‘I didn’t even know what was happening to me, to be honest with you. I just didn’t know.’
Sandro’s family was devoutly Catholic, and ‘always looked at the Church for guidance and for law’. In the 1970s, when Sandor was nine, he started at a Patrician Brothers school in Sydney’s west. The headmaster, Brother Horace, began sexually abusing Sandro, including rape, in his first year there, continuing to do so for ‘many, many years’.
‘I never knew when I would be pulled out of the class and groped or anything else. It just changed my whole perspective of life from the first time it happened. There wasn’t the concentration left, I couldn’t concentrate. I was thinking about this person 24/7, mainly during school hours but knowing that the next day I had to go back anyhow.
'And what was going to happen next, what madness was going to occur? It came to a point where you just gave up, you were just too exhausted, you were just too, too physically, emotionally exhausted to take anything in.’
Horace was ‘quite brazen’ and would ‘molest me in front of my class’.
‘Reflecting back, it was part of his madness. He wasn’t secret about it whatsoever. And so I was stigmatised at school for this ... It was hard just having this happen but then harder not to be part of your peers ... Children can be cruel.’
Although Sandro pleaded to be taken out of the school, ‘a reason had to be given’ and he just couldn’t disclose to his family. His father had been very ill, and ‘it was always in the back of my mind that I cannot tell my family what’s happening to me, because I loved my father very, very much’.
The abuse continued until Sandro was in his early 20s ‘but it was very limited. It wasn’t a regular thing after I left school’. Finally Sandro married young in order to end this contact. ‘I also thought that by marrying he might see that I’m not that way inclined.’
It was around this time that Sandro first discussed the abuse with his mother. ‘I couldn’t hold it in, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t function as a normal human being. And these people are saying, “What’s wrong with this person?” – understandably. And I just told her ... My mother was a very protective parent who used to take me to school and virtually just give me over to this person.’
When he told her what Horace had done, she cried. ‘I didn’t want to see that part – but she had to know’. After this, she stopped going to church.
Sandro told the Commissioner about other impacts of the abuse. ‘He took so much away from me. He took my innocence away ... I don’t trust, I can’t form relationships – I live an existence of wanting to trust and wanting to but I just can’t.’
He has had counselling in the past, but is not engaged with any support currently. ‘I don’t know. It’s a thing that I’m just happy with at the moment. I don’t want to trust anyone ... I don’t think you can understand. If you’ve been in my shoes, it’s not an easy thing. It’s not an easy thing at all.’
In his mid 20s Sandro saw a film about child sexual abuse in the Church, and was prompted to make a complaint to the Brothers. By this stage Horace had moved overseas, so Sandro contacted both the order’s provincial in Australia and the one where the Brother was now living.
After this, Horace sent a letter of apology which appeared ‘more for his benefit than mine’. Sandro felt the Australian provincial was trying to dissuade him from reporting the matter to police.
Nearly 20 years ago, another of Horace’s victims contacted Sandro, and they reported the abuse to police. A statement was taken by the child protection unit (which Sandro ‘found a bit strange’ given his age when he reported), and an investigation conducted.
Horace came back to Australia voluntarily, although ‘he didn’t have a choice, he was going to be extradited’. He entered a guilty plea and was given a custodial sentence, which Sandro believes was too lenient.
The Brother’s plea meant Sandro did not attend the court. This made him feel ‘silenced’, and he regrets not seeing Horace’s face ‘to see if he was remorseful’.
‘What hurt the most out of the whole thing ... was some of the transcripts, the court transcripts when I received them. ‘Cause I wasn’t there in court, so it was the transcripts that really had an effect on me.
'There was a part in there where the judge mentioned that he [Horace] was religious, and religious people confess, and he was true to his maker … But if he had confessed at the time, why didn't the priests say anything to the authorities?’
He knows that Horace had other victims too, and that the Church may have moved him overseas after learning of his offending. ‘Because there were so many ... I will never ever know the extent of how many boys have been interfered with. There were a lot.’
Sandro then sought compensation. Through his lawyer he negotiated a six-figure payment – though the Church ‘haggled and haggled’ and he had to pay his legal fees out of this amount (and the other victim, whose abuse was less severe, received a greater amount). Sandro, his wife, and their children were supposed to be given counselling, but this was never forthcoming. Although reluctant to sign the accompanying deed, as he did not like the confidentiality clause, he felt pressured to do so.
‘When it was all over and done with, the only thing that I had in my mind was that people have to know what happened to me. I want people to know what happened to me, ‘cause I’m not going to shut up anymore.
'Because of family and friends, I had to sign a deed, a bloody deed, that if I wanted to write a book [about] what happened to me, I’d be sued by the same people who destroyed me.’
After having settled everything Sandro found out that he could have taken the matter to a higher court. ‘I didn’t know a thing, and I wasn’t even advised beforehand. And when I signed this deed that was it ... I had signed my right away to hear it in the Supreme Court.’
Now he has been told he can sue his lawyer for not providing him with this information earlier, but is too worn down by the process to do so.
‘It’s horrible. You come to a stage where you don’t have the energy to get help. You know there’s help offered but you’re too exhausted to accept it.’