toilets at the school. Put his hand over my mouth and my nose, put his penis in my mouth … A few times he pinched off my breathing until I passed out. I’d wake up slumped on the lavatory or the floor. Once I woke up and he was giving me mouth to mouth. I’d have preferred that he hadn’t. I’d rather have died.'
When Franky was about nine, Jones was hired to teach a personal development class at the school. 'He'd say, "Who's going to be today's model?" He'd get boys up the front and unbutton our clothes, ask us to pull our pants down. Point with his cane to our testicles and penises. He even showed us pornographic videos. That's when him photographing us started to happen as well.'
Then there was a Marist priest, Father Marshall, who took advantage of Franky in the rectory. 'He was one of my teachers. I looked up to him, I thought he was the world. We'd come up to his rectory and talk about his experiences in Africa with exorcism. It was everything that set my mind ablaze, that I loved to hear about.
'He introduced me to marijuana at the age of 13. He smoked bongs with me and other kids, he'd offer you a drink …
'I'd doze off and wake up with my pants pulled down, my legs pushed up towards my chest and a wetness on the bed from where he'd ejaculated.'
The attacks continued until Franky left high school. 'He ended up doing it with other boys present when I was around age 14, in the Year 12 common room … I was held down by a Year 11 student on a table and I was raped by Father Marshall, by another student, and by Ralph Jones.'
A couple of decades later, Marshall was imprisoned for several underage sex offences.
Franky had no one to confide in. 'Mum never really handled this sort of thing. She was raped by her father up until the age of 21, she couldn't deal with anything to do with abuse. If I told her, she'd slap me a couple of times, call me dirty and tell me just to stay away from them.'
In Year 7, auditions were held for altar boy positions. 'I got called back to speak with Father Martini. We sat down opposite each other, and he started running his hands across my legs and across my groin. He unbuttoned my shirt, told me not to be afraid of the body – he said things about how Adam and Eve were naked before sin had come into the garden, and I was not to be scared.
'Then he stood, lifted his robe and pulled my head towards him to make me perform oral sex.'
In later years, this priest was also jailed for child sex offences.
Meanwhile, Jones was still regularly attacking Franky. On several occasions the boy was pimped out to two prominent local politicians – "They were really vicious" – and one weekend he drove Franky to Sydney, left him at a famous gay pick-up point and told him, "Come back with $50" … When I didn't come back with the money, he slapped me around and threatened he'd make my sister prostitute herself.'
Franky's adult life has been erratic: drugs and prison have featured prominently. 'Only thing that kept me going for many years was knowing I could kill myself. Knowing I could end it was the only happiness I had.'
Efforts to find assistance have been ineffective. When he went to a mental hospital, 'I just ended up being triaged in a ward, medicated for weeks, with no one to talk to'. Local police discouraged him from lodging a complaint, then one of them solicited a bribe to take action.
He has had no help from the Church either. 'Five or six years ago, I phoned up the local church, and told them, "I've gone through severe abuse, is there any form of help?"
'They hung up on me. But I persisted, and went and spoke to the priest: "Father, I need help, I have thoughts of going to kill these men." He told me to say one Hail Mary and forget about it.'