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Owen's story

For 50 years, Owen was shadowed by memories of Brother Matthew sexually abusing him, but he never told anyone.

In the early 2010s, news of the Royal Commission coincided with a dinner party at which Owen disclosed the abuse to his wife and their dinner guest. He said the dinner guest had grown up in the same Sydney suburb as him, and they’d been talking about the De La Salle college Owen had attended.

‘I don’t know what it was. I hadn’t even told my wife, and next thing, I’d blurted the whole thing out. Everyone was shocked.’

Owen told the Commissioner that Brother Matthew started sexually abusing him in his first year of high school in the early 1960s.

‘He picked me out to get the strap three or four times a day, and I always got extra chores to do. He once made me take his strap to a boot-maker to get a piece of lead sewn into it.’

Owen said the boys referred to Brother Matthew as ‘mad’, particularly because the aspirin powders he openly took in class seemed to cause marked and aggressive behaviour changes.

Owen said one day he was sent from the classroom and taken to the toilets by Brother Matthew. ‘He threatened me that I’d get the strap if I didn’t touch his genitals. First it was through his robe, then later it was masturbating him. After that it was anal intercourse. I was terrified the whole time.’

The abuse occurred two to three times per week and continued for three years.

The school sports master recommended to Owen that he keep fit over winter by attending football training. ‘While the other boys were on the oval, he’d take me aside in the grandstand and put his hand down my shorts and fondle me. He said it was healthy for young boys. That went on for about 18 months.’

Another Brother singled Owen out for physical abuse, taking him to quiet areas of the school grounds and punching him. ‘I couldn’t tell my parents about any of it because they were working to put me there, and they wouldn’t have believed me.’

Owen’s wife thought his disclosure went some way to clarifying behaviour she’d seen and heard over the two decades of their marriage. Owen had often expressed strong opinions in discussions about the Catholic Church, and before they married he’d experienced homelessness and drug and alcohol addictions. Throughout their married life he had difficulty keeping jobs, particularly when it looked like a promotion or other positive event was imminent. Owen’s children were also told about the abuse. ‘They were shocked, but they understand now why I’ve been a bit of a crazy person in my life.’

Around the same time as he heard about the Royal Commission, Owen took legal advice and sought compensation from the Catholic Church.

‘I wasn’t interested in the money side of it, and I nearly pulled out about 20 times. I wanted an apology, and them to admit the abuse happened, but all they’d say is that I was at the school at that time and so was he.’

The Christian Brother who assessed Owen’s claim told him that Brother Matthew had died, and that he ‘wasn’t surprised’ about the report of sexual abuse. Owen received $275,000 plus costs in compensation.

Owen said he would have liked to know what his life would have become if he hadn’t been sexually abused. ‘I’m saddened every day that things could have been different. My father was an academic and lectured at university. I think I could have done anything. My sister became a professional and I became a drunk.’

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