In the late 1950s, Isaac was nine and already aware of how much control the Marist Brothers exercised in his school in Sydney. ‘After third class, you graduated from the strap to the cane.’
By the time he got to Brother Felix’s class two years later, he was trying hard not to be noticed.
‘What people call grooming these days is what I now know happened’, Isaac said. ‘And the thing about Brother Felix is that he was none too discreet, in that he’d call you out to the front of the classroom when the class had been set work, and what would start then – he’d put his arm around you, and smile and talk to you in a friendly manner.
'It all seemed like a bit of privilege, because the other side of the situation was that he used the cane a lot. And he also used other means of intimidating and frightening people.
‘For example, I remember him coming into the classroom early in the year with a number of canes. He used to have a candle and he would meticulously burn the ends of the canes on the candles to give them a sloped-off end.
'After he’d finished working on his cane, he would whoosh it around and smack it up against his cassock. We were all supposed to be working and not watching what he was doing, but I think the intention was that everyone would be very aware that this was happening – and I, for one, was terrified.’
Isaac told the Commissioner that after a period of friendly gestures, Felix began playing with the buttons on Isaac's fly. ‘From that it progressed to his undoing the buttons, and getting his fingers inside my shorts and underwear, and fiddling around with my penis. And that happened on two or three occasions.’
One day, Felix suggested to Isaac that he play the part of a Mandarin woman in a school theatre performance. He took Isaac to the gymnasium and dressed him in a woman’s costume.
‘He told me that part of this performance would require some kissing and the person I got to kiss was Brother Felix. There was never going to be a play. There was never a play. I found that whole thing very hard to deal with and consequently difficult to reflect upon.
'My sense was that there was another boy there, and there was another Brother there. And the fact that there were these other people there intensified this mortification, embarrassment and humiliation I felt.’
In 1960, Felix left the school. ‘I remember being surprised that one moment he was there and the next moment he was gone’, Isaac said. When he asked another Brother what had happened, he was told Felix had gone to Adelaide.
The Brother who replaced Felix also meted out severe punishment. Even though Isaac hadn’t told anyone about the sexual abuse, he came to associate being ‘caned relentlessly’ by the new Brother with what Felix had done to him.
‘What I interpreted as happening after this was that his disappearance, and the treatment that I subsequently received, were in some way connected’, he said. ‘And I started to take on [that] I deserved this or I was to blame for what was happening.’
Isaac dreaded going to school each day as the punishments from other Brothers also got worse. They involved ‘being punched, being kicked and being slapped in the face’.
One day he said he wasn’t going to take the cane anymore, and this resulted in the headmaster yelling at him for an hour about everything that ‘was wrong’ with him and his family. The headmaster called in Isaac’s mother and yelled at her until she broke down crying.
Isaac said that he found it difficult in later life to deal with memories of the sexual abuse. His first marriage failed and he was prone to depression and anxiety. He moved all over Australia, never able to settle in one place.
‘I had two children as well and I was dragging them … It’s like, well something is really wrong. If I move from here, it’ll all of a sudden get better. I’ll meet new people, be in a new situation, get another job and my life will all of sudden blossom. But, as I know now at my age, everywhere I went, I was unfortunately there too.’
After reading media reports of Brother Felix’s arrest and conviction on numerous child sex offences, Isaac started drinking heavily. He separated from his second wife and noticed that his children were distancing themselves and their children from him. In 2009, he gave up drinking and made efforts through counselling to acknowledge the abuse and change his behaviour. He had since reunited with his wife and children.
In 2008, Felix was sentenced to six years in jail for child sex offences. In 2013, Isaac engaged a lawyer to pursue a civil claim against the Marist Brothers, and at the time of speaking with the Royal Commission was considering making a report to police.
Isaac had reflected on Felix’s background – an orphan who was taken in by the Brothers as a teenager – as a way of trying to understand whether there were mitigating factors to the abuse. But he decided there weren’t.
‘He had choices’, Isaac said. ‘And the man was enabled to continue making those choices because there were no bloody consequences of any note. So he goes on for 35 or 40 years. Now, did he injure me? Yes, he did. Is he accountable for that? Yes, he is.’