‘From fourth class onwards I didn’t like school, and now with hindsight I think there’s certainly a nexus there. I just didn’t like going to school. I had 12 months of fear.’
When Lesley first heard the term ‘grooming’, he thought it an apt description of the way his parents had been manipulated by Brother Cassius, the principal at his Marist Brothers school in Sydney. ‘When I first heard that, it just encapsulated everything for me and it also made me very angry. Like it was just that focus, the word, and I thought, that’s it.’
Brother Cassius was a formidable man who also coached football teams. Lesley was terrified of him. Lesley’s parents would often collect Cassius to drive to football matches and events, and over the period in 1963 they were doing this, Cassius was sexually abusing their son.
Cassius would summon Lesley from the classroom and lock the door to his office. His interactions always began with asking how Lesley’s parents were. He’d then ask the nine-year-old questions about his penis and tell him to show it to him, at the same time as exposing himself.
Lesley didn’t know what to make of the behaviour but felt he was ‘a principal party’ in the abuse. ‘I didn’t know what it was’, he said. ‘I was just confused because it was something I’d never experienced.’ Lesley lived in fear that Cassius, sitting in the back seat of the car beside him, would disclose to his parents what had been happening in his office.
Later in the year, a new principal arrived at the school and though severe physical punishments continued, Lesley didn’t experience any further sexual abuse. By then though he hated going to school and begged his parents not to send him. He felt ashamed and embarrassed about the abuse and remained silent about it for 45 years.
In the early 1990s, Lesley met a man through his work who’d gone to the same school. At the mention of Cassius’s name, the man flew into an expletive-ridden rage, calling Cassius ‘an effing paedophile’. Lesley didn’t say anything. ‘I just absorbed it ‘cause I’d never said anything, never.’
In the 2000s, Lesley was receiving counselling following the breakdown of his marriage and he disclosed the abuse to his psychologist. He told the Commissioner that in the intervening years he’d been a heavy drinker and had experienced mood swings, depression, nightmares and suicidal thoughts. However, throughout the decades he’d maintained a successful working life with ‘a black sense of humour’ that was his ‘coping mechanism’. His ‘happy outlook on life’ was strengthened by his three children as well as a men’s support group he attended regularly.
Lesley hadn’t reported Cassius to NSW Police. The Marist Brother was now deceased and Lesley was in the process of making a civil claim against the order with the matter due to be mediated in the weeks after his private session with the Royal Commission. He felt more assured about the claim than he would have in the past. ‘A couple of times I did think about it but I thought, no, this is a no-win situation for me. Like you’re batting against a pretty powerful company with big pockets and I thought, no … bad things happen to innocent people and guilty people get off.’
He thought the Catholic Church deserved ‘some retribution’. ‘I’ve got a bit of hatred still in my belly. I don’t like the word hate but I’ve still got some hatred there … They need shaking and waking up and I don’t know what other way of doing it.’
Lesley described the abuse as something that still lived inside him. ‘It is a power circuit and a power point within my wiring. This extra circuit and power point was wired into my wiring by Brother Cassius … Sometimes it is on, sometimes it is off. Sometimes someone else turns it on, sometimes I turn it on. Sometimes it comes on by itself while I am awake or while I am asleep. Sometimes it short circuits. But the wiring and the power point is always there. And as Brian Henderson says: “That’s the way it is”.’