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Leo James's story

Thirty years after Leo was abused by the principal at his Marist Brothers college, his mother still didn’t believe such a thing could have happened.

Leo’s large Catholic family had come together for a reunion, and he and his siblings were sharing stories about their experiences with Brother Andrew. ‘Mum was sitting there saying “Oh, don’t be so ridiculous, that wouldn’t have happened”. And we said, “Well, it did”.’

One of his sisters recalled the time she and a friend got a ride with Brother Andrew. He drove them to the back of the local golf club and tried to grope them, until they jumped out of the car and ran home. One of his brothers remembered a schoolmate who Brother Andrew regularly summoned to the back of the classroom and molested. That happened in Leo’s class, too.

‘You knew that when Brother Andrew said “I need to talk to you”, and you headed down towards the back of the room, you knew just what you were in for. And it was sort of – all right, well, let’s get it over and done with, and see who’s next.’

That get-together was the first time Leo had talked with his family about Brother Andrew’s abuse. It had happened when he was 13 or 14, in the mid-1960s. In their small town in regional Victoria there was an established Catholic community and high regard for the Brothers.

Leo described them as ‘untouchables’. There was no one to tell about Brother Andrew – ‘no notice would be taken of you’ – and if he’d been reported to police, the Catholic sergeant would have declared it a ‘load of rubbish’ and tossed the matter out, Leo said.

But amongst the boys at the college Brother Andrew’s behaviour was an open secret. His modus operandi was well known.

‘He’d sit you down in the seat opposite him … and then it was “I’ve heard rumours out in the playground that some of the boys have been interfering with some of the other boys”, and then he’d put his hands on your legs and move them up in underneath your shorts, and having a grope in there, saying “If any of the other boys are doing this in the playground, I’m the first that needs to know about it, you need to come to me and tell me that they’ve been doing this”.’

Boys would ask each other, ‘How far did he get with you? Or how far did he go with you?’ Leo recalled. ‘It was … a shared experience with the other guys.’

In the late 70s, a group of ex-students happened to meet up and spent an afternoon together. ‘Most of the afternoon was then spent telling the war stories of what Brother Andrew had been up to, what he’d done to who and how, and that. It was more than common knowledge, it was a shared thing that was discussed.’

In the late 90s, charges were finally brought against Andrew, for multiple offences against boys and girls during his time in the town. He died before he could be brought to trial. Some years afterwards, Leo was contacted by a police officer investigating another Catholic offender, a priest who’d been sexually abusing kids in the town in the same era. Leo didn’t know the priest, but he tried to tell the officer about Andrew. The man wasn’t interested.

‘The perpetrator’s gone, there’s nothing we can do, is what he was saying.’

Leo wasn’t put in touch with any counselling support or informed about options such as victims’ compensation. He has considered taking legal action, but hasn’t begun any proceedings. He believes an apology would not be an expression of genuine regret but a way for the Church to avoid further trouble, ‘trying to mitigate what may happen to them’.

Leo has self-medicated with alcohol over the years, but said he’s cutting back. His experiences with Brother Andrew left him with a lifelong distrust of authority that has shaped his working life. His capacity to form relationships was also affected.

‘I’m very wary and untrusting of people, usually till I get to know them. Some people on first meeting I say yes, there’s an affinity there; I’m happy to talk – others I just dismiss them straight out and they don’t get much of a chance to come back on in.’

Leo has been in a long-term relationship for about 20 years and doesn’t have children of his own. Around other people’s children, he’s very careful.

‘I’ve spent a lot of time with my friends’ kids and I’ve always been so, so, so aware that I shouldn’t be left in a situation with them that could allow anyone at any time to say anything about it.’

It’s hard to know how best to keep kids safe, Leo said. ‘It’s not only schools. It’s scout groups. It’s swimming clubs, it’s any time you put any adult, any person, in with children.’

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