Hugo’s story begins in Perth in the 1970s when he was 10 years old. Every morning his dad dropped him off at the local Church where Hugo served as an altar boy.
‘While I was in the change room thing, Father John Marshal would come in, make me put my hand down his pants, play with his penis, blah-blah-blah. And then say the mass, come back in, get undressed, do the same thing.’
On a few occasions Father Marshal tried to force Hugo to give him oral sex, but Hugo resisted. The abuse went on for two or three months. Father Marshal told him to keep it secret, and Hugo obeyed.
Two years later Hugo was sent to a Catholic boarding school. One night, shortly after he arrived, he witnessed the dorm master, Brother Franks, molesting a student. Hugo packed up his gear and walked out.
Hugo’s parents picked him up later that evening and took him back to the school the next day. On the way he told them what Brother Franks had done to the boy. Hugo’s parents then raised the issue with the school’s headmaster, and Hugo got his first glimpse of how some institutions deal with allegations of child sexual abuse.
‘He said to my parents, “Thank you Mr and Mrs McAlister for coming along. We’ll definitely look into this and report back to you. Your son will not be chastised, there will be no consequences for his actions”. As soon as they got in the car and drove out – Bang. Copped six. Got detention for the rest of the month.’
No action was taken against Brother Franks.
This wasn’t quite the final straw for Hugo. That came a while later when the school organised an outing for him and some other boys. When the day came, the boys were picked up by their chaperones. To Hugo’s horror, one of the chaperones turned out to be Father Marshal. At the end of the day Marshal and the other men took the boys back to their unit. After that, Hugo knew he had to escape from the school.
‘At the end of first term I went home and I said to Mum and Dad, “I don’t care what you do, I am not going back to that school under any circumstance”.’
He saw out the rest of his schooling at the local state high school. By this stage his once outstanding academic and sporting abilities had nosedived. He had begun smoking pot. From pot he moved onto harder drugs, commencing a lifelong struggle with substance abuse.
A trip abroad in the late 90s prompted some acute self-reflection and Hugo began to look for the deeper reasons for his drug addiction. Identifying the sexual abuse as a key factor, he decided to do something about it and set up a meeting with the local bishop, Philip Coogan.
Hugo told his story and was pleased, at first, with Bishop Coogan’s reaction. Coogan asked Hugo what he wanted and Hugo replied that he would like Father Marshal removed from his post and he would like to meet with him face to face. Both requests were actioned by Bishop Coogan.
The meeting with Father Marshal did not go well. Hugo attended with his mother and a Christian pastor named Jim Hadley. From the start, Marshal denied everything. After 45 minutes Hugo decided that the meeting was pointless and left.
An hour and a half later, Father Marshal phoned up Hugo’s friend, Pastor Jim Hadley.
‘[He] said, “Can you please ring Hugo. I want to speak to him on the phone face to face and apologise to him because I was gagged by Tony Norris and Bishop Coogan”.’
Hugo rejected the apology and went to the police. This was a bold move for him, as by now he’d had several convictions for drug-related crimes and his relationship with the police was hostile and fraught with suspicion. But for the sake of bringing Father Marshal to justice, he was willing to leave the past in the past. The police were not so generous.
‘I said I want to make a complaint about John Marshal. They said to me, “Well, you tell us one of your drug dealers and we’ll do something about it”. So I just got up and walked out.’
Meanwhile, the Church authorities got wind of a potential investigation into Father Marshal’s behaviour and shipped him out of the country. As far as Hugo knows, Father Marshal is now either dead or living overseas.
Since his encounter with the police, Hugo has tried to put the matter behind him and get on with his life. While he accepts that ‘you never get past it’, he is proud to say that he has gotten a lot better at managing his trauma.
‘I’ve been clean of opiates, bar one minor hiccup two years ago. Been clean for 12 years, something like that. It’s not something I want to go back to.’