Growing up in a strict Catholic family in regional Victoria, Lionel was always expected to attend a Catholic boarding school in the city. He was smart and wanted to follow his father’s career.
Lionel started at the school in the mid-1970s and soon began to excel in his studies.
It was in Form 4 that he first encountered Brother Kyle, who would groom him and pursue a highly manipulative and inappropriate relationship throughout Lionel’s last two and a half years at the school.
‘Brother Kyle was second in charge [of the house] I was in … which provided me an opportunity to become more familiar with him, to the point where he gave me a master key for all lockers when I had lost my locker key. This was against the rules and therefore special treatment.’
When another student became infatuated with Lionel, he felt he would have to leave the school. Brother Kyle helped resolve the situation by mediating between the two boys. Lionel’s parents were grateful for his support and this allowed Brother Kyle to further his grooming. He was permitted to take Lionel out for dinner regularly and exert more control over his life.
‘I was naive and impressionable’, Lionel said. He also had no real support from his father.
‘My father did his best, but … he worked long hours, retreated into his religion as a means of escape, was emotionally distant and was unable to offer me fatherly support and guidance that any growing boy needs.’
The attention Lionel received from Brother Kyle filled a significant gap in his life, and he became something of a father figure.
The grooming became more intense when, at Brother Kyle’s suggestion, Lionel began to use his room as ‘a better study environment’.
‘Late at night he would come and provide me with cigarettes, Tia Maria and pina coladas, and we would have wide-ranging intellectual and radical discussions which grew increasingly personal and inappropriate.’ Some of the topics included sexuality and masturbation. Brother Kyle presented as charismatic and mysterious, and Lionel was impressed by his sophistication and worldliness.
Lionel’s father grew suspicious of Brother Kyle’s interest in his son, but Lionel’s mother was completely taken in and the relationship was allowed to continue. Lionel believes that school staff were also aware of what was happening, but nothing was done.
The relationship grew to include hugging and massage with their shirts off, a practice that Brother Kyle said was a normal and healthy form of male friendship. ‘I didn’t find it threatening. It was a whole new world to me.’
Brother Kyle would frequently cast himself in the role of the victim to make Lionel behave in ways that he wanted. This emotional and psychological manipulation became the way the relationship was conducted.
Brother Kyle was allowed to take Lionel away on trips under the guise of an intensive study period. Just after his final exams they went interstate, a long way from anything familiar. On this trip, Lionel realised that the physical and emotional relationship wasn’t appropriate.
‘I realised that the whole set up about massaging each other being natural and normal was a sham. And then realised that the last two and a half years had been a sham … in my mind I knew I had to get away from him.’
Lionel can now see that, because of Brother Kyle’s grooming, he was unsure who to trust and what boundaries were appropriate. This has plagued him throughout his life.
He finished school but dropped out of university after missing classes, using alcohol and drugs and conducting a series of relationships with different women. He became depressed and couldn’t settle in work until finally finding a job where he stayed for 20 years, despite his drinking.
‘My life at the moment’s not great … I’m bordering on anorexia, I’m a chronic alcoholic … [with] major depression.’
Lionel still feels guilt at the relationship and finds it very hard to talk about. But he was determined to come to the Royal Commission.
‘[It’s] really important … because I let him get away with it and I shouldn’t have … part of me says it’s my fault and I shouldn’t have allowed it to get to the extent that it did.’
After years of everyone pretending it didn’t happen and denying that his problems stem from the Brother’s manipulation and grooming, Lionel has ‘come to the realisation that I wasn’t responsible … but it’s been hard. I mean, I’ve been pretty reluctant to come this far’.
He is currently estranged from both his ex-partner and child. He’s hopeful that, by speaking with the Commission, he may be able to explain his behaviour to them and that there may be an opportunity for reconciliation.