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Lucas Michael's story

When Lucas arrived at the Catholic boarding school just outside Melbourne, he found the culture alien and harsh. The Salesian Brothers and Fathers who ran the college were ‘very barbaric. A lot of floggings, a lot of belting kids’.

Lucas coped with the new environment by growing ‘a thick skin’. He first encountered Father Julian Maher in the middle of the 1980s when the priest was his Year 9 religious education teacher.

The next year, Maher was Lucas’ dormitory master. Lucas was 15 years old, and Maher started giving him ‘special treatment’ – biscuits in his private office, alcohol and cigarettes after lights out. This grooming continued for a few months, and one evening progressed onto sexual assault.

‘I think we drank three quarters of a bottle of scotch that night, I was pretty pissed, and he said, “Just lay down on that bed”. Thinking nothing of it, I just laid down, and then he come over and sat on the bed and he started rubbing my leg and up my thigh and over my crotch, and it took me actually some time to actually sort of snap out of it and then I just freaked.

‘At that point, I left the room, and it's like it never happened. The next day, nothing. He didn't say anything. I was never welcomed back in his room. Yes, he sort of really removed himself from the situation and I was just, like, dumbfounded.’

After this assault, Lucas felt ‘just dirty and really belittled. Then, of course, with that comes the anger and the respect that I had for myself, others, I had become nothing’.

He got into fights, and found it increasingly hard to main his connections with other people. ‘Lots of broken relationships. A lot of the guys I went to school with, yes, I dropped out of communication with them. Yes, it just engulfed your life. Yes, it eats you away.’

In the early 1990s, police contacted Lucas in relation to another student who had reported being abused by Maher. He denied being abused himself, as he was not ready to talk about it.

Over the years, Lucas didn’t recognise the impacts of the abuse on his wellbeing, and attributed his declining mental health to his heavy alcohol and drug use.

‘It subconsciously had controlled my life, you know, depression, inability to hold relationships, inability to hold down a job for a long period of time, just erratic behaviour up and down, really angry. Then I couldn't go to work, or chose not to go to work, couldn't get out of bed, to the point where even in the later years now it's like I couldn't drive, been self-employed, couldn't drive a car.’

However, around 15 years ago ‘I got myself off drugs and did a rehab, but it didn't go away – so it wasn't the drugs’. Although his drug use was under control, ‘the ups and downs, the roller coaster, the anger, all those things attached to it, didn't go away’.

A few years ago, Lucas was contacted again by police who were working on an investigation into sexual abuse at the school. The officer who rang was the first person he ever told about what Maher had done to him. Before then, ‘My mum, in particular, had always asked, “did anything ever happen to you?” I was like “no”. I just wasn't at that point’.

It took Lucas six months to make a full statement – ‘actually walking into the police station to do that is quite big’. After making his statement, he let his parents and wife read it. ‘Mum has never stepped foot in a church again.’

His wife told the Commissioner, ‘I had always wondered what was the underlying issue, because of his behaviour and anxiety, [and] every now and then, as he would refer to it, “roller coaster”. He would crash in a heap and not go to work and be in bed for three or four days, and I would always think, “What is going on?” The relationship was pretty testing at times.

‘When I found out, it was a shock, but in one way it was a relief because then I understood why he behaved the way he did.’

Maher was charged with offences against a number of boys, and Lucas was called upon to give evidence in court. Two trials were held, and Maher was convicted on all counts, and given a lengthy jail sentence. Lucas is now working on a civil claim against the school.

Initially, Lucas thought the legal process might release him from the impacts of the abuse. However, ‘I wasn't fine at all. I had 25 years of emotion attached to me’. He began accessing counselling through a support group for survivors of sexual assault. ‘It's been a lifesaver.’

These days, his mental health is a lot more stable, but he still has ups and downs. ‘I can be fine for a few weeks, and then it could be something on the radio, it could be someone saying something, a smell of something, and it's enough to trigger me.’

If it wasn’t for the police contacting Lucas, he doubts he ever would have disclosed the abuse. ‘It was just that one phone call, there was no one around me and the right question, it was enough to trigger, and I went.’

He knows there are many other survivors who still haven’t spoken up. ‘I know that from that school there's a lot more kids, and a lot of kids will only come forward when their parents die. It's that Catholic thing ... Kids, yes, they won't put their parents through it. I don't know, they've got the blinkers on.’

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