When Jess was nine years old, John Baker, a trainee priest and close friend of the family, babysat him one evening while his parents were at the races. Jess didn’t understand what was happening when Baker masturbated him, and later tried to do the same thing to his older brother.
His brother then told on him to their parents, and although Jess found that ‘very embarrassing’, at the time he didn’t think of disclosing what Baker had done to him.
Jess told the Commissioner that he also didn’t tell his parents about the later abuse by Brother Chris at his Marist Brothers school in Sydney. In the 1970s, when he was 14, Jess attended vocational guidance classes, intended to discuss future work plans. Jess said in the private sessions, Brother Chris asked him personal questions, like whether he’d kissed or stroked a girl’s breast.
‘They asked the same type of questions in confessional which I thought was strange’, Jess said. ‘“Have you masturbated?”, things like that … Anyway, his questions became more personal and more sexual and then he started playing with my leg and my thigh and started running his hands up and down my thighs, and he saw that I got aroused and he got aroused and then he performed oral sex on me.’
After the abuse, Jess said he was stalked by Brother Chris who would turn up at football training and try and isolate Jess from other boys and get him into his car.
‘Even my school friends said, you know, like, “He’s probably a poofter. He’s following you around everywhere”, and it was pretty embarrassing.’
On one occasion, Brother Chris took Jess and four friends to a local hotel and after buying them schooners of beer, drove Jess, who was by then very drunk, back to the monastery.
‘I didn’t really understand what he was trying to do. He tried to kiss me and then I threw up in this little bathroom sink and I was very drunk - at the time I didn’t understand what he was doing. He tried to stick my penis up his backside and I didn’t allow that to happen. I don’t really remember what happened after that. I don’t even remember how I got home to be honest. After that, he kept pursuing me and I’d actually run away from him. Eventually I just told him stay away from me and he did. I didn’t think he would, but I think the threat must have been enough. I just found it very embarrassing.’
Jess said that he hated seeing Brother Chris and, to avoid him, was absent or very late to school. And as his grades plummeted, he found it hard to catch up.
In the late 1980s, Jess disclosed the abuse to his parents, but he hadn’t told anyone else and had never received any counselling. He’d only recently thought about reporting Brother Chris to police.
‘He could have passed away, but regardless of whether he is or he isn’t, I want my story to be heard.'
‘We must come forward. The more people that come forward – it must never happen again. No child, boy or girl, should be interfered with. The thing is I’ve never become anti-Catholic or anti-religion, because it does a lot of good things for people. I suppose what I really resent is how much trouble they’ve gone to, to protect the ones that committed the crimes.
‘I’ve thought about compensation only because I think there should be a consequence. It’s not about the money … it’s more a moral issue and really a religious issue. It was nothing to do with the Church. It should never have happened.’