John Patrick was one of six children in a devout Catholic family in regional Victoria where he was educated in the local Catholic school. In the mid 1960s, John’s Grade 3 teacher, Brother Finnigan, would sometimes ask boys to stay back after class to help clean the blackboard, occasionally requesting that John alone stay back to help.
When describing this period, John told the Royal Commission, ‘Either way I seemed to be always the last to leave’. Finnigan would use this opportunity to sexually abuse John by having him sit on his lap while fondling his genitals and kissing him. John described struggling to close his legs and turn his face away, but Finnigan’s ‘big hands’ would always force his legs and mouth open.
During school hours, Finnigan would casually chat with John about how he could be very good at school, asking how his family was and suggesting he might visit the Patrick home for a cup of tea. On the occasions that Finnigan did visit, John would hide in the chicken shed or pretend he was very busy doing something else – anything that could keep him from being in the same room. But John’s mother would often call out to him to make the Brother a cup of tea, and John’s heart would sink. ‘I told my mum about it when it happened … she didn’t believe me’, he said, while assuring the Commissioner that ‘she wasn’t a bad woman’.
From the age of eight John avoided going to school and his education suffered. Having lost his faith in authority figures, John said he had more physical fights with adults than with other children, one day even stealing the strap used to beat the boys and striking a senior priest. Although this clergyman had never sexually abused him or, to his knowledge, any of the other children, John is certain he was aware of Finnigan’s actions and allowed them to continue. John was severely punished; however, he said, ‘I remember feeling very satisfied. I ended up on the floor but I remember looking up and thinking, “Yeah, that was well worth it”.’
At age 12, John started drinking alcohol and for much of his youth dabbled in drugs and had altercations with the law.
‘I don’t think it would be a coincidence that there’s six people in our family, I’m the one who didn’t go to uni, I’m the one who went to prison, I’m the one that ended up offending and dabbling in drugs … I’m the one who was drinking alcohol at 12. I don’t think it’s any coincidence.’
As soon as John finished his Higher School Certificate he left home, moving far away to Perth where he stayed for 25 years. Initially continuing to abuse drugs and alcohol, at age 21 John decided to turn his life around and managed to forge a career in the disability sector where he worked for 30 years.
In 2011, John’s mother died and John described feeling outraged by the hypocrisy of the priest officiating at her funeral. His mother had put so much faith and trust in the Church but had been betrayed by the abuse its clergy had inflicted on her son.
Although 50 years had passed since the abuse occurred, the death of John’s mother and, in particular, her funeral brought his feelings into sharp focus. Describing his abuse as ‘trivial’ in comparison to some of the stories coming out of Royal Commission hearings, John told the Commissioner, ‘I don’t know what my problem: I get terribly upset by it all, and I’m very, very disappointed in myself that I can’t just get past it. I buried it for a long time, a very long time.’
John sought counselling from the Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA), and it was his counsellor at CASA who suggested he tell his story to a Commissioner.
John has been married now for more than 20 years and has two sons whom he describes as ‘the best thing I ever did’. Although it never occurred to him to report his abuse to the police, John found the courage to tell his wife, his sons and his sister about the abuse at the hands of Finnigan.
John has not sought redress from the Catholic Church but told the Commissioner he wants to see a monument set up for all the survivors in the region as a way of acknowledging the abuse they suffered, ‘a bit like the Blarney Stone’. John worries about protecting his and other children from abusers and believes the best way is through educating children about what reasonable boundaries are – and who they can turn to if those boundaries are crossed. ‘That’s a much easier solution than solving it when it’s done.’