In the 1960s, when Ruben was in primary school, his family moved from interstate to Sydney. Ruben arrived at a new school halfway through Year 6. He was 11. It was a state school but his teacher, Mark Walsh, was training to be a Jesuit priest at the time.
‘He [Walsh] was definitely grooming me ... He came to me, said that I wasn’t doing well in class and I needed extra assistance … I had to come back after school to do an extra session with him … He was just a pleasant person, you know, always very friendly.’
Ruben isn’t certain but thinks the abuse started that year. Walsh kept Ruben back to repeat his final year in primary school. ‘I know the following year [the abuse] was just perpetuated every week. It got to a stage where … we had a love relationship.’ By then, Ruben was 12.
The abuse included ‘fondling me and sucking my penis as if I were a play thing’. The abuse occurred at the school, at the Catholic school that Walsh had the keys to, and in Walsh’s car. On at least one occasion Ruben was anally penetrated. Walsh warned Ruben not to tell anyone or they would both be in trouble. Eventually, Ruben would ask for money from Walsh in return.
Ruben recalls in his statement, ‘He, Mark, insisted that he loved me which confused the hell out of me because I began to enjoy the sensuality of the sexual acts but felt guilty of doing wrong and my response was to try to latch on to any girl who was around my age and ask her to marry me because I thought that that would help me to escape, but unfortunately it had the adverse reaction by terrifying them to the point where I was shunned and looked on as a weirdo. I also tried to experiment with other boys and ended up getting beaten up as a “poofter weirdo” and became alienated by everyone …’
Ruben doesn’t remember why the ‘relationship’ ended with Walsh but it was after Ruben entered high school. ‘When our connection was broken I felt lost and confused because I thought he loved me.’
Then came a ‘total explosion in my head’. Ruben became angry and manipulative. He ran away from home and got into trouble with the police and his parents. He acted up at school, got kicked out of some schools and completed, but didn’t pass, Year 12.
Ruben went from job to job and got involved in criminal activities to support his drug addiction, which resulted in him spending time in jail. His behaviour became risky in a variety of ways and he attempted suicide a few times.
Ruben eventually gave up drugs, ‘cold turkey’. When travelling around the country he came in contact with a Christian community and his faith has given him a lot of strength. He later married and had children. He did have a child in a previous relationship but was so concerned he would become a perpetrator that he ran away. He has no contact with that child, who is now an adult.
Ruben describes himself as being a ‘cold’ father, who found hugs difficult. He says his wife and children have had to put up with him. He finds intimacy with his wife difficult.
Ruben first disclosed his abuse to his sister when he was in his late 20s. She recommended he see a psychiatrist. This professional’s view at the time, in the 1970s, was that Ruben had enjoyed the abuse because he had let it go on for such a long time. He told Ruben to forgive himself and get over it.
Being around his own children may have been a trigger for Ruben to disclose to his wife as well as to ring the police in the late 2000s. Three years after he gave a statement a detective contacted him to follow up. This detective also contacted all of Ruben’s classmates from primary school and found two more victims who were prepared to come forward. Walsh pleaded guilty and was given a 27-month jail sentence with a non-parole period of 12 months.
Ruben found the court experience ‘quite cathartic’ as Walsh accepted some liability. He was disappointed, however, that the police seemed to be pursuing a lesser offence, in order to ensure Walsh was convicted and sent to jail, rather than trying to prove some of the acts of abuse in court.
Once Walsh had accepted liability, and as part of Ruben’s spiritual practice, Ruben met with Walsh in the court precincts, and forgave his perpetrator. ‘It gave me resolution. I was able to sit down and look at the man in the eyes and not feel like I wanted to kill him, which I had done in the past.’
Ruben came to the Royal Commission to help put a ‘microscope on the activity of the clergy’ and all institutions. He believes employees aren’t being screened properly.
‘The excuse that this man gave for his abuse of me was … “I’m homosexual and in that day and age, it was a bit of a … taboo thing. And I had difficulty finding a partner. So I took on the children”… And when he went into … the priesthood he found his life partner there, so didn’t have to touch children anymore. I found that bunkum … That was said in court. That was part of his defence.’