Lars migrated from the Netherlands with his family in the 1950s, and they settled in the Australian Capital Territory, where they were befriended by a local Catholic priest.
‘Back in those days, obviously the clergy had a lot of influence, and a lot of respect’, so when Father Dylan began sexually abusing Lars and several of his siblings, they felt that they couldn’t tell their parents. Lars came to the Royal Commission with his brother, Willem, who was also abused by the priest.
Lars said, ‘If you can imagine a skinny little boy, big baggy shorts … to call me over and plonk me on his lap … and here I am right at the table, and his hand going … into the shorts … just fondling me, while he’s talking to my mother. It’s amazing, you know, that people can go to that length. But then again … given the position of responsibility that he had, of course, people wouldn’t suspect’.
When Dylan was abusing Lars right in front of his mother, ‘I was just aware of it. Just aware of what was happening and I just thought to myself, without knowing anything, “I’ve just got to get away from this man”. I just threw myself over, and just walked off’.
Lars said, ‘I can remember one thing, and that was begging my mother not to send me to a Catholic school because I knew where I would have ended up … where Dylan was. I am so grateful that she listened to me, and I ended up going to state schools’.
Dylan often took the boys to the airport. Willem said, ‘That was his favourite place. That was his way of gathering us and encouraging us, to entice us to go and watch the planes coming’. Dylan would take the boys into the airport toilets and abuse them.
Willem believes that Dylan even drugged him on one occasion. He remembers being in a car with him and another priest, and Dylan giving him a lollipop.
‘It was obviously laced with something because when I bit into it, it tasted nothing like a lolly … Five years old … I trusted him and then, yeah, I just passed out.’
Willem remembers the other priest asking, ‘Is he all right?’ and ‘that was the last thing I can remember either of them saying’. When he woke up, the other priest wasn’t there.
Willem said that when Dylan dropped him home after this incident, ‘I knew there was something wrong because I could feel a mess inside my undies and I asked him, you know, “What did you do?”. Lars continued, ‘Dylan actually said to Willem, “Nobody will believe you if you tell them”, and he said “I’ll seriously hurt your mother if you say anything about this”’.
Willem went straight to the bathroom and threw his bloody, soiled underpants down the toilet and had a shower.
Lars remembers a neighbour, a feisty single mother from Eastern Europe, who once ‘had Dylan bailed up in the bathroom of her house, threatening to kill him with a tomahawk, so I was just wondering what the reason was behind this … assuming that he probably got at one of the kids’.
Lars said that the abuse he experienced has not had a huge impact on his life. ‘Emotionally, I just said to myself, “I’m young. I was innocent. The problem wasn’t mine, it was his”. And I’ve always had that thought. My experience with the man was short … If it had been going on for a year or more, that would have been traumatic. But I’ve dealt with it. Willem, it’s had more of an impact on.’
Willem said, ‘Being able to deal with it, it has been a struggle at times … I did grow up with some very serious emotional problems. I’ve become very reserved’. Because of Dylan’s threats, when Willem’s mother noticed that he was having problems and asked, ‘What’s going on inside your little head?’, he couldn’t tell her.
‘It was just sort of disappointing that I couldn’t get to speak to Mum or Dad about it … so they would have a clearer picture of, you know, the problems I was having growing up ... looking back … they may not have accepted it or believed that it actually happened. Because of, just the influence that, you know, the Church has.’
Lars said, ‘I think it was important to bring Willem along because there were similarities between what happened … but sadly Willem has suffered a lot more than I have. I’m one of these fortunate people that have dealt with it a long time ago … and the reason I went through with this was simply to add weight to what has happened for the people that are struggling.
‘As far as justice goes … people have suffered greatly, because of these organisations … Where does it end? You know there’s so many groups, institutions that now … have been exposed. It’s just becoming an epidemic. And how does it stop?’
Lars told the Commissioner that, ‘for those that haven’t been able to deal with it, now they feel as though they’re cared for, because … the Royal Commission has been arranged and now they can think to themselves, “Well, somebody cares about what has happened to me … They want to hear me”. So that’s a wonderful thing’.
Willem added, ‘And hopefully, those that … may have had experiences, even now … will be more inclined to come out and expose those that are subjecting them to it’.