For Max, the sexual abuse perpetrated by Brother Pascal represented the loss of his innocence and childhood. ‘[My siblings and I] had a really well established network of Mum and Dad’s support plus each other’s support so I was very fortunate in many respects, I suppose. So that’s what made this even more shocking. It made it even more from left field, like it just came out of nowhere.’
In the 1960s, when Max was nine years old and in Year 4 at a Catholic primary school in Melbourne, De La Salle Brother Pascal would make boys sit on his lap during class while he fondled their genitals.
‘That was quite traumatic. Every day you didn’t know if you were going to get molested or bashed or attacked’, Max said. ‘He had a fearsome temper. If you started to hesitate to sit on his knee, you’d find yourself getting strapped. One boy just brought the wrong textbook … he’d been off sick, he didn’t have a clue. Pascal went into this wild rage, grabbed him and threw him against the wall and struck him all over his body in front of the whole class, and the boy when he got released by Pascal scampered off and about a half an hour later his father came back and pulled up his shirt and showed Pascal. By that time Brother Clement [the principal] had come in ‘cause this guy was threatening to kill Pascal. He pulled his shirt up and you could see the welts over his back and over his legs; he’d whacked him over the face. And he said to Clement, “If he touches my boy again, I’ll kill him”.
‘I think the thing that’s really hard for people to understand who haven’t been brought up in the Catholic religion is that even that man to a degree was fairly powerless, because the Church was unquestionable. He probably had to go home and say 500 Hail Marys to be able to sleep that night because he’d challenged something that the Church was doing, but he did the right thing instinctually for his boy. But that was an incident of a severe violent assault that the principal was fully aware of and there was visual evidence and nothing happened. Pascal was still teaching us and bashing us the next day.’
Max said that Pascal made no attempt to disguise his behaviour and the fondling took place in full view of the rest of the class. If a boy asked to go to the toilet, Pascal would put his hands down his pants to ’check if they were wet’.
Pascal also gave ‘sexual instruction’ classes during which he’d draw pictures of penises on the board and masturbate boys. On sports days, he’d make some of the boys stay back to change, watch while they stripped and then he’d dress them one by one, fondling each boy as he went.
One day when Max was in Year 5, he and several other boys witnessed Brother Pascal undressing Year 4 boys. Pascal saw them and later caught Max as he ran around a corner, slapping him in the face. When Max returned to class his teacher, Mrs Harris, asked what had happened to him. He lied and said he’d fallen over, but she continued questioning him and soon other boys joined in with their accounts of Brother Pascal’s physical and sexual abuse.
Later in the playground, Max noticed Mrs Harris having an animated conversation with Brother Clement and a short time afterwards, Pascal was gone from the school. The boys were told that he’d retired, but Max later found out he was around children for another 25 years. After his death in the 1990s, Pascal was buried with full honours by the De La Salle Brothers.
Max said for many decades he focused on being a loving husband and father, however he also drank heavily and had difficulties maintaining employment. In the mid-2000s, he said, he had a ‘mental breakdown’ and left his wife of 30 years. He’d had a ‘protective shield’ through his life, he said, and could never get involved emotionally with people. He’d used alcohol as a means of coping and though he struggled with people in authority, hadn’t previously thought of a connection between being abused as a child and the way he’d lived as an adult. ‘But I think there was a huge connect there that I wasn’t aware of, that had never been dealt with.’
By 2012, Max had been in contact with ex-classmates who were prepared to talk openly about Brother Pascal’s abuse. Max made a submission to the Victorian Government Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations. That process was an opportunity for him to see people in positions of authority respond to allegations of abuse rather than continue to deny it. ‘It’s got lots of benefits, like you get a picture of the size of it and I suppose you don’t feel so victimised from that respect …
‘My spirituality has really helped get me through because I have wonderful faith in human nature and mankind. I think if you can get through you have a greater depth of appreciation of goodness, of valuable things that are part of human nature.’