Mauricio was taught by Sisters of Mercy at his primary school in Melbourne, but said he didn’t see much evidence of mercy in the assistant principal, Sister Christina. In the early 1970s, when Mauricio was in Grade 1, he and other children were caught running in and out of the girls’ toilets.
Christina lined the children up and took them one by one into a room to be ‘interrogated’.
‘I was locked in a cupboard, and a few others were taken up to another floor. Then she came and started questioning me. She led the questions and answers, and wanted me to tell her sexual stories. After that day, she’d bring me to the room by myself and get me to make up sexual fantasies for her. If I didn’t make her happy, she’d punish me.’
Punishment included Christina hitting Mauricio’s naked buttocks while he stood on a desk. He told the Commissioner that one day the principal walked in on one of the beatings, stopped briefly and then left without comment. The sexualised stories and beatings went on for several weeks, and the abuse also involved Christina making Mauricio masturbate in front of her.
Not long after the principal witnessed the abuse, she and Christina came to Mauricio’s home and told his parents that he’d been misbehaving. ‘My father defended me while they were there, but as soon as they left, he belted me – very badly. I told my parents the truth, but they didn’t believe me.’
Mauricio told the parish priest one day about Christina and the sexual stories. ‘He went and asked the nuns, and they said I was a liar. He gave me another beating in front of them.’
By Grade 5, Mauricio was getting into fights and performing poorly at school. A teacher he respected couldn’t understand his change in behaviour and said she’d speak to the principal about him.
‘I don’t know what was said, but the teacher came back crying. That’s the first time I noticed that something had changed in me, and that whatever it was couldn’t be talked about.’
The relationship with his parents, particularly his father, remained difficult throughout Mauricio’s childhood and adult life. Several weeks after his father died in the early 2000s, Mauricio was driving with his wife and child when he nearly crashed the car. ‘I knew then something had gone wrong and I had to do something.’
Then in his 40s, Mauricio started seeing a psychologist. He also learnt that four other former pupils had approached the Church about sexual abuse.
Christina and the principal attended the group mediation session. Mauricio said the principal burst into tears, apologised and said she’d been unaware of what was going on. Christina refused to look at anyone.
‘We wanted the Sisters of Mercy to apologise in writing, but they wouldn’t.’ The nuns eventually issued a statement of regret. ‘I wanted an apology and they danced right around it. We got compensation, but it wasn’t about the money.’
Mauricio had disclosed the abuse to his wife before they married, and she’d been supportive in his struggles with employment, mental health and substance abuse.
‘The damage was with my parents. My father never knew, and my mother didn’t believe me … She had to wait till the Church admitted it and then she said sorry. I’d like it if the nuns said sorry.’