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Luke Francis's story

Luke was raised a staunch Catholic. Some of his extended family were in the clergy. ‘They’ve been trying to put a collar around my neck for years.’

‘Love and respect. That was the two things that we had in our family.’ Luke enjoyed his primary years at a state school in Melbourne but, when he went to a Catholic boys’ school in the 1960s, he was shocked by the violent culture. Luke believes he was ‘initiated’ into this culture when a Brother gave him ‘six cuts’ with a leather strap, for no reason at all.

On another occasion, soon after starting high school, Luke was retrieving a ball from an out-of-bounds area. Brother Liam O’Donohue saw him there. He brought Luke out in front of the whole school and belted him so hard with the strap that Luke wet himself and curled up in the foetal position. O’Donohue then dragged Luke to a small room behind the pool changing sheds. ‘That’s one place none of us went.’ He removed Luke’s wet pants and masturbated him.

Luke went home and told his father what happened. ‘He said, “As for the hiding you got, you must have deserved it. As for the other, forget it. Think of the name of the Church and the family name”. That was it. So you wonder why I did the opposite to everything he wanted all my life? I’m not proud of it. I’m really not proud of it now, in hindsight. But it just became a way of life.’

Luke became the ‘black sheep’ of the family. He acted up at school. He recalled one action with considerable pride. ‘I was very disgruntled with the school after that [the abuse]. I went into every classroom, during one lunch time, and not one person saw me. And I flogged every strap out of every drawer and every case. I took them home, cut them up with an angle grinder into one inch pieces. And I took them back next day and put them all back … and never got caught. That’s how good I was.’

But however often Luke ‘stood up’ to the Brothers, he ‘copped’ a lot in return. As a result of his muck-up day pranks, at the end of high school he was expelled and not permitted to sit the exams.

In his late teens Luke started teaching, but didn’t complete his studies because he was told by a lecturer he confided in that people who’ve been abused become abusers themselves. This belief has been with Luke for many years. He not only has trouble being in relationships with women, but has also sometimes backed out of opportunities to have children because of his fear. It wasn’t until years later, when he underwent counselling, that he handled that issue.

After teaching, Luke had many jobs in different fields. He never had a job for more than four years but always rose to the top. ‘I had great people-managing skills.’

When Luke was in his 20s he disclosed the abuse to a bishop, a family contact. The bishop’s curious response was that Luke was ‘above the Catholic Church’ and had ‘seen through the whole thing’. He advised that Luke didn’t need to be part of the Church - but, by then, Luke was already over it. He had been since he was 18.

About 15 years ago, Luke went to his old school and spoke to the current principal. He asked for Brother O’Donohue’s address and pretended he wanted to thank him for being his teacher. Luke was told that he was deceased. Later, however, Luke was angered to read that O’Donohue was facing child sexual assault charges. ‘That was a cover up … He [the principal] lied to me. I can’t handle hypocrites.’

Over 10 years ago Luke reported O’Donohue to the police, but he was told the case wasn’t strong enough to press charges. This upset Luke and turned him off taking any action as he thought the system was skewed against victims.

In 2013 he rang the bishop’s office and spoke to his secretary. Luke was offered ‘80 grand to keep my mouth shut and drop the charges. I won’t tell you what I told her’. He is currently considering his legal options.

Luke used to self-medicate with marijuana. ‘It was a way of not dreaming. I used to wake up in cold sweats dreaming of this red-headed Christian Brother over me. That was the one thing, if I smoked I didn’t dream. Made me feel better.’

Counselling has helped with this and Luke’s anger issues. Being involved with the Royal Commission, he said, was one of the best things he’s done in his life.

‘I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep last night but I woke up this morning feeling really good … Get it over and done with, you know what I mean? I know I’ve got a bit of nervous energy and all that stuff, to get out of me system yet, but I’m working on it.’

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