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Max Ivan's story

Max came to the Royal Commission because ‘I wanted to be among the counted’. He enjoyed his early life in a small country town. He was taught and raised by women who loved him. So when his family moved to Sydney and he was badly treated by the nuns at school he was confused.

Max’s mother was a divorced single parent in the 1950s, so she did it tough. Her civil divorce meant she was on the back foot with the Catholic Church, but her difficult financial situation meant she could send her children to the local Catholic school for very little money.

For Max, Catholic school was the place where he was terrified and humiliated. It began with the nuns in primary school, and went right through to his physical and sexual abuse in high school at the hands of the Marist Brothers. His learning difficulties made things worse.

‘On one occasion, I was so badly beaten by one nun’ Max wrote in a statement for the Commission, ‘I was covered from knees to ankles in red weals. She bashed me with a ruler in front of the whole class, telling everyone what a useless little “humbug” I was.’

Max’s grades suffered until he had a lay teacher in fifth class, who addressed his learning difficulties. ‘With his tutelage, I came first in the class … He saved me, he really did save me.’ Max was now finally able to read.

In sixth class the children changed to a different campus. Max was now with the Marist Brothers and things went pear-shaped again. One teacher, Brother Simon, started off belittling him in front of the class. Pretty soon the sexual abuse started.

‘He would make me bring my books up and stand beside him at the desk which had a solid front. He would pretend to be looking at my books, but would have his hand up my shorts. He would grab my testicles and twist, tear … He would put his finger up my arse. I would be in tears. As he was doing this he would be saying what a useless wretch I was.

‘My experience was of frequent, unpredictable, vicious physical and sexual abuse and I believed his view of me.’

In Form 4, Max’s last year of school, he encountered Brother Davies. ‘He liked to cause physical pain. He would grab a pressure point on my neck until I was about to collapse, or he would twist my arm up behind my back.

‘Occasionally he would rub his penis against my bottom while hurting me – he was a shocking sadist. Davies’s abuse was torture – just inflicted pain without saying anything … He was our master of discipline. I saw him do some terrible beatings to other boys and I saw him rape another boy.’

Max never talked to his mother about the abuse, or to other children. They’d give him grief for crying. ‘Other kids would say “What’s your problem? He’s only picking on you a bit”. I didn’t tell them he was squeezing my genitals till I nearly fainted … tried to stick his thumb up my bum. I couldn’t tell them any of that. So I just copped it sweet.’

Max started drinking at school when he was 14 and ended up being expelled. ‘That was when my real attempts at self-destruction started.’ He embarked on a life of drug-taking and high-risk physical activity. ‘Alcohol and drugs were a big help for me … They blinded me to what I was hiding from.’

When the only mentor he had died, Max got even wilder. ‘I didn’t think I was worth anything. Everything I was told would happen, was happening. I didn’t see that I was doing it to myself – I just took everything I could get my hands on.’

‘When I read about Brother Davies in the paper…. that started prying open my Pandora’s Box of horror.’ Max ended up contacting Broken Rites to talk about the abuse he suffered from the Brothers. The Marists now pay for his psychological counselling and Max is in the process of seeking financial compensation from them.

Max has stopped taking drugs. His marriage went through a lot of turmoil but has endured. ‘I’ve been a very difficult man.’ Max says he does have moments of joy, despite everything.

Would an apology from the Church help him? ‘It would only be meaningful if they can give it to me in writing so I can tear it up and burn it … It wouldn’t be credible to me.’

As for recommendations, Max suggested keeping Brothers and priests away from children ‘until they have a major overhaul in the Catholic Church’.

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