Liam kept his eyes closed while recounting some parts of his story. He told the Commissioner, ‘I’m closing my eyes because firstly I can’t see and secondly I don’t want to see’.
In the early 1950s Liam attended an exclusive Catholic primary school in Melbourne. One day when he was about six or seven years old, he felt ill and went to the sick bay. Father Andrew, the priest who looked after all the sick boys, gave Liam some kind of fizzy drink to settle his stomach.
‘He would then take you over to the toilet just in case you became ill, pull your pants down just in case one had wet oneself, at that point play with your genitalia. And putting it together later in life I realised he was masturbating over my backside and back whilst this was going on, and would sort of wipe one down and off you’d go.’
After a few of these encounters, Liam refused to go back to school. At this stage he was too young to understand what was going on. ‘I didn’t know why I was feeling uncomfortable.’ When his parents asked what the trouble was he simply told them that he didn’t like what Father Andrew was doing. His mother arranged for him to talk to the headmaster.
‘I went in and he sat me down. He said what is wrong and I said I don’t like what Father Andrew is doing to me if I’m feeling sick.’
The headmaster told Liam that Father Andrew was a doctor who knew what was best for the boys, but he promised to have a word with him. However, moments after Liam had left the office he overhead the headmaster talking to his mother on the phone.
‘He said that I had been frightened by some of the bigger boys in the school who were “rough-housing” me. And I’d never come across that term, and that stuck in my mind and I thought, well, what does that mean? Does that cover what I’ve just said in there or not?’
The abuse in the sick bay continued and there were other incidents as well. Father Andrew had been put in charge of supervising the showers after the boys played sport.
‘It’s something out of an old British comedy, thinking back on this, that he would drop a piece of soap on the floor and of course you’d bend over to pick it up and he’d stick his finger up your backside.’
Liam said that other boys were subjected to this form of abuse and it was a ‘running joke’ among Father Andrew’s ‘favourites’ who would laugh at and taunt the victims.
These and other incidents of abuse continued for some time. Liam said it ended ‘suddenly’ when the school discovered that he had some special skills that were useful for helping the choir.
Liam never reported the abuse to the school or police. ‘What could I report? What could I say? There was only me … I can’t put it to them and say there’s a witness. It’s two people bashing it out – me and God’s representative.’
As an adult Liam still feels that it would be pointless to raise the matter with the Catholic order responsible for the school. ‘I felt I was lied to on so many levels whether it be in beliefs, in just the simplest of things … You ask a question and the answer comes back “Well, that’s God’s will”.’
Over the years Liam has struggled with mental health problems and has attempted suicide twice.
‘I can even think of the second I walked out the front gate of our house and decided “Tomorrow I’m going to be dead”. I remember doing that. What happened prior to walking out that gate I think went over a long period of time; a building up of pain and feeling useless.’
He now feels like he’s in a happier place and has ‘something to look forward to’.
Liam decided to speak up about his experiences after he saw a memorial ‘in loving memory’ to Father Andrew. ‘I thought, this is not right, this can’t be right, and if I’d had a brick in my hand … I thought, it can’t have just been me.’
He told the Commissioner, ‘If it helps one person – and I will never know that person – that’s terrific’.