Malcolm was sitting in class one day when Father Ryan entered the room and asked the teacher if he could take one of the boys away with him. Later, when the boy returned, the teacher pointed out that his fly was undone. The boy was mortified. Most of the kids laughed at him. Malcolm didn’t. He knew what the boy had been through.
It was the 1970s and Malcolm was in Year 7. The school was a Catholic one, located near Malcolm’s home town in regional New South Wales. Father Ryan was the housemaster. He had started sexually abusing Malcolm in the first few weeks of term, and the abuse continued over the course of the year.
Just before the Christmas holidays, Malcolm decided to speak out. The only adult at the school that he trusted was a young teacher named Father Lones. One day, in the middle of class, in front of all the other boys, Malcolm told Father Lones about the abuse.
‘And all the boys spoke up with me’, Malcolm said. Father Lones was ‘completely receptive and seemed very concerned … To me he seemed very genuine. He said that he would take this further. He definitely said he would do something with it.’
The holidays came not long after. The following year, Father Ryan was gone. No one ever discussed where he’d gone or why he’d left. Malcolm was free from his abuser but not from the impacts of the abuse.
‘In the early stages I was a lot more traumatised, and then I kind of became defiant and angry … After second form I just started wagging school whenever I could because I just went into a bitter kind of hopelessness.’
His absences from school cost him the chance of a good education, which in turn narrowed his career opportunities. Those opportunities were whittled down even further by the attitude he often showed towards authority. By this stage Malcolm had developed an entrenched mistrust of anyone who held power over him.
In his 20s he looked at his life and saw that it was far from what it could have been. Seeking distraction he turned to drugs, but they only made things worse. ‘The way I saw it I was a failure and a drug addict and it’s all my fault.’
In his 30s he hit rock bottom. From there he decided to try and fix himself.
‘I had a big depression and got fired and relationship break up and I felt that I was a failure, and I’ve been trying for the last 10 years to convince myself that I’m not.’
Recently a friend contacted him and asked if he’d been abused at school. This became the turning point for Malcolm and he decided to take action against Father Ryan and the Catholic Church. It wasn’t easy. His first step was to contact police, and their first reaction was to tell him that they were busy pursuing other charges against Father Ryan and didn’t want to spend any more money on the case.
Malcolm was disappointed. But he pushed on and spoke to a lawyer who has helped him to commence negotiations with the Catholic Church. At the time of Malcolm’s session with the Royal Commission, these negotiations were almost complete.
Malcolm has mixed feelings about the likely outcome of the negotiations. He’s glad to be doing something to hold the Church to account, but he feels that the amount of compensation they’re offering is inadequate.
‘I’m satisfied that that’s what the law would say is a reasonable amount but my problem is – if I’d had all this help and compensation in my early 30s then it would have been really good. Now it’s not enough. Where I am in my life – I’m too old. It just isn’t enough.’
Also, Malcolm said, it’s not enough for the Church to address his case alone. His suffering is just one piece of a larger problem.
‘I’ve been told that 11 boys have committed suicide from my school. Now the horrible thing is it’s like I’m part of a tragedy, like a natural disaster.’