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Lyall Vincent's story

‘I had been told at the time that I was bad and that I was guilty, that I should never tell anybody because God would come down on me and of course, being a … growing up in a very strict Catholic family … very devout … that sense of godliness was drummed into you. But what that did at the time was, it put a knife between me and the Catholic Church.’

Lyall grew up in regional Victoria in the 1940s and attended a high school run by the Marist Brothers. After his Catholic primary school, the high school ‘was very new and [a] totally different style to the nuns of course. They were priests, and of course you were forced to revere priests. You soon found out how strict some of them could be’.

Lyall was never a top student and ‘Father Hart had this idea that if you belt somebody hard enough or long enough, they’d eventually get it. That, for me, just seemed to be a distraction and a dreading, so I performed … achieved, even less’.

The boys would be ‘given the cuts’ if they came last in class, or got a question wrong. When Lyall’s schoolwork began deteriorating even more, Father Hart took him to a room in the school hall, ‘a room that I don’t think any students had ever been in … It was always kept locked’.

Every week, Lyall was taken to this room and ‘belted over the backside in the hope that that would make me learn a little more, and the end of each week it was found that I wasn’t getting any better, so I’d go over’. One of his friends suggested that Lyall put a book down his pants to protect himself, which he did.

Father Hart was so enraged by this that he pulled Lyall’s pants down and belted him on his bare backside. ‘And subsequent to that, that’s what he went for first … After that … he’d always go in behind this curtain and I’d have to wait for five minutes, 10 minutes … I can imagine what he was doing now, but of course, as a naive little 13-year-old I had no idea what was happening.’

These beltings went on for weeks until one day, ‘he didn’t belt me … He pulled me pants down and had his wicked way with me. And I just presumed it was another form of punishment, because it nearly killed me … I was so dumb and naive, I didn’t know it was sexual abuse … and this went on for some months, and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I came home and told my father’.

Lyall recalled that his father didn’t believe him because ‘priests wouldn’t do that sort of thing. And he belted the tripe out of me … so I said to myself, “Well, I’m going to pack me bags and go”’. Lyall tried to run away to Sydney, but the police found him and took him home. He was given a week off school, and then forced to return.

‘Interestingly, the whole thing stopped, and I never knew why. The end of that year, Father Hart … disappeared and I thought, “Good riddance”.’

Lyall believes that the physical and sexual abuse he experienced at school led to a lifetime of ‘distrust … Fear of every teacher I came across. Fear of any priest I came across. It also affected my relationship with my father … that was the end of the relationship. It wasn’t until the final years of his life … that we got back to anything like what a relationship should be’.

Recently one of his siblings told him that while he was on the run, the police and Father Hart had been at their house, so Lyall now believes that it’s possible that his father intervened on his behalf. ‘My father and I never really had a loving relationship. He was very strict. He loved me in his own way.’

The first time Lyall told anyone about the abuse as an adult was in the early 2000s and he was heartened by the support he received. He has also been seeing a psychologist for three years and ‘it provided me with … some direction, and she convinced me that it wasn’t my fault’.

Lyall believes that those people who appeared at the Royal Commission’s public hearings were ‘absolutely incredible’. ‘I commend the bravery of people who have come … [to] tell stories which really in the context of things, mine is a minor incident and it’s … it overwhelmed me at the time, the bravery of these guys who got up and were able … to get up and see it through.’

Lyall told the Commissioner, ‘I suppose we all live … under a fear of God, but … it took me a long time to work out that I wasn’t a Catholic, but I’m still a Christian … There’s some things about Catholicism which are very good, but there’s some things … which in my opinion, are counterproductive to the idea of Christianity’.

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