The victim of two paedophiles – a Catholic Brother and a priest – Magnus, now in his 50s, is most concerned by the cluster of suicides that both men have left in their wake.
‘I failed school. I didn’t go to high school. I was sexually abused. I was raped … I was dysfunctional … I’m from the university of hard knocks.’
That’s how Magnus described himself as he talked of deceased relatives and former schoolmates, one of whom was his brother, who died in the lengthy wait between the charging of the Brother and his eventual trial and conviction.
Back in the 1970s Magnus was sexually abused by the priest, Father Alwyn, and by the school principal, Brother Canon. Magnus came from a large family with multiple aunts, uncles and cousins. Siblings and cousins attended the local Catholic church, where his parents were married and he was christened, and attended the adjoining primary school, where many boys were molested.
After the abuse by the two clergymen, which began when he was 11, Magnus became ‘angry, disruptive and anti-teachers’. He started drinking at 16 which ‘brought up a lot of anger’ as well as depression and dysfunction. ‘I grew up awkward with no social confidence.’
Magnus was also taught by two other Brothers later convicted of child sexual abuse.
‘I have three suicides in my family’, Magnus said. One relative had made a complaint over which Brother Canon was charged. But the relative did not live to see the trial.
Magnus believes one of the issues surrounding litigation was that until about five years ago, few lawyers were prepared to represent abuse survivors, particularly on a pro bono basis. And some police, he believes, were in league with the Church to dissuade complaints; ‘pushing cases away’.
‘A lot [of people] now know that if you’re abused by a priest, a Catholic priest, or you’re abused by a Christian Brother there’s a totally different legal system involved. You can sue the Christian Brothers because they’re a school … you were abused by a priest, you’re over in that pile over there. There’s this differentiation happening … that’s wrong.’
When the priest who abused him pleaded guilty to multiple charges in the 2000s, Magnus was banned from including his grief about classmates who had suicided in his victim impact statement.
So he read it to the Commissioner.
‘You know the abuse might be historical’, he said of the continuing deaths, ‘but what’s happening is happening. It is happening.’
He said he went to see two bishops numerous times without any effect after just one of his relatives took his own life. However, the death did seem to galvanise progress towards a trial.
The time of his own police statement to trial was about five years.
And when he had to testify against an ‘intimidating’ religious order that boasted about its $10,000-a-day lawyers, Magnus found it ‘nerve wracking … you were on edge for a month prior to it.
‘I’d have to think about it if I had do it again, let’s put it that way’, he said.
Despite the jailing of some Brothers, ‘we’re not even halfway yet’ according to Magnus, who believes a ‘pension should be paid’ to victims.
He bitterly described the Towards Healing process in the early 2000s, before his involvement in the trials, as ‘a marketing company’ that was ‘used against us’.
Magnus described the attitude to survivors seeking compensation as, ‘We’re bankrupting the Church. We’re thieving, we’re lying, we’re cheating, we’re criminals just for doing that’.
He initially asked for more than $250,000. Eventually he was paid $80,000, half of which went in legal fees.
Magnus got six visits to the doctor and an ‘empty’ apology, with the Church ‘just going through the motions’. One of the bishops refused to meet with the parents of abused boys because they were ‘secondary’ victims.
‘I’ve got victims here who want to burn the bishop’s office down and certainly want to burn his house down, there’s no question about that. There’s a lot of anger out there.’
Magnus said there was definitely not enough understanding of the impact of child sexual abuse, which can result in alcohol and drug addiction and depression. Paedophiles, he said, ‘would pick on the slower learners, the single parent families …
‘I’ve lived through it. I’m literally broke, you know, I don’t own my own home, I rent. I barely make my bills … It’s cost me my marriage, it’s cost me relationships. I’m single. I can’t ever see myself being in a relationship … I don’t have any superannuation. I don’t have medical’.
A sore point is the amount of compensation going to lawyers, with some ‘paid more in legal fees than what [has been] paid to the victims, there’s no question’.
If the ‘ambulance chasers’ can be cut out, a structure like an independent compensation scheme or tribunal – totally separate from the Church – could ‘introduce the pensions … that would be far more beneficial to these victims’.
Magnus said he cried when the Royal Commission was announced.
‘I think the olive branch is that we do get paid the pension.’