In the late 1950s, Malachy’s father was ‘ecstatic’ when his son was accepted into a Christian Brothers school in Melbourne. The family’s Irish Catholic roots were firmly entrenched, and priests, Brothers and nuns were considered as revered figures to always be obeyed.
In his final year of primary school, Malachy missed a lot of classes and a doctor who visited him at home told his parents the reason he was sick was because of his fear of the Christian Brothers. His parents didn’t pay much attention to this however because his father firmly believed the Brothers ‘would make a man of you’. One of the Brothers regularly hit Anton with a thick Latin textbook. ‘I firmly believed that he would kill me.’
Moving to high school in the early 1960s seemed at first a relief. Beatings by the Brothers continued but were such a part of school life for all boys that they barely registered. If Malachy complained at home, his parents responded that he probably deserved it, or the Brothers were doing it for his own good.
In Year 9, Malachy came to see his lay teacher, Bill Toovey, as a father figure. Unlike the Brothers, Toovey spoke to boys with respect and Malachy liked helping out with chores in the classroom and before and after school. He’d meet Toovey in the morning at his car and carry his briefcase to class, something he enjoyed but which made him known as ‘teacher’s pet’. At the end of Year 9, Toovey recommended to Malachy’s parents that their son repeat the year, and they agreed. Toovey made Malachy class captain which, though an honour, further increased his isolation among students he’d only newly met.
Malachy told the Commissioner that one of his tasks was to sell religious scapulars to students and give the money to Toovey. When he first attempted to hand over the proceeds, Toovey told him it wouldn’t be safe in the classroom and instructed Malachy to come with him to his house after school.
On the way, Toovey stopped and bought ice-cream and told Malachy that he’d been chosen as the ‘special one’ to wear a green scapular to honour Mary Immaculate. In his home, Toovey made Malachy strip naked in a front of a candle-lit picture of Mary and Toovey then fondled Malachy's genitals, telling him it was a special occasion and that both he and God loved him. Toovey then masturbated and ejaculated over Malachy and sent the boy out the back lane to make his way home.
The abuse continued on a weekly basis for five months until Malachy’s mother noticed her son’s mood swings and deteriorating grades and impelled her husband to ring the school. As a result of the phone call, Toovey came to the family home the next weekend and told Malachy’s parents that their son wasn’t working hard enough and needed to put in more effort.
On the following Monday, Malachy said it was as if he no longer existed. Toovey ignored and ostracised him until he became the subject of ridicule from classmates who now saw him as the rejected teacher’s pet.
For the rest of his schooling and the following 50 years, Malachy suppressed all memory of the abuse by Toovey. In the intervening years he worked in the Catholic education system and was a staunch defender of all things Catholic. In the early 2010s, a conflict at work led to him undergoing disciplinary action with subsequent counselling, and during the exploration of those events Malachy acknowledged what had happened to him as 12-year-old. His wife had suspected something traumatic from his childhood because of throwaway comments he’d made over the years and that he would never speak of his early life. ‘His story to me started when he was 21’, she said. ‘Everyone has teenage years but he didn’t have any of that.’
A year later, Malachy approached Towards Healing and was given what he said was a good hearing. They agreed to pay for counselling for both him and his wife, but said any decision about his application for compensation might be delayed because of the Royal Commission’s hearing into Christian Brothers in Western Australia, though Malachy questioned the veracity of that claim. Toovey had entered the priesthood aged in his 40s and in the mid-1990s suicided after being charged with numerous historical child sex offences.
Malachy said previous problems he’d had in life with panic attacks, high blood pressure and cardiac problems had resolved once he acknowledged the sexual abuse. He regretted not doing it earlier, saying he felt like 50 years of his life ‘have been ripped out of me’. The ‘biggest revelation’ he said, had been ‘to question everything I’ve been taught’.
‘You think you wasted 50 years of your life through no fault of your own. You had no say in it. I find it hard to relate how another human being can inflict that on a child in the name of education.’