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Sam William's story

When the opportunity arose for Sam to attend a New South Wales Catholic boarding school, his father encouraged him to take it. The family had heard good things about the school and in particular, its sports program.

Soon after starting Year 7 in the late 1980s, Sam realised the school wasn’t what he’d expected. There was a lot of bullying and intimidation from older students and he hated the lack of privacy, especially when showering.

‘The showers didn’t have curtains on them’, Sam said. ‘They had no screens and you had to line up for them and everyone would wait for you to have a shower in this big shower room and I didn’t like going … I did stop showering regularly because I was worried about it and that’s when Father Rossi let me shower there on my own.’

Sam thought he was old enough to shower himself, but Rossi insisted on helping him. The priest also made Sam take off all his clothes and lie on the bed while he washed his genitals.

‘I remember him breathing deeply and feeling like, this is a bit weird, what’s going on here?’

Sam started making sure that his friends were in the dorm whenever Rossi came by. This was his way of saying, ‘Go away from me. I know what’s going on’. After a time, Rossi stopped trying to bathe him.

Sam didn’t report what had happened at first but when another boy made a complaint about Rossi, Sam confided to a friend that ‘something like that had happened’ to him. The friend had also been abused by Rossi and encouraged Sam to report it to another teacher.

After doing so, Sam was interviewed by police. He recalls the meeting taking place in a room slightly away from the campus and the headmaster being there and jotting down notes. His parents weren’t present and recently Sam’s mother had told him that she was not aware of the interview taking place.

Within a few years Sam had left first the Catholic school and then a public high school. He started using cannabis and was homeless for several years. Rossi was eventually charged with several counts of abuse, including against Sam, and the case proceeded to trial. Sam’s case was heard separately from the other students’.

Sam said he wasn’t briefed about the case and he arrived late at court and without support. He had no chance to speak to the crown prosecutor before giving evidence, and he was cross examined about a conversation he’d had with his mother years before. There was apparently inconsistency between what he’d said at the committal hearing about this conversation and what he later said at trial.

Although Sam thought the conversation a peripheral issue, he could see that the crown prosecutor seemed disappointed with his answers. ‘It just felt like I was a mistake, like this whole thing I fucked up, and that I was made out to be this dirty kid anyway.’

Rossi was acquitted of all charges.

Sam later heard several other students from the school had received compensation from the Catholic Church in relation to abuse by Rossi, and he sought to do the same.

He engaged lawyers to represent him and at the time of speaking with the Royal Commission, the matter was coming up for mediation. He’d found the process of making a statement and the ensuing assessment by psychiatrists ‘unpleasant’, and he felt ‘re-traumatised by the whole thing’.

‘It feels like I’m never going to get what I want out of the Church, like it feels like … it’s never going to be sorry. It just feels like they’re lame, it really does. It really feels like part of them wants to say sorry in this way, but part of them is worried about the legal outcome, so they will say sorry in a way that doesn’t imply something. That’s how it feels to me.’

‘I want to forgive and forget but I don’t think that that’s possible. I don’t think that’s possible from what I’ve heard in terms of the Catholic response in the Royal Commission [and] during the Royal Commission. Some of it feels like, some of it feels disgusting.’

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