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Phyllida's story

‘I wanted my voice heard. I wanted to tell the story of the horror that – it’s been terrible. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve gone through it. It’s only now that it’s silent that I think “How did I do it?” I don’t want to cry about this, but … my life’s gone too. I’m nearly 70 now and I think “This all started all those years ago”.’

Phyllida’s younger brother, Mark, was physically and sexually abused at the Catholic school he attended in Melbourne. He left that school and attended another but his education suffered and he never completed his secondary education.

‘Mark was a very bright, intelligent, sensitive child with fine looks … Here was a boy who had always been this studious young man, had suddenly turned into a total riddle and nobody knew what he was doing.’

Phyllida said the abuse had a profound effect on Mark, psychologically, spiritually and financially, and he has led an unproductive and troubled life.

He had a breakdown soon after leaving school, struggled to hold down jobs, and lost his marriage and children. Throughout his life, Mark battled with mental health problems and alcoholism, and had numerous run-ins with the legal system.

Mark went through Towards Healing and received a settlement. But Phyllida said ‘He emerged from this process worse than when he entered it, as reliving experiences, stories long supressed, increased his anxiety, trauma, depression and fear … No one represented the loving hand of Christ and sought forgiveness. In so doing, they further isolated him from the Church family and its community’.

Over the years, Phyllida’s mother and siblings tried to help Mark both emotionally and financially, but she said his antisocial attitudes and alcohol problems led to major damage and division among the family and destroyed some bonds permanently.

Phyllida has provided the most support of all. She wrote numerous letters on his behalf to high-level members of the Church seeking justice for him. She has accompanied him to medical and legal appointments, paid for medical, dental, optical and financial services and paid for lawyers for his court appearances.

When the bank was about to foreclose on Mark’s mortgage, Phyllida bought his house and let him continue living there rent free. She pays for all repairs, insurance and rates and has, over time, also provided furniture and clothes. She has been doing this for nearly 40 years, at an estimated cost of over a million dollars. Mark has a new partner who lives in the house with him but makes no financial contribution.

Phyllida recently received legal advice that because Mark is so dependent on her, she is now obliged to provide a home for him for the rest of his life, and to provide for this in her will in case she dies before him.

Phyllida has always had the support of her husband and regularly sees a psychologist to help manage the stress, but standing by her brother has taken its toll.

‘I’ve lived the life of a secondary victim, suffering in silence, stressed and fatigued, hyper-vigilant, sad and lonely. Who could you talk to about these things? This is critical. You lose friends as they no longer wish to hear or share your concerns. They just do not understand, it’s beyond their experience and in some ways it seems exaggerated …

‘Not only is there a material cost, a financial cost, there’s an enormous psychological cost to your life and, like, I’m nowhere near the person I used to be. I’m now anxious all the time and it’s changed my life … My siblings are going in all sorts of directions and many of them judge me harshly, saying I’ve caused the problems in the family because of my interventions. I should have let Mark go into the gutter years ago and if he died, well then, bad luck. But I don’t see it that way.

‘Now what I have done is distanced myself and let him get on with his partner and I hear little from him. But now the question [that] remains is, what’s he doing? How is he? You see, after all these years, I’m still concerned about Mark’s welfare.’

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