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Justin's story

Brother John Nelson, a teacher at the Victorian Marist college that Justin attended, befriended Justin’s family over several years in the early 1980s. He became a father figure to Justin and his grooming behaviour included saying that he was keeping Justin out of trouble. ‘He used to say, “You are going to end up in jail”.’

Justin remembers Nelson starting rough play with him when he was 10 years old. ‘He was stroking me and putting his hands in my pants. It was sort of tickling, but as I got a bit older it became more dominating.’

In the late 1980s, Brother Nelson encouraged 12-year-old Justin to visit him in another state. Nelson had become principal of a school there. He sexually abused Justin several times during the visit.

Justin didn’t tell anyone because his mother wasn’t well and he didn’t want to upset her, and at the time he was having difficulties at school. He also didn’t know if anyone would believe him and, with encouragement from Nelson, Justin was contemplating becoming a priest.

When Justin was 18, he heard one day that Nelson was coming to the family home for a visit. ‘That’s when it clicked’, he said. ‘I’d repressed it from 14. That’s when I spoke up to my stepfather.’

Justin’s mother and stepfather immediately rang a senior cleric in the Melbourne Diocese who knew the family well, and told him the whole story.

He told Justin’s mother that he’d get help for Nelson. They heard nothing further, and when they rang again they were repeatedly told he was unavailable.

In the 1990s, Justin and several other men made statements to the police about Brother Nelson’s sexual abuse that resulted in him being charged, pleading guilty and receiving a suspended sentence. Justin said the senior cleric from the Melbourne Diocese was questioned as part of the police investigation and denied knowing Justin’s mother and that any conversation had taken place with her about Brother Nelson’s behaviour.

Justin’s mother said that she and her children had lost faith in their religion, and that she felt like a failure as a mother. ‘I placed my full trust with him as a Marist Brother in the Catholic Church. How naive I was.’

Justin is concerned that Brother Nelson still has the opportunity to work with vulnerable people. ‘I want to know that he’s not in a position of trust.’ He thinks it’s unfair that someone who pleads guilty to child sexual offences doesn’t receive a custodial sentence, and he’d like an apology from the Catholic Church. Justin said the sexual abuse had affected him deeply. For many years he’s been unable to maintain a job or relationships and at various times he’s lived on the streets.

‘I was out of control for a decade with alcohol and drugs and half-living. I’ve got maybe two friends. People don’t understand me. I don’t understand people.’

Justin said he now wants to be part of the cure, not the problem. He’s been trying lately to learn what it means to be a man. ‘I read something, and it said the definition of a man is a nurturer and carer. I can see that. I don’t know how I’m going to get there, or what it even means, but over time …’

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