Mateo’s family emigrated from the Philippines in the late 1960s. A couple of years later, when Mateo was 10 and starting Year 5 at a Catholic school in Sydney, he still felt like a new migrant. He had to do lots of fitting in and finding his way in the different environment, he told the Commissioner. He believes his teacher, Brother Anton, who molested him for months, knew that.
‘[Sexual predators] kind of have a feel for vulnerability. And I think they almost have that radar.’
Brother Anton was known as a caring teacher. Mateo said he was groomed by him. He was chosen by Brother Anton to be his special pet. ‘I was a very cheerful and happy type of guy … But on the other hand I used to get the crap teased out of me from the kids going, “You’re a teacher’s pet”, rah rah rah’, he recalled.
‘I was singled out, and kids hated me being special. Not realising that pretty much as I was sitting on his lap, in front of the school and he was hiding everything behind his desk, he was having his fiddle and whatever. That happened for pretty much a year, in every maths or religion class that I could remember.’
Mateo didn’t tell anyone what was happening. The abuse came to an end when the family moved suburbs, and Mateo enrolled in a new school. But it had a profound impact. Settling into a new area and school community, and in need of support, he felt unable to turn to teachers for help. In his mind, teachers were the enemy. ‘Looking back now, it’s totally affected me’, he said.
Mateo’s parents are hardworking and well educated, he said, and his siblings have successful professional careers. ‘I’m living in a shack in [a suburb], barely making ends meet … I’m the black sheep, and I shouldn’t have ever been the black sheep. So there is still that anger, of opportunity lost.’
As an adult, Mateo struggled with anxiety and depression. He developed ADHD. ‘If one word can describe my life, it’s chaos.’ He has found it hard to remain in employment and has had to take low-paid unchallenging jobs. Over the past 10 to 15 years he has been trying to ‘glue back the broken pieces’ of his life, he said. He is currently in enrolled in an undergraduate course at a Sydney university, part of the process of ‘trying to put my life back together’.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when Mateo was approaching his 40s, that he fully realised that what Brother Anton had done to him was child sex abuse. He didn’t know what to do. ‘There was no avenues at the time. There was no – where do you go for something like this? Accident claim insurance?’ He felt it best to approach the Catholic Church’s ‘head honcho’, so he wrote the archbishop a letter. Weeks passed and eventually he received a reply with brochures about Towards Healing and details about who to contact. He followed up and eventually found himself at a meeting with a priest from Brisbane, head of the order that managed the school he’d attended.
‘This was at that period of possibly the worst part of my depression or anxiety. There were days I was 16, 17 hours in bed, lying around, or just walking down the street and just welling up and crying … At the time, I needed something to heal. What they did was gave me 7,500 bucks – go away money. And a form to sign, and six counselling sessions.’
The $7,500 was ‘bloody chicken feed’, Mateo said. And the counselling, from an ex-nun, didn’t help. ‘I needed someone impartial, who had no connections with the Church.’ He felt he’d been brushed off because he had no legal representation. Several years later he disclosed the abuse to his parents for the first time and approached the Church again. This time he had a lawyer, organised through a support group for victims of child sex abuse, as well as the help of his father.
Early on in negotiations, Mateo was asked to nominate the amount of compensation he wanted, and itemise what it would cover. He came back with a figure that would cover the cost and associated expenses of university study. It quickly became clear the Church wouldn’t pay that much. Nor was its position as conciliatory as it had seemed at initial meetings. ‘They were almost bullying us, to say, “Take us to the criminal court. Take us there. We know you don’t have the resources to do that. We do. You won’t win this because your perpetrator is dead … Take this or get lost. That’s the deal”.’
Eventually, Mateo received about $40,000, of which his lawyer was paid about half. ‘I know people who’ve slipped on fricken’ grapes at Woollies and got substantially more than that. So again it left another dirty taste in my mouth, because what sort of price do you put on someone’s loss of innocence? …
‘If Jesus was in that room, he would be very pissed off, because they were not very Jesus-like. The Christianity aspect of being Christian? Not when Catholic Insurance is involved’, he said.
Mateo lives alone. He has become introverted and a loner, he said. ‘I have not been in an intimate relationship for 13 years, because the last person I told walked out … It has caused domino type damage all around. It’s like this boulder dropped into a swimming pool. Not a pebble, a bloody boulder – big waves.’
Mateo’s family has been Catholic for generations and Catholicism is like ‘a genetic imprint’ in him, he said. He accepts that child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and Brothers has been difficult for the Church to deal with.
‘But a lot of what a decent person would do, they didn’t do. They protect these guys, they just shuffle them from parish to parish. If that was the mafia – if it was a member of the mafia fiddling around with one of the other members, boom! I’m not saying that’s what you should be doing, but to me they didn’t take it seriously enough. Look, for many years I lived in shame. Many, many, many, many years. Today I still live with that shame, because of where I am today.’