Gunther’s parents migrated to Australia in the 1950s, and settled in a large town in regional Victoria. They had absolute trust in the Catholic Church, and sent their many children to Catholic schools in the area. ‘The Catholic Church was something to look up to and a level above us … Mum wanted me to be a priest.’
Gunther loved life when he was young. First and second grade at the infants’ school, which was run by nuns, was disciplined but fun. The next year he moved to the campus run by the Brothers, and Brother Philip was his third grade teacher.
School always finished at 3.30 but Gunther’s bus didn’t pick him up to go home until 4.15. Every day he had to walk across the road from the bus interchange to the church for afternoon tea with the Brothers. The Brothers cuddled and caressed him and it was on those afternoons that Brother Philip sexually abused him. Gunther remembers the smell of Brother Philip’s robe and the feeling that what he was doing to Gunther went beyond what was right.
Brother Philip was a friend of the family and often came to visit. ‘Mum thought that we were so lucky that someone of his esteem would take the time to visit us.’ Gunther believes the Brother was grooming all of them for his own ends.
Gunther feels lucky that he didn’t attend the school earlier on when Brothers, rather than lay teachers, still taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades. He thinks that lots of complaints about the school had already been made, and that a clean-up of religious staff had started.
For much of his life, Gunther justified Brother Philip’s behavior by seeing himself as lucky. He buried a lot of memories from those afternoons, which he’s sure was a coping mechanism. ‘I chose to remember what suited me, I think.’
One night, while watching a television show, a phrase spoken by Cardinal Pell set something off in Gunther’s head.
‘He used the wording, “he would prepare the boys” and the audience moaned … I just couldn’t believe he said it. From that point he lost me and I know he lost the audience. All of a sudden he seemed contemptuous to me. And when the audience moaned, he didn’t flinch.’
After the show, Gunther surfed the net. When he read that Brother Philip had been reported as a serial offender, doubts about his memory of what had happened at those afternoon teas disappeared altogether.
Gunther agreed with Cardinal Pell’s comment about the commencement of the Royal Commission – that ‘we’re not sure what we’re opening up here’. Gunther said that ‘as more and more things came out, I wasn’t okay’.
In part, this was because Gunther felt bad about an old school friend who had come forward years before about similar abuse, but who had been treated badly by the town.
Gunther came to the Royal Commission because of what he called the ‘mantra’ of the Commission: protecting children in the future. ‘That’s my number one reason for being here. If I can be positive and share some info that in the future might be of some help, well that’s got to be a good thing.’
‘Paedophilia is an illness … You can forgive someone with an illness but you can’t forgive a corporation called the Catholic Church for reacting the way they did to those illnesses. If we don’t bring them into account now, what’s to stop it happening in the future? That’s the way I look at it.’
‘When I hear one of the victims say that the bishop … said, “You’ll be dead in 40 years and the Catholic Church will still be here in a thousand” - excuse me, but fuck you.’
Gunther would like to see an annual commemoration day held in his home town for the victims of child sexual abuse. He recommended that the day be on the last Sunday of National Children’s Week.