Geoffrey, his wife Sarah and their daughter came to speak to the Royal Commission about Geoffrey’s son, Simon.
After Geoffrey’s first marriage broke up, his ex-wife took their two sons, Simon and John, to live overseas. She couldn’t cope with raising them by herself and put them in a home from about the time that Simon was 10 years old.
A year later, in the late 1980s, Geoffrey brought Simon back to Australia. His second marriage was going well and he and his wife were expecting their first child. They felt they didn’t have the time to focus on Simon, so they placed him in a Catholic boarding school in regional New South Wales.
In the two years Simon was at the school, he was frequently sexually abused.
Sarah told the Commissioner, ‘When I think back on it, he [Father Mathews, the headmaster] groomed us incredibly. Like, “Yes, we will look after Simon”. We were being groomed big time by him and Father Richards … they did a big number on us’.
Simon’s life was very unsettled. He used to ‘jump school and come home’, a distance of hundreds of kilometres. Geoffrey would receive a phone call from the headmaster saying, ‘Simon’s not at school, we’re looking for him’. He never told his father or stepmother about the abuse.
Simon was expelled, then dropped out of the city Catholic school Geoffrey and Sarah enrolled him in. He then moved around Australia and later returned to his mother’s country for a number of years.
His intimate relationships appeared to work but would always dissolve. Sarah said she often wondered why.
‘All his relationships, all the way along the line … Why on earth are you struggling? What are you doing? Why are you insecure? Because you’ve got everything going for you. You’re as funny as they come, you’re really bright, you’re incredibly handsome, all the girls love you, they drop at your feet … [but] it wasn’t working.’
From the time of the abuse Simon used alcohol, and later, drugs, to mask the impact. With hindsight, Geoffrey knows that all the signs were there in his son’s behaviour.
‘I remember on one occasion he came in and grabbed my grog cabinet and took it down to the park and completely demolished it … now, you’d think, “Why did he go and have three showers a day? Why was he so fastidious about cleaning his teeth, keeping himself clean and tidy? … Why did he sleep at night with the lights on in front of the TV in an open space?”
‘We never thought that that might have happened.’
In recent years Geoffrey and Sarah became aware of what had happened to Simon. As he grew older he told a number of people including siblings, girlfriends and a friend who had also been abused.
Sarah said that Simon had told a girlfriend that he was ‘systematically targeted’ at the school. Every few days two clergy would take him from his room and ‘used to take turns’.
Simon returned to Australia to live with Geoffrey and Sarah. They helped him ‘off the drugs … off the alcohol … off cigarettes … he’d done very well … He was incredibly healthy but he was still struggling with going down the road to the supermarket because of paranoia’.
Simon began to see a psychiatrist, and his step-sister was with him when he disclosed the sexual abuse. The psychiatrist explained that there was a connection between it and his drug use. Simon spent the next 12 months working through his trauma, but he still found life difficult.
Just a few months before the family came to the Royal Commission, Simon took his own life.
Sarah said, ‘Simon’s life was this beautiful person who struggled with addictions of every sort … just to escape … how tragic’.
The two clergy who were overseeing Simon’s education have faced other child sexual abuse charges, and one has been sentenced. It now is clear to the family that Simon had probably been abused by these two men.
Geoffrey and Sarah feel incredible emotion about Simon’s life and how they might have intervened if only they had understood. Geoffrey’s belief systems have also been completely undermined by the betrayal of trust by the Church, the school and their inability to keep his son safe.
‘I was brought up a strict Catholic, I went a primary school, I went to a Christian Brothers secondary school and came across none of this in all my life, none of it … I never saw any of it in all my time … I feel utterly gutted by this.’