Gianni and his family emigrated from Italy to Australia in the 1950s when Gianni was in his teens. The family were very traditional in their views and, as a devoted Roman Catholic, Gianni decided at the age of 15 that he wanted to become a priest.
In the 1960s Gianni was enrolled in a Marist Brothers college. While attending the college Gianni lived in the dormitory of a monastery, the same monastery where his father occasionally worked as a carpenter and his mother did voluntary work. He was one of 15 young novices of varying ages and ethnic backgrounds. The priest in charge of the novices was Father Stephen, and his office was just outside the boys’ dormitory.
Gianni would often see Stephen patrolling the dormitory at night. He told the Commissioner, ‘I could see in my tiny room the lighting open, and he would go up and down. The dormitory was dark at night. Up and down, maybe checking kids were asleep’. Gianni believes Stephen was prowling the dormitory, watching the boys as they slept.
On one occasion, Gianni was called into Stephen’s office. ‘One night I was called in his room and he asked me to pull my pants down. And he went to grab my private parts and I pulled back. And he said he was going to give me a talk on the facts of life.’
Gianni quickly returned to his room and was not bothered by Stephen again. Gianni believes that this abuse did not escalate because his parents were both alive and involved in the college, whereas many of the other novices were orphans. He never disclosed Stephen’s abuse and incidents of this nature were not discussed amongst the novices.
At the college, Gianni noted that the Brothers were often very cruel to the students. In particular, Peter would take delight in ridiculing Gianni and other students. ‘I used to feel terrible inside that a man of God could do that to a child.’
Gianni was frequently made an example of because of his strong Italian accent, and this constant bullying transformed the idealistic young Catholic boy into an angry and vengeful young man. ‘I was so embarrassed, I was humiliated. I promised myself when I grow up I’m gonna come and get you.’
Brother Peter was the boxing instructor at the College. Gianni told the Commissioner, ‘I learned from others that he always used to love seeing a kid being beaten up ‘cause he used to put a good boxer with an amateur one’.
After leaving school, Gianni trained hard at boxing, judo and karate with the intention of confronting Peter and ‘to get this bloke’. When he was ready, Gianni returned to the college but was told by the headmaster that Peter had moved interstate. Upon reflection, Gianni now realises it was probably for the best that Peter was nowhere to be found, ‘because if I had met up with him I would have smashed every bone in his body’.
After constant ridicule, abuse and harassment at the hands of the Brothers, Gianni’s commitment to Catholicism was destroyed. ‘It’s made me realise that there’s a lot of criminality in the Catholic Church. I left Catholicism, I left the Catholic Church.’
Gianni also gave up his dream of becoming a priest. Instead he has now been happily married for more than 45 years. However, as a result of his experience Gianni is uncomfortable being exposed in front of other people. ‘If I go to a public toilet I cannot pass water in front of others in the urinal, I’ve gotta go to my cubicle. If I go swimming, I gotta change not in front of anybody. It’s still with me.’
Before telling his story to the Commission, Gianni ‘never even told my wife, my parents, no one before’. It was only after an old friend spoke publically about his childhood experience of being sexually abused in an institution that Gianni found ‘the courage for me to come out’. He told the Commissioner, ‘Talk and discussing, it’s upsetting because it brings back memories that have been suppressed all these years and they’re still very fresh. I’ve still got these pictures in my mind.
‘When you get to this age and you learn about these things, that it’s not an isolated case what happened to me, worse things have happened to others. You think whether these people are going, because they are paedophiles, in that profession. Because it’s absolutely contrary to … love of God and love of neighbour and those principles. They do not hold, they don’t hold that, they don’t show it, they don’t act it.
‘These criminals under the name of God, they need to be punished. Because they’re not just ordinary people, they’re people that represent God.’