It was the 1980s and Kent had just completed his final year at a Western Australian Christian Brothers college when he was invited back to talk to some of the students at a retreat. Afterwards Brother McMillan invited Kent to stay over instead of driving home in the dark, and Kent agreed.
McMillan asked Kent into his room to sleep as there was a spare bed, but Kent thought this was odd and asked to stay in the dormitory with the other boys instead. The Brother then tickled and touched Kent inappropriately, and attempted to force his hands down the front of Kent’s pants.
A struggle ensued and it took all of Kent’s strength to fight McMillan off. He was trembling and fled to the safety of the dormitory. When he got there he told the students ‘It’s true what they say – all the Brothers are poofters’. The boys laughed as this was a common joke at the school.
The next morning he wanted to tell one of the other teachers but could not get the words out. McMillan appeared and acted as if nothing had happened, and Kent left.
Kent got on with his life until the incident began to haunt him in his 30s, resulting in a ‘nervous breakdown’. ‘It was a drug-induced one. Ended up in hospital. Luckily I told the doctors what I was most terrified of, which was that this person may try and hurt someone else, perhaps someone I knew ... Had some counselling, and I had a very hard time.'
‘Through that I learned I’d had a repressed memory, this had come out. They were the first people I’d told and the doctor said “Look, the best thing is that that happened to you, and it got it out”. Which was very good.’
He realised the incident had started ‘coming back’ some years earlier but at that stage ‘I couldn’t quite join the dots. I couldn’t put this event that had happened to me in its place’.
It was not easy for Kent to find useful support services. ‘I had trouble accessing counselling because I’d been to a counsellor seven or eight years ago who’s now on charges of being a paedophile ... The GP health system let me down because he wouldn’t refer a counsellor ... And I’m not good with computers. And who do you go with?’
Reflecting on the abuse Kent has tried to forgive McMillan. ‘I thought perhaps this person is gay. Okay, they’ve been living in a medieval sort of community – let’s face it that’s what it is – with medieval rules, and perhaps that’s happened because of that ... [then] I thought perhaps this person is a paedophile. I was okay, I got out of that situation, I was lucky.’
Seeing a recent newspaper article about a different Christian Brother he knew being charged with child sexual abuse ‘undid all the meditation, affirmations and calming strategies that I had employed to remain level.
‘I spent two years struggling with anger and depression, regained my composure, only to be knocked down by triggers of this event.’
Further media reports about similar incidents ‘brought the whole thing so close to home again’. Kent became extremely fearful for the safety of his nephews who were attending a Catholic school, and experienced ‘many nightmares, sleepless nights and anxiety’, and has now been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘It made my daily life very difficult and impossible to maintain a regular full time employment, I was constantly avoiding stressful situations and felt very fatigued.’
Kent remains in contact with ‘lifelong school mates’ and told them about the abuse. ‘They were devastated by the story and ashamed of the school that we had attended and the whole Catholic religion. They believed every word that I said, were a tremendous support to me – and are still to this day.’
He contacted the Catholic education department to report the incident, and then made a complaint via the Church’s Towards Healing process. It took him three case managers and 18 months before he was provided with the Towards Healing guidelines, and three requests before he could get them to contact him via email, and he is angry about how they treated him as an ‘at risk’ person.
‘They kept phoning me. I didn’t get emails, I wanted to get emails because I wanted a paper trail. I was crying 50 percent of the time with these case managers, I was severely depressed then.’
Kent feels the Church has been behaving like a ‘corporation’ in their dealings with him. ‘This … is the second abuse of the Catholic Church. I was trying to trust them, and then I was pushed around and abused by their complaints system. That is the second abuse.’
His loss of faith as a result of the abuse and the Church’s response has been a ‘crisis’. ‘I had to deal with rejecting probably everything I ever learned, and that probably then sent me into an area where I didn’t know what was what, I think. And that actually put me in harm. In self-harm, alcohol abuse, drug-taking, just feeling so low and not understanding how my family was going to church, and me breaking down at church trying to protect the rest of the family and kids.’
At the Church’s suggestion Kent contacted police. McMillan denied the abuse when interviewed, and engaged a lawyer. It appears that police are not going to pursue the matter further because of the lack of evidence and there being no other complainants.
Kent decided to come to the Royal Commission as he felt it ‘was a very safe place for me to come, even safer and less worrying than the police’. Through the Royal Commission he was linked in with appropriate counselling ‘and I’m much better ... I’m in a really good spot’.