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Marlon James's story

At the time Marlon was being sexually abused by Brother Greaves he didn’t really understand what was happening, just that it was ‘wrong’. ‘There was no sex education. I had no idea.’

It was the 1960s, and Marlon was 11. Being one of the ‘goody-goody kids’ and academically gifted, he often finished his classwork before the other children.

Greaves would call him to the front of the room. ‘He’d just sit me on his lap behind the desk ... And he would just then, usually he’d put his hand in my pocket, and just start playing with me.’

This was ‘intensely uncomfortable and unpleasant’ for Marlon. ‘And I was very naive and innocent as well ... I didn’t know what was going on ... So I never talked to anyone about it.’

Marlon now realises that several of his other classmates at the Marist Brothers primary school he attended in suburban Sydney were being abused the same way.

Although the principal of the school ‘seemed like a decent guy’ Marlon ‘could never have imagined saying anything to him at all, he was very forbidding’. The culture at the school was ‘quite brutal’ too, and although he and his friendship group ‘didn’t muck up’ they nonetheless ‘used to get strapped and caned all the time for doing nothing’. Now Marlon wonders if the Brothers used corporal punishment as an ‘outlet’ for the feelings for which they had ‘that had no other outlet’.

He has never told his parents about it because of the distress it would cause them, not only because they might feel they had failed him, but also the turmoil it would cause for their faith.

‘Mum and Dad used to have the local priests in their home quite often, they’d have dinner with them and socialise with them. Their whole circle of friends is based on the Catholic community. Dad was on the parish council of the local church ... Priests were regarded as very special and untouchable in a sense. Brothers to a lesser extent.’

Marlon threw himself into his schoolwork and sporting pursuits to deal with his emotions and memories of the abuse. For a while he taught in the Catholic system, but later changed careers. When he had children, he sent them to Catholic schools, noting the significant cultural change that has already taken place – for example, the vast majority of teachers are now lay teachers and not clergy. He believes his relationship with his siblings and ‘good, decent’ parents ‘completely counteracted any of the bad stuff that might have happened’.

Although Marlon does not think the impact of the abuse has been great, and is not interested in pursuing criminal or civil action, he would appreciate an apology from the Marist Brothers.

Greaves abused many other children after Marlon in a number of institutions, having been moved around by the Church (which was aware of his behaviour), and incarcerated for some of these offences. Marlon realises he was one of the Brother’s first victims, and said, ‘I feel really bad that he then went on for like another 30 years. Gradually his behaviour became worse. I mean what he did with me was bad but it got much worse (from what I’ve read about it)’.

He understands that he was a child at the time of the abuse, and had valid reasons for not telling anyone about it – and that even if he had disclosed what was happening it may not have changed anything.

‘I accept that in a rational sense, but you’ve always got this irrational thought that “Look, if only I’d done something, I might have stopped him from ruining other people’s lives”.’

Marlon believes that those in positions of power within the Church who knowingly moved offenders between parishes and schools should be held legally accountable for their actions.

‘I think that’s one of the missing links so far. People have been shunted around all over the place even though the relevant people in authority knew about it. They’ve by and large managed completely to escape responsibility, which I think is just wrong ... To me there is a strong element of criminal liability there.

‘And I think the other thing ... the Church needs to accept that it can’t run its affairs in relation to this anymore.’

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