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Ralph Winston's story

When Brother Lawrence violently raped 12-year-old Ralph, he angrily told the screaming, sobbing boy to take the blame: he should have done a better job folding the laundry. When he saw that Ralph was bleeding, he advised 'Pray to the Lord for forgiveness'.

Several days later, still bleeding, Ralph went to the nurse at the Sydney Catholic boys' home. She removed the sock he had inserted in his anus and said, 'Brother Lawrence did this to you?'

She must have then reported the incident to her superiors because, as Ralph wrote in a statement to the Royal Commission, 'Several days later a senior Brother called me aside and asked me how the bleeding was going. I told him that it was still bleeding. He told me that I was not praying hard enough’.

This was not the first time Ralph had been abused. Born in the 1940s, he grew up in a dysfunctional household. 'My parents had a problem with the drink and separated just before I was born … My father joined the army and left his wife and two children. My mother, with her drinking problem, struggled to support my brother and myself.'

When Ralph was six and his elder brother was bedridden with diphtheria, his mother took him to a Catholic orphanage, handed him to a pair of nuns and walked away.

'I cried uncontrollably. I was so confused in this strange place with all these nuns and could not understand what was happening … I really wanted my mother and my brother.'

His brother soon joined Ralph at the orphanage, but visits from their mother were irregular. 'One time she arrived very drunk and, to our horror, was escorted back to the bus stop by two nuns.’

However, some other women were paying Ralph extra attention. 'I was sexually molested on two separate occasions by postulants [nuns in training] … I had not been in the orphanage long when one evening I soiled my pants. This young postulant took me to the large boy's bathroom and began to clean me up. She paid particular attention to my genitals which she fondled.

'On another occasion I was asleep one night and woke to find another young nun sexually molesting me. While these nuns did not cause me physical pain I was confused and bewildered by these events.'

To add to the confusion, the rest of the nuns were keen on beating rather than caressing. 'They were very cold. No touching little boys who are crying out for some affection. No empathy – yell at them, and use their straps with gay abandon.'

A year or so later, his brother was sent to a boys' home, and Ralph joined him at age 10. Now he could get properly flogged by big strong men.

'The shower room … had 10 shower nozzles protruding from the walls. We had to face the wall for modesty purposes. When Brother Lawrence supervised the showering, he would sneak up on a boy who was standing there enjoying the warmth of the water, and with sick pleasure give the boy the severest whack he could muster with his cane across their wet, exposed buttocks … I took weeks to heal, having to stand rather than sit whenever I could.'

Then came the rape, the physical injury and the mental scarring.

'I spent many hours in the chapel praying, in my innocence, asking for forgiveness. My depression increased tenfold and what little pride, confidence and self-esteem I had completely disappeared. Not a day has gone by since the rape that I do not think of that terrible event.'

There was no one to share it with. 'Nobody believed you when you were little. You were a trouble-maker or an attention-seeker … It's always about the good name of the Church: we don't want a scandal …'

Now in his late 70s, Ralph was accompanied to the Royal Commission by his wife of 50 years and his daughter. Despite having a successful career he has struggled with depression all his life, sometimes attempting to escape via a bottle.

He told his family about the sexual abuse just 18 months ago. As he explains, 'One, I didn't want to upset my lovely wife, Joanna; two, I felt shame, embarrassment, at being raped'.

Joanna said, 'He has had severe depression for all those years that we've been married. He wasn't able to set goals and he wasn't ambitious, because to get through every single day was a struggle … He had a lifetime of not enjoying life day by day'.

Nevertheless, Ralph is not going to spend forever trapped by the past. 'I sent a submission to the Pope about six months ago. I did it just for my own therapy: I was living a life of hate, of vengeance, I just wanted to get back at these people. It was ruining me.

'I read a lot of self-help books, and through the organisation CLAN [Care Leavers Australasia Network] I got onto a really good counsellor, and I've started to forgive. Not forget, just forgive.'

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