At seven years old, Mario’s greatest ambition was to become an altar boy. Born into a large Catholic family in Western Australia in the 1960s, he had inherited his parents’ awe of priests and wanted to become part of the mysterious world of the Church.
One day his chance came. Mario’s parents sent him to the local church to do his holy communion and there Mario met a young priest who promised to train him as an altar boy. As it turned out, the priest lied.
‘What happened was the priest invited me back to his private rooms. Under the guise of love and God and all of these things, and being special, the abuse takes place until I get to the point where I know it’s not right and I don’t want to participate anymore. And I resist and I’m ostracised and made to feel shameful and guilty and literally condemned to hell by the priest.’
All through this ordeal, Mario suffered alone, afraid that if he asked for help no one would believe him. ‘Who’s going to believe a little boy? If I’d told my mum and dad at the time, as a little boy I would have got a slap and say, “How dare you say things like that about the priest”.’
Mario never became an altar boy. He believes this ‘failure’ set a pattern that he repeated throughout his life.
‘I get to a certain point of achievement then I can’t seem to get to that top level, a bit like never being able to get to be an altar boy. … Every time I get somewhere near success I trash it, and I don’t understand why.’
Distrustful of others, confused about his sexuality, shameful and guilty, Mario knew that he needed help. In his early 30s he made it all the way to the door of a psychologist’s office then ‘chickened out’ and went home again. By his 40s, his whole life was falling apart.
‘Business was failing. My marriage was failing. I had two little kids that were struggling. I was ready to just curl up and die basically.’
Somehow, instead of curling up and dying, Mario reached out to a psychologist and started regular counselling sessions that he’s continued for the last 10 years. With the psychologist’s help he’s made enormous progress, although he still feels that there’s a long way to go. In particular, Mario has yet to overcome his feelings of shame and guilt.
‘It’s difficult to change an opinion of myself that I’ve held for all of my life. Really, deep down, the opinion I have is I’m a piece of shit, because I let this happen. I’m bad. All that sort of stuff …
‘And it makes no sense, I know that. I know that consciously it makes no sense to tell yourself that. I know I’m not a piece of shit, consciously. But that’s what drives a lot of my behaviour in the background.’
Mario’s ambition now is to break out of this this toxic thought-pattern. That’s why he came to the Royal Commission.
‘I’m hoping that by sharing this with you guys at the Commission that will allow me to move on. That’s the whole point of this. I want to be able to move on and not have this run my life.’