Laurence attended a Christian Brothers school in eastern Australia in the late 1950s. ‘A so-called Christian Brothers school. Not very Christian though. I was a boarder.’
The principal of the school ‘was a very frightening man … extremely violent. He had a long strap which comprised of three pieces of leather stitched together with a threepence in the bottom, and I can still hear him, all these years later. He’d say, “Take down your trousers and get over that chair”, and he’d go, “Whack”. A number of the others, [too]. They were violent, harsh men’.
When Laurence was about 12 or 13, one of his teachers began to sexually abuse him. ‘He invited me to his room on a number of occasions. Pulled my trousers down and played with me sexually, as well as himself. This occurred subsequently on a regular basis … I did not report this abuse to anyone. Brother Phillip was a real man’s man … To [accuse] him of abusing young boys would not have been believed.’
Brother Phillip befriended Laurence’s family and invited himself to stay with them a couple of times. ‘Although I wasn’t abused on those occasions … I felt nobody would believe me [especially] within a family where Brother Phillip was welcomed as a friend, a teacher and a so-called Christian Brother. If I told my parents, I just felt there woulda been more trouble for myself.’
Laurence was very unhappy at the school and when he wrote his weekly letters home, he crossed out ‘College’ on the back of the envelopes, and wrote ‘Prison’. Eventually, he persuaded his parents to send him to a Catholic school that had opened closer to his home. This school was run by the Marist Fathers, ‘and they were the complete opposite, they were wonderful people’.
When he was about 14 or 15, Laurence experienced further sexual abuse at the hands of William Baines, a family friend who was in his early 20s. Baines later became an ordained priest and was still alive and working when Laurence reported him to the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing program in the early 2000s.
Laurence kept his childhood trauma buried for a long time and ‘just tried to get on with life’, but when he began having difficulties with his marriage and his job in the early 2000s, ‘things sort of, after all those years, came to a head’. At about this time, he also heard about Baine’s ordination and ‘I guess that prompted me a bit. To think that this mongrel … could be a Catholic priest … And I think I probably heard stories about cover-ups, and I’m still angry about that’.
In his submission to Towards Healing, Laurence wrote: ‘I did not report this abuse to anyone, but I am now deeply concerned that other young boys may be at risk of sexual abuse from a priest who may be in a position to prey on them’. He told the Commissioner, ‘I was ashamed that I hadn’t raised the matter previously, but I felt obliged to raise it then’.
Because the Church did not report Baines to the police, ‘That person died without being brought to account. That makes me feel very sad’. They did not report Brother Phillip either, and Laurence believes that he was pressured into saying that he didn’t want either matter investigated.
‘My reason for coming here today, primarily is that I think the Catholic Church should acknowledge what was apparently a widespread issue in the Christian Brothers and other outfits. Even on the radio this afternoon, I heard about the Marist Brothers, not to be confused with the Marist Fathers, and I think that they should … acknowledge it …
‘We were told the Brothers and the priests were, you know, one step below God. I have no time for religion now. So that’s been one of the effects, I guess. I’ve abandoned my religion.’
Laurence told the Commissioner that he isn’t interested in going to counselling. ‘My best therapy is action by you.’