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Lyle Norman's story

Lyle attended a boarding school run by the Marist Brothers in regional Victoria, in the mid-1960s.

‘I was a good little Catholic boy, that did everything he was told, believed everything that was said, didn’t rock the boat, didn’t complain, didn’t, you know, challenge authority, nothing. I was … absolutely naive about sexuality … absolutely no idea of what sexuality was.’

Lyle told the Commissioner that in those days the clergy had a ‘position of power and [I] never had a question … never thought any differently … Ask me the same question now and I’ll give you a different answer’.

Lyle slept in a dormitory with about 25 other boys. Brother Barker’s room was next to the dormitory, and quite close to Lyle’s bed. When Lyle was 13 or 14, Barker started coming into the dormitory at night. He would sit on Lyle’s bed and ‘shove his hands under the covers … trying to grab me’. Lyle tried to capture Barker’s arm between his legs to stop him. This went on almost nightly, for several months.

Lyle told the Commissioner, ‘I knew I didn’t want it to happen, and I knew it wasn’t right, but … because I was so naive, I had no context into which to put it. I didn’t know what sexuality was. So I had no words or context or anything that I could formulate to express what it was that was happening … so I said nothing … for months … I said nothing’.

Lyle eventually realised that he had to do something, and one night bravely ‘screamed out … “Piss off”, and that’s when it was reported, because one of the kids from the other end of the dormitory heard it … and said to me “Is something happening?” and I told him’. Years later, Lyle discovered that this boy had reported it to an older boy. The older boy had told the headmaster, and was suspended from school just prior to his final exams.

At the time Lyle was called into the headmaster’s office and was asked if he had anything to tell. ‘I had nothing to say. If you respond to a wimpy Christian like that and expect that I was just going to spill the beans and talk about something that I had no context of … and that was the one and only approach to me by the Marist Brothers or anybody in those positions … anytime, anyhow, anywhere.’

If the headmaster had asked him directly about what had happened, Lyle would have told him. ‘I didn’t even know what it was that I would tell. I actually couldn’t formulate any concept of what was happening and could not find the words.’

‘I was so naive and so nonplussed and so unaware … by the end of the year, I have some memory of my parents offering to send me to school in Melbourne, and I couldn’t work out why.’

Lyle thinks that because his parents asked him if he wanted to change schools, the school must have contacted them, but other than that, the abuse was never discussed. ‘There was absolutely no discussion ... No inclusion of me in anything that may have been going on behind the doors … given the opportunity to discuss the matter at the time … that it was acknowledged that something had happened.’

Lyle never understood why he grew up to be such an angry man. ‘I’d just supressed it. I forgot about it. Just pretended like it didn’t happen. Because everyone else just pretended like it didn’t happen.’ It was only when ‘that idiot Pell started to … I think that he must’ve started the rubbish that he went on with and I think that was the thing that finally made me do something’.

In the early 2000s Lyle approached the Church for acknowledgement of the abuse. He received a small amount of compensation and letters of apology from both Brother Barker and the Marist Brothers. However, the Marist Brothers refused to accept responsibility for the abuse, and this angered Lyle.

‘The physical thing isn’t such a big deal for me in some sense. It is, but it isn’t. The other, the disempowerment and the hypocrisy and the disillusionment … that I know, I feel, that’s the offence more … that’s the powerful ongoing nature of the offence for me.’

Lyle hoped that by coming to the Royal Commission he would ‘get some perspective, to make some sense of all this and to see that those parts of my life that were really horrible … when I couldn’t work … and the last seven or eight years I’ve hardly worked because I didn’t know what it was and I pretended like it wasn’t happening’.

While he has forgiven his abuser it is the Church authority figures that anger him. ‘They’re the ones that I’m really … and George Pell … the rubbish that he came out with … still the same old, old-fashioned attitude about not being responsible … How can that man be where he is … The arrogance and the submissive nature of that … I mean, it’s a wonder he hasn’t combusted … He’s a horrible man.’

Lyle told the Commissioner, ‘Prior to the incidents, I felt like I was happy-go-lucky and enjoyed learning … I felt like it affected me … it’s almost like the joy went out of my life. And I haven’t actually had a lot of joy in my life. It hasn’t been horrible, but it hasn’t been much fun at times … and I just feel like there’s still not a lot of joy in my life. That’s what I’m trying to look for’.

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