Jerald and Addie told the Commissioner they wanted people to know how difficult it had been for their son, Tom, to get restorative justice from the Catholic Church after he was abused as a child in the 1980s. Tom disclosed to his parents in the 2000s that he’d been sexually abused as an 11-year-old by two Christian Brothers in his school in Victoria.
‘When we look back, he’d given us hints’, Jerald said. ‘If anyone was talking about the Christian Brothers, he’d say, “All they do is fuck you up the arse”. That’s not exactly a nice description, but because we were good, holy Catholics, we’d say, “Don’t say that”, instead of taking the hint.’
Tom was raped by Brothers Wright and Byrne who were acting together. A third Christian Brother was present during one of the rapes but hadn’t been able ‘to get it up’. In the mid-2000s, thinking that the Catholic Church would be well-placed to deal with the matter, Jerald and Addie supported Tom in making an application for restitution through Towards Healing.
Tom met with two delegates of Towards Healing, one of whom was an ex-police officer, and was sent for a psychiatric assessment. The consulting psychiatrist reported that Tom’s account of the abuse and his description of his subsequent life accorded with him having been abused by Wright and Byrne. However, when the Catholic Church received the information, they sent Tom to a different psychiatrist who reported the abuse as ‘doubtful’. The second report was then accepted by assessors and Tom’s application dismissed.
A point of disagreement in negotiations with Towards Healing was that they didn’t believe the two Christian Brothers acted together. From the mid-1990s, the Catholic Church had been defending Wright against multiple charges of child sex-offences. The Church’s barristers always argued successfully for charges to be heard separately and Wright continued to deny his guilt. Through the decades, whenever another report of Wright’s offending became known, he was moved to a different parish.
When news of Wright’s offending first surfaced in the mid-1990s, Addie asked Tom whether Wright had abused him. Tom denied it.
By the early 2010s, nearly 30 separate charges were listed against Wright and he began to admit guilt. In plea deals he managed to have many of the charges downgraded. He pleaded guilty to sexually abusing Tom, and the charge indicated that he’d raped Tom in the company of another person.
In light of Wright’s guilty plea and subsequent imprisonment, Jerald and Addie assumed the Catholic Church would reconsider Tom’s application. The Church however refused, citing their continued disbelief that Brother Byrne had participated in the sexual abuse. Ten years later, despite continued representation and advocacy by Jerald, Addie and Tom, the Church hierarchy maintained this viewpoint.
‘Tom’s still being shafted by the Brothers, the system, Towards Healing, and nobody will listen to him when it comes to recompense’, Jerald said. ‘Wright pleaded guilty - to a lesser charge, but he still pleaded guilty. But Towards Healing still knocked Tom back.’
Addie said that hearing victim impact statements read out in court was heart-breaking. ‘They were terrible, every one of them the same: family relationship breakdowns, alcohol, drugs, attempted suicides, distrust of authority.’
In the week after Wright was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, Addie rang the mediator she’d met through Towards Healing. ‘I was sick of this pussyfooting use of “fiddling with children”. I wanted to talk about what happened. I said, “You need to hear what physically happened to my son”. He hung up on me. I never heard back from him. He didn’t want to hear it. I was probably using naughty words.’ She said she had no idea why she bothered but thought it important to let people know what happened.
Jerald said it would have cost the Catholic Church over a million dollars to defend Wright. Following the conviction, senior members of the Christian Brothers’ hierarchy offered to meet with the family for an apology. ‘We said unless you’ve got something to offer, forget it.’ The offer to meet was then withdrawn.
‘Words without action are meaningless,’ Jerald said. ‘If you’re going to make an apology, there has to be some kind of restitution, and if you’re not going to do that your apology is totally empty, there’s nothing to it.’
Jerald and Addie told the Commissioner that Tom was now pursuing a civil claim.
‘I don’t think we can really recover for ourselves the feelings that we’ve had unless we can see some sort of justice,’ Jerald said. ‘There’s nothing we can do. We just spew all this bile and words and everything. We take it out on each other too. We’re yelling at each other, not all the time, but over this sort of stuff. I don’t think there’s anything anybody can do for us that would help us other than through our son.’
Addie said she felt guilty that she used to pick up Wright and drive him to sporting and community events. ‘How do you get rid of that? How do you change any of it? How do you stop blaming yourself?’ She said something had been done to her beautiful boy. ‘We sent him to a Catholic school.’