‘I very rarely darken the door of a church these days ... I went through such a period of hate for the Church. So I’d only turn up at weddings and funerals, and then I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.’
When his father passed away, Hale was very young. As he grew up his mother had to get full-time work, so he became a boarder at a Catholic school in Tasmania in the mid-1960s.
‘I hated it, being away from home, but it was just how it was.’
Hale described the school dormitories as ‘very prison-like‘, with harsh discipline and physical abuse by the priests and Brothers. ‘If they were to do today what they did to us they’d be in jail tomorrow. For sure.’
He also recalled a young trainee priest who would watch the boys in the showers. At the time of the Royal Commission, that priest was in jail for child sex offences.
Hale’s mother didn’t live too far from the school, and they had a routine where she would take him out of the dormitory every fortnight.
‘I remember, weekends I was to go home, I’d sit on the edge of the bed till eight or nine o’clock and the priest’d say, “I don’t think your mum’s coming today”. Because she was out partying, she’d forget to come and pick you up.’
Around the age of nine Hale became aware of Father Fenterman, one of the older priests at the school. Fenterman would make the boys sweep and clean up after class, then take them into his office and give them chocolates. ‘And then it started to happen a few times with him, yeah.
‘If it wasn’t his room he’d get you in, he’d get you at the back of the church when you were getting ready, training to be altar boys. He’d help you get dressed and he would touch you all over and things like that ... kiss you on the forehead, kiss you on the neck …
‘He’d say, “This is just, you know, we’re playing”. I just remember sort of thinking, “No, this is not playing”, but I didn’t know what it was. I knew it was something wrong that we shouldn’t be doing. But he would do it and when sort of he’d finish he’d give you a kiss on the forehead and say, “This is just for us. We don’t say anything”. And of course I never did.’
Sometime later Hale did try to tell his grandmother about Fenterman, but she just ‘brushed it aside’.
‘She was the closest person in my life … I spent a lot of time with her. So when I brought this up and she just patted it over I thought, “Well, it can’t be that bad”. I was sort of confused, I suppose, I just left things. As I got older in life I realised such a devout Catholic she was, she wasn’t going to have anything said against the Church.’
Around the same time as the abuse by Fenterman was occurring, Hale became the target of the vice-principal, Father Jaston, a ‘violent, vindictive kind of man’.
‘How that started, he had to discipline me once … it was a long piece of leather, we used to call it “the blackjack”, and you got really disciplined with that. And I remember I was there in tears, crying, ‘cause my hands were just throbbing, and he would pull you closer … and things sort of happened after that.
‘He did that twice. And then the other occasions he’d just call me to his office to come and see him.’
Hale was sexually abused by Jaston for 18 months. ‘I was still there when he just sort of moved away from me. I tried to avoid him as much as I could, and then he was friendly with other, younger ones.
‘That scarred me probably more down the track than what Fenterman did … I bled once, when he’d finished with me … It was so painful ... I was very confused, very upset, and had no one to talk to.’
Hale finally managed to escape the priests at the end of Year 10, when his mother moved him to a state school. He said it took him a long time to adjust, but he was happy and just ‘soldiered on’.
However, the impact of the abuse has always been with him. ‘My marriage for 10 years was fine. And then I sort of think, because I didn’t want to stay close to anyone … [my wife] could never understand so I just broke away from her. We’re very good pals, we’re very good friends now, we’ve got kids, we’ve got grandchildren so our lives are pretty good. But I can’t be with her or anyone else.
‘It’s had some effect but to what extent I don’t know. I’m not going to tie it up with everything that sort of goes wrong in your life. You can’t.’
Hale hadn’t spoken about the abuse since his schooldays. But when he heard about the Royal Commission, he decided he was ready.
‘I listened to Julia Gillard. And then I listened to the likes of George Pell and I thought, “I’ve come across your type before”, and then I thought, “No, it’s time … If it doesn’t come out to help others, no one knows anything”. It’s an opportunity now.’
After contacting the Commission, he also decided to report Fenterman and Jaston. He said his experience with the police was positive and he was very happy to put the priests’ names on the record.
Hale has never sought compensation or an apology, and has never had counselling.
‘I thought, “You take it on the chin, you move on” ... if you drop your bundle or whatever there’s no one there to pick it up. And it’s you that’s got to go on. On your own. So you either make the best of it, or crumble. And I thought, “I’m not going to crumble. They’re not going to beat me”.’