Brother Matthew was a De La Salle Brother who’d previously taught Joseph’s father at a New South Wales boarding school. In the mid-1960s, when Joseph was 12 and attending a De La Salle college in Sydney, Brother Matthew took him out of the classroom and sexually abused him in an isolated stairwell.
‘He made me stand on a step above him, and he said we were going to do something my dad used to like. I had to undo my fly and he put his hand on my penis. His other hand was under his robe moving back and forth. Then he told me to get dressed and go back to class, and he said I wasn’t to say anything to anyone.’
Joseph told the Commissioner that the abuse occurred several times and followed the same pattern, until one day when his teacher asked Joseph in front of the class what had happened with Matthew. The teacher persisted in her questioning, but Joseph was too embarrassed to say anything. He didn’t know whether she subsequently took any action, but he wasn’t abused by Matthew again.
‘From that day on, I never had another issue. It makes me think she talked to the principal or did something to make him stop.’
In the 2010s, Joseph’s wife attended a private retreat and recognised that another participant’s behaviour and personality characteristics were similar to Joseph's. That participant had experienced child sexual abuse. When she mentioned it to Joseph, he acknowledged to her for the first time that he’d been abused by Matthew.
During 30 years of marriage, Joseph said, he’d been diagnosed with depression and had battled severe alcohol and gambling problems.
‘I was working two jobs and drinking 20 schooners a day. If I went into a pub and no one was there, I’d head straight for the pokies. At one stage, I put $70,000 through in six months.’
He said he’d lost three houses and all his superannuation to gambling. He had trouble keeping a job beyond two years, because of difficulties with managers and figures of authority. He’d attended numerous counselling sessions over the years for his gambling and alcohol addictions.
Soon after the conversation with his wife, Joseph attended a retreat at which it was recommended that he notify his parents and police of the abuse. He said his mother was devastated and asked why he hadn’t told them at the time. His father told him that he’d never been ‘got at’ by Matthew because he’d been warned by other boys. ‘I thought, “Well, if you knew about him, why you didn’t warn me?”’
Police ascertained that Matthew died in a retirement home about 10 years ago, aged in his 90s. They suggested that Joseph get in touch with the Catholic diocese office near his home for further advice. He rang and was given information relating to police reporting, options regarding civil action, and the process if he wished to pursue the matter through the Church’s integrity unit.
Joseph initially considered following this course, but decided to take civil action after reading that the Catholic Church and police had had a memorandum of understanding in place for many years.
‘I didn’t know what that meant. The offender should face whatever they have to. The other thing with the Catholic Church is they kept moving people around and hiding them. Someone should look at who did that, because they’re as guilty as the offenders.’