Leith’s mother worked hard to send him to a Catholic school in Brisbane. She wanted him to have a good start in life, but this decision turned Leith’s life into ‘total chaos’.
After excelling in public school, Leith was sent to a Marist Brothers college in Year 8, when he was 12 years old. At his new school, where he boarded in the 1970s, the Brothers were physically and sexually abusive. ‘I was in total anxiety and depression every day … There wasn’t one minute at that school when I felt safe. I never was safe.’
Leith identified three paedophile Brothers. One of them, Brother Ralph, was his dorm master. He abused Leith on a number of occasions, always when there was no one else around. One incident he recalls was when the Brother offered to help him in the shower, when Leith was recovering from injury, ‘and that’s when he molested me, felt me all over. And I said “Oh no, I don’t need any help”. “Oh, yes you do.” and he kept on … and finally he reneged on it and decided to stop’. On another occasion, the abuse was ‘more involved’.
On another occasion, when Leith was entering a shower, Brother Ralph caned him on the backside. ‘I’m sure he got some sort of a sexual thrill out of it, actually.’ The consequent welt was so bad, it lasted almost two weeks.
Another Brother, Spencer, was a ‘bad ass … he was a predator as well’. Brother Spencer would ‘perve on the boys’ when they were in the showers. Leith said he was exceptionally violent, but in a good mood, ‘he’d have everyone sitting on his lap’.
Brother Spencer would take two, sometimes three, boys at a time for weekends away. Looking back, Leith sees this was part of a grooming process. When Leith went on the trips, he would always travel in the front of the ute and Spencer would have his hand on Leith’s leg. He can’t be sure if Brother Spencer molested him any further, but he does recall waking up one time in a different bed and feeling very disorientated.
‘I’ve often thought about it, and I’ve thought, I wonder if he drugged me or something like that … but I didn’t put two and two together then, I was only 13.’
Leith soon became traumatised and depressed. His grades dropped dramatically and he was branded one of the ‘dumb ones’. The abuse stopped in Year 9 but by then, he was ‘plunged into a depression’.
At one point Leith ran away from the school. As a consequence, there was a ‘round table’ with him, his mother, a head teacher and staff from the diocese. He was asked why he didn’t want to be in the school. Again, Leith didn’t disclose the abuse. Because it had stopped the year before, it wasn’t the main thing on his mind. Also, ‘these things weren’t out in the open so much and, to be quite honest, like at 12 and 13 and whatever, one doesn’t have a complete understanding of what’s happening anyway’.
Shortly afterwards, after spending little over a year at the Marist Brothers college, Leith finally got his wish and went to a state school. However, by then his grades were extremely poor and he didn’t excel.
Leith knew he was bright enough to have studied for a profession but this wasn’t possible. By the age of 16 he was ‘digging ditches’ and has done hard, physical work all his life.
In his early 30s he did study, achieving good grades, and obtained a trade. But in his late 30s his life hit crisis point. He had homicidal thoughts towards the Brothers. He didn’t disclose the abuse to his partner and their relationship was struggling. His drinking was out of control and he was suicidal. To add to the mix, he was injured after an accident. Leith was ‘faced with, really, the two roads – like, life or death’.
His GP, recognising the signs, asked him if he had been sexually abused as a child. As a consequence, Leith started counselling. It was ‘hard work’ but he turned his life around. He hasn’t had a drink for 17 years.
He’s had a lot of counselling.
‘I’ve even had one male counsellor say to me “Oh well, because you weren’t actually raped or anything, you really have got nothing to worry about, so you may as well just forget about it”.’ Leith never went back there.
He’s never reported his abuse to the police nor sought compensation from the Church because he doesn’t have any evidence. ‘When I see Archbishop Pell and all them getting around I think, “Yeah, they don’t care about anything to do with what happened to me”.’ He feels it would be pointless to go through the process, ‘for an outcome where they say “Well, it didn’t really happen”’.
These days Leith is ‘relatively well’. Although on a disability pension, he’s ‘contributing on a lot of fronts’. He takes a low dose of anti-depressants and helps people with alcohol problems.
He also looks after his elderly aunt and has a good relationship with his stepdaughter, for which he’s very grateful.