Born in the early 1950s to a staunch Catholic mother and a violent and emotionally ‘mute’ father, Morton had never felt ‘unconditionally’ loved. After being sexually abused by an acquaintance, and enduring the court case, he took refuge in the Church.
In his late teens, Morton felt called to join a ‘pious community’ run by Father Pat Clancy who many believed would one day become a saint. Clancy told Morton, ‘I'll love you like no one else. You'll be the son that I never had’. He ‘was like a saviour’, Morton said. ‘It made me feel very special … so then he had me in a situation where I'd do anything for him.’
In the late 60s, after Vatican II, many religious were leaving the Church. Clancy’s community attracted many novices, mostly teenage men from abusive families whose habits he could ‘form’ and ‘manipulate’. Any with ‘strong boundaries’ were gone the next day. Morton, who described himself as naive and obedient, joined with a conviction that he was doing God’s work.
After Morton disclosed his childhood sexual abuse, Clancy came to his room for sex. When he left, he would visit the rooms of other novices. ‘I found all of this strange’, Morton said, ‘but by that time, I had come to believe that this must be the way it is’. An unspoken rule among the priests in charge meant that Morton belonged to Clancy. No one else touched him. This went on for five or six years until Clancy ‘turned’ and ‘went for the younger ones again’.
Initially, it was not possible for Morton to stand up to Clancy who was a violent man who threatened to ‘spiflicate’ anyone who fell short of his obsessive standards. ‘We lived under this regime of fear. We were forbidden to talk to each other, and forbidden to talk to our families, so the cultic element came in … He was formidable.’
It was also difficult for a devout young man in ‘bells and smells land’ to see the wood from the trees. However, in time, he realised that priests who were doing pastoral care were in fact sexually abusing students at their school, or grooming them to join the order.
As Morton took on greater responsibilities, he realised that the order was a boys’ club where ‘you don't rat on it, you support it … you don't ask any questions’. It was a network governed by a small group of ‘insatiable’ and ‘uncontrollable’ men who normalised a ‘toxic’ and ‘horrendous’ culture in which hundreds of young people were abused.
‘Whoever they could get in whatever way, usually through alcohol, they plied them with alcohol and then had sex with them. I have now come to see that … it went on, no holds barred literally, and certainly I would have no idea of the numbers involved.’
However, this ‘corruption’ was hidden beneath the praise they received from prominent politicians and the Catholic establishment.
‘Their dynamic is very clever. They choose the weak and the vulnerable, and then they ingratiate themselves to the confident and the well-connected. So, if anything, it was the people in the school who thought that they were just absolutely fantastic, and people in the parish, because they feted all the well-known people … Their profile was too high. So anyone who made any accusations was just wiped off the face of the earth.’
The men in charge felt that they were ‘untouchable’ and ‘above the rest of society’. ‘When you're ordained a priest, when you administer the sacraments, they have a Latin term called persona Christi, you stand in the person of Christ, and that's a pretty big gig when you think that you're standing as a divine person.’
In the 90s, younger Brothers came to Morton with disclosures of sexual abuse. When he raised this with Clancy, he was banished interstate. When he later went to the bishop – ‘he wished me to hell’ – Clancy launched ‘an all-out assault’, punishing and vilifying him, and accusing him of betraying their ‘love’.
Morton ‘psychologically lost it’. ‘I thought, I've got it wrong … because your religious training is your ego, you're sinful, your pride. All this sort of stuff came in, and it all plays in your head … The only thing that saved me was the love of the Brothers.’
Morton never wanted the role of whistleblower. Initially, all he did was tell the truth. However, when he later went on to participate in Church and state inquiries into the order, and in court proceedings, he did so remembering a number of suicides in the school which he believed were linked to the abuse. ‘I promised them I would speak up at every opportunity I could.’
In the end, Clancy went to jail, and Morton had to rebuild his life. The diocese did nothing, so he worked in various jobs, and ‘basically went downhill’. A medical assessment submitted during Clancy’s trial revealed that Morton had post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘I knew that. I was gambling and drinking … I had an obsessive compulsive disorder … I was just off my face.’
When people told him to shut up and put up with his ‘martyrdom’, he toppled into even deeper depression. He thought, ‘I'm going to end up dying in the gutter’.
Today, Morton is rediscovering his faith. Some finally forthcoming Church funds are enabling him to get his life back together by taking sabbaticals and studying meditation.
‘For me, it's more just in the gentle prayer. To try and teach people about centring and finding that inner light within you, it's the greatest gift … You don't need all this other paraphernalia.’
Morton told the Commissioner, ‘I'm handing it over to you, to the Royal Commission … I can let go of it now. You don't know how that feels. But I want to acknowledge that you listen, and to me, that's the most powerful thing, because I haven't had people that listened ... So thank you. I hope the burden is not too heavy at the end of the day.’