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Jack Nicholas's story

‘My relationship with my parents was not very loving as a child. My father was quite violent and I was fearful of him … My mother was very strict and was always angry … My father … would often tell me that I was useless, and I was always fearful of them both.’

Jack’s parents were not Catholic, but his uncle was, so when he offered to pay the fees, Jack was sent to a Marist Brothers high school in Sydney in the mid-1960s.

In Year 8 one of his teachers was Brother Theo, who was also in charge of discipline at the school. One Saturday, a few of the Brothers took some boys on an excursion to the beach. Brother Theo grabbed Jack and ‘I felt his erection pushing into my body from my groin to my chest as he rubbed me up and down against him’. Brother Theo did the same thing to a number of other boys.

‘There was talk amongst us kids about Brother Theo being sick, and to not go near him. Nothing further happened on this day. I remember feeling sick, and that it wasn’t right.’

Several weeks later, a letter was sent to parents about another beach excursion. ‘I didn’t want to go because I was scared of Brother Theo, but my father insisted that I go.’ This time, Brother Theo told Jack to follow him around some rocks, and he forced Jack to perform oral sex.

He then threatened Jack. ‘He said, “Don’t you tell anyone or you will be locked up. They won’t believe you. You have the mark of the devil in you and I need to get the devil out of you, and that’s how I have to do it”.’

Jack recalled thinking that he needed to go home and look in the mirror, to ‘see if I could see a mark of the devil’.

After the second incident, Jack tried to tell his mother. ‘I said to her, “That Brother tried to have sex with me”. My mother took no notice whatsoever and I ended up saying to her, “This guy tried to fuck me in my mouth”. My mother then washed my mouth out with Sunlight soap. I didn’t say any more to my mother.’

Brother Theo began ordering Jack to come to an office after school, where he forced Jack to again perform oral sex. After about three or four weeks, the abuse became rape. Jack began stuffing toilet paper in his underpants afterwards, because he thought his mother would be angry with him if she saw blood on his clothes.

Jack recalled that Brother Theo used to ‘love suffocating you … put his hand over your mouth and nose and you’d start to fight for air and you’d black out, and after a while you think you’re going to die’. The Brother would also, ‘stub his fingers in your eyes … to make you strip off, or he’d punch you in the ribs’.

Even though Jack screamed and yelled when Brother Theo was raping him, no one did anything to help. When he came out of the office other Brothers were still on the school grounds. ‘They’d say, “Look, we know what’s going on. He’s in charge, and we’re not”, because [he] was the discipline master at the school.’

Jack said, ‘I would describe [that year] as a year filled with terror. I remember feeling dirty and that nobody would believe me. [He] left me alone after that year … I would often see him around other boys … and they told me that Brother Theo was doing the same thing to them … One of these boys died a couple of years later and I think he committed suicide …’

During his remaining years at high school, Jack began to have anger issues. ‘I put my anger down to what Brother Theo did to me. I don’t ever remember being so angry before this happened. I tried to put what Brother Theo did to me at the back of my mind for years.’

Jack got married in his early 20s, and although he mentioned Brother Theo’s name quite often, he always denied that the Brother had abused him when his wife asked.

Jack began having severe mental health issues about two or three years ago, and after about 18 months, his wife persuaded him to seek help. It was then that he disclosed the sexual abuse to her and to the psychologist and psychiatrist who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

When Jack saw a newspaper article about a Brother Theo who had been accused of sexually abusing boys at a number of schools, he was curious to know if it was the same Brother who abused him.

Jack phoned Broken Rites, the organisation that exposes sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. They were unaware that Brother Theo had been teaching at Jack’s school. When he described the Brother, it was clear that it was the same man. It was then that Jack decided to go to the police.

A week or two before his private session at the Royal Commission, Jack gave evidence at a committal hearing for Brother Theo, as one of over 20 complainants.

Jack felt he had to tell his story because, ‘It was eating at me … It was just eating my soul. I used to think I had a hole right through me … I didn’t know anyone else from my school … [would] come forward, but yeah, I just had to get it out there and I said, “To hell with it”. For richer or poorer, better or worse, you know, tell my story …’

Jack told the Commissioner, ‘Today I knew it’d be … it would bring back a lot of old memories, but I’m quite happy to do it … it’s not for myself really. It’s for a lot of guys that didn’t, won’t come forward, who are terrified … Some have died, suicided, yeah. To me, it’s for them I do it for as well’.

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