Leonard was adopted by a Catholic family when he was a baby. When he reached high school age in the late 1970s, the local priest suggested he be sent to a Catholic boarding school in regional New South Wales.
Leonard had been at the school for two weeks when he began to be sexually abused by his dormitory master, Brother Neal. Because the abuse occurred nightly for the year he attended the school, Leonard believed he was the only boy it was happening to.
The boys didn’t talk about the abuse, but Leonard remembered, ‘There was things between the boys saying that you shouldn’t go near him and that but I didn’t understand why and one of the guys … he always used to cause trouble with him, like there used to be fights and all that. I’ve … witnessed a few things like that’. As well as sexual abuse, there was frequent physical abuse at the school.
Brother Neal warned Leonard not to say anything, because no one would believe him. He also told Leonard that he wouldn’t be allowed home on the weekends if he told.
‘When it first did happen to me … I actually ran away from school the next morning, and walked home, but I didn’t tell my parents … I hid in my bedroom in the cupboard, so they didn’t know I was there until the school rang to find out where I was. But I never told them … I never told anyone … until the police asked me.’ Brother Neal told his parents that Leonard had run away because he had been naughty.
In the early 2010s, the police phoned Leonard and asked him if he had been sexually abused at the school. Another man who had attended the school had reported Brother Neal, and had given the police a list of names of others who may have been abused. Leonard went to the police station and provided a statement. ‘It was a bit hard, like, explaining what he’d done and all that.’
Leonard told the Commissioner that he had coped over the years by keeping busy. ‘[I] travelled a lot, worked a lot away, so I wasn’t hardly there that much, but after it happened I sort of forgot about it and didn’t really say anything to anyone, ‘cause I didn’t know what to do about it or anything till it all come up [again] … I was just embarrassed to talk about it … I don’t like a lot of people to know about it.’
When he finally told his mother about the abuse, she told the rest of the staunchly Catholic family, ‘and then they were giving me their own opinion, saying, “Well, you probably brought it onto yourself, blah, blah, blah” and then just things like that, so I try not to have anything to do with them, because of it, because they made me out like as a liar’.
The legal process to bring Brother Neal to trial has been very long and drawn out and Leonard and his partner, Ruth, are frustrated with the lack of information they have been given. The whole thing has been very stressful for Leonard and he can no longer work. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and is taking anti-depressants.
‘[I] just can’t handle a lot of things now … I think it’s because of this sort of hanging over my head … that’s what it’s been like ever since I first gave a statement.’
Ruth accompanied Leonard to the Royal Commission and remarked, ‘No one says anything. No one rings you up. You need someone to at least keep you up-to-date every month to say, “Look, I’ve talked to … I’ve talked to the solicitor. I’ve talked to this person”. We don’t even hear from the solicitor unless we ring up … I mean, they’ve done a good job, but it doesn’t hurt to let [us know]’.
Ruth told the Commissioner, ‘Information, that’s the thing, the key thing. Information … so you feel like you’re not … he’s not forgotten, like none of the victims are forgotten. By not getting any information and no one contacting us, [it’s] like that no one cares’.