Howard was born in England and his parents died when he was a baby. An uncle brought him to Australia and placed him in an orphanage run by nuns who took good care of him until he was eight years old and moved to a Catholic boys’ home in a suburb of Sydney.
Howard spoke with the Royal Commission and provided a written account of his sexual and physical abuse at the home, in the hope of protecting kids in the future.
Father Kelly, the only priest, was an extremely violent man. He would routinely whip Howard and the other boys with a strap. Kelly also carried a long stick with nails tacked into the end, which he would use on the boys. Fifty years later, Howard still has scars from this stick.
Father Kelly also sexually abused Howard at least twice a week.
‘This always happened in a special room adjoining the dormitory of the priests and Brothers. He used to try to touch my penis, or expose his own penis through his pants. On some occasions, Father Kelly would fondle my penis until it became erect then make me fondle his penis as well. He would then make me perform fellatio on him. I had no control over any of this. I could tell when Father Kelly was about to ejaculate, then I would withdraw to avoid getting semen in my mouth.
‘Father Kelly would also digitally penetrate my anus. I felt immense shame as a result of these events, particularly because I experienced an automatic sexual response.’
It wasn’t only Father Kelly who sexually abused the boys at the home. A number of religious staff worked there, and they ‘all took turns ... we were a smorgasbord for all of them’. He believes the lay staff knew what was happening to the boys, but did nothing to prevent it.
Brother Cassius would strip naked in front of the boys, and ‘stick our faces in his private bits, and make us perform vile acts on him’.
This Brother was a very violent man too, frequently striking Howard in the face, causing nose bleeds and black eyes. One time, he repeatedly threw Howard against a wall. Howard lost three teeth in this attack, but did not receive any dental treatment.
The boys never left the home or had any visitors. Howard ran away a couple of times, and was found by the police. ‘I tried to explain to police what was going on, but of course they didn’t believe me. So I got a kick in the you-know-what, sent back, and got dobbed in to the orphanage again, so I was in trouble again.’
As he got older, Howard started fighting back. He once stole Father Kelly’s strap, and kicked both the priest and Brother Cassius in the groin. The abuse lessened as he got stronger. It may have helped, too, that Howard was an excellent rugby league player. He thinks he received less severe abuse because of this, as the priests and Brothers ‘took a strong interest in the success of the team’.
Howard was adopted when he was 14, but he was rebellious and left two years later after an argument with his adoptive father. ‘The problem is, I’d probably still be with them, it was my fault because basically I was wrecked, ruined, because I was against authority.’ He stayed on good terms with the family and still speaks with them.
After this, he found work, got married and had children. Today he is in a loving and stable relationship and maintains a good connection with his children. Even so, ‘I find it difficult to trust people in meaningful relationships because the people who were supposed to care for me, in fact abused me’.
Howard considers himself ‘psychologically resistant’, but has repressed a lot of memories of the abuse. While he has had no major mental health concerns, he has a recurring nightmare ‘in which I am trapped in a room and I hear footsteps outside. The dread of the dream increases as the footsteps become louder’.
For years too, ‘I believed I was a bad person because of my sexual response to the abuse I suffered. This was confusing, and required some energy to let go of my guilt’.
Howard tried going to court about the abuse, but the matter was dismissed due to lack of evidence and documentation. ‘In other words, it never happened.’
Recently, Howard has made contact with another boy from the home, who was also abused there. It saddens him to see the effects the abuse had on his friend.
‘I’m a survivor, because there’s a lot of the boys have committed suicide, drugs, alcohol, the whole thing. And I’m a survivor.’