When Neil was growing up in the 1950s, many Catholic families like his were hopeful that one boy would become a priest and one of the girls a nun.
Against a background so heavily steeped in religion, it wasn’t possible for Neil to tell his parents that he was being sexually abused by Father Marcellus. ‘My parents reinforced the same discipline as the school,’ Neil said. ‘If I copped a beating at school, my father would give me six of the best as well.’
In the early 1960s, at the age of 10, Neil started at a Franciscan college. Marcellus was his sports teacher for the first year and his class teacher for the following two years.
‘I was very impressionable and I wanted to do well for Mum at home. Marcellus was looking after me and I thought, “He’s a nice teacher”.’
Neil told the Commissioner that he was upset one day at a swimming carnival because his clothes had got wet. Marcellus offered to help Neil and fondled his genitals while towelling him. ‘From then on, he was clever how he could take you to sport and always end up touching you.’
Father Lucius, another priest at the school, entered the sports room one day and saw Marcellus sexually abusing Neil.
‘He told Marcellus to get dressed and go back to the friary. Then he gave me the thrashing of my life. I was naked. He said I was a dirty little bastard and a shame to my family, and asked why I was doing this to Marcellus. I said I was only doing what he asked me to. When I got home I was upset and told my dad I’d got in a fight, so then I got another belting.’
Expelled from the school for disruptive behaviour soon after, Neil went to three more schools before starting an apprenticeship and pursuing a successful career. He described himself as a workaholic and perfectionist, ‘which is exhausting because you’ve got to keep going all the time’.
Neil married in the 1970s, but didn’t tell his wife, Carol, about the abuse until the 2000s. He’d been taking painkillers and medication for depression and anxiety for years, and one night took an overdose of morphine. ‘I just wanted the pain to go away.’
Neil and Carol had since grown closer, and she’d told him that she now understood much of his behaviour over the past 40 years.
In the late 2000s, Neil informed the Franciscan order about the abuse and was given details of Towards Healing. He also made a report to police. Neil said that while individual officers were helpful, he felt the process was fragmented and over several years he had to tell the same story to many different people.
He was discouraged at being told that too much time had lapsed since the abuse, there was insufficient evidence, and the age of the alleged offender precluded further action. He later found out that age and time lapses aren’t factors in the consideration of criminal matters.
When he was told in the 2010s that the case had been closed, Neil said he kicked up a stink, particularly because Lucius hadn’t been interviewed in the intervening years. When Marcellus and Lucius were interviewed, both denied knowledge of Neil or the abuse.
‘I’d rung Marcellus … just to see if he knew me and he said he did.’ In a subsequent phone call, Neil confronted Marcellus directly about the abuse, and the priest told him, ‘If you’re going to talk like that, get a lawyer’.
Neil was looking forward to mediation through the Towards Healing process, and was hopeful that it would provide acknowledgement that the abuse had occurred. ‘I want justice, not only for the victims, but for the partners and all those others affected as well.’