After running his own small business for a while, Shawn had a ‘desire for more knowledge’. He trained as a teacher in the 1980s and his first job was at a high school run by the De La Salle Brothers. ‘I was very pleased and very enthusiastic.’
However, he soon began to feel that things were ‘not quite right’. For instance, the Brothers and lay staff had social activities for hours after school and would drink. ‘I didn’t quite agree with the drinking … being new to teaching and new to the school I suppose I wondered, what were the values? Because I’d signed an application form that said … the applicant would be committed to Catholic values. And I wondered what their values were and what mine were.’
He also noticed that the school was ‘polarised’. The principal, Brother Frank, then in his 40s, was the ‘controller of everything’, such as finances and discipline. Some staff were purchasing tax-free items through the school for personal use and this was allowed. Shawn sought to do stocktakes and have a budget for his department, but was hampered.
Shawn once observed a Year 9 or 10 student, Hugh Rivers, coming out of a retail betting store, during school hours. Shawn reported it but some students, he observed, seemed to not get disciplined.
Shawn had permission to work before and after hours at the school. However, one morning he’d forgotten to pick up the keys, and had to go to the house where the teaching Brothers lived.
He was directed down the corridor to Brother Frank’s room. ‘Brother Frank answered the door with a towel wrapped around him... There was a [naked] boy sitting on the other side of the bed with a white towel over him … as though they’ve just quickly got out of bed … Brother Frank was very surprised that it was me … My voice seemed to alert the boy because he turned around to see who it was ... And I recognised [the boy] to be Hugh Rivers.’
Shawn, very concerned by what he’d seen, promptly reported it to the parish priest. The priest, who wasn’t very inviting or ‘accepting’, discouraged Shawn from taking the matter further, saying, ‘You will probably get the sack’.
‘And that knocked me over. I was already in a bit of a predicament because of the other matters that I was aware of happening there. I thought, “Crikey”.’
Shawn then went to the priest of the adjoining parish. ‘He didn’t seem to react at all, other than throw his hands up in despair and say, “What do you want me to do about it?” And that’s when I said, “Well, you could perhaps go and see the bishop”.’ Although the priest said, ‘I’ll see what I can do’, Shawn never heard from the bishop.
He then reported to the Diocesan Director of Catholic Schools. In a written statement, Shawn recalls the response. ‘He was very short with me, too. I was told again that these were very serious allegations, and he had been reliably informed that this matter would be very difficult to proceed with, lacking other witnesses.’
Shawn also reported to a union representative who he subsequently found out did work for the diocese, something he thought was a conflict of interest. ‘She said something like, “How much do you value your job?” She followed by saying that it would be best if things took their own course. I understood from this that she was saying I should leave the matter alone.’
Shawn didn’t report it any higher within the Church. ‘At that point I’d realised that, if the parish priest who had baptised my daughter wasn’t going to help me – in fact, was going to sack me – that I was at the end of the line.’
Disturbing events kept happening at the school. One evening, Shawn turned on the lights to the library and saw Brother Frank and Hugh Rivers standing in an aisle in their pyjama shorts. ‘I didn’t tell anyone about what I had seen at the time as my previous experience had not encouraged me to do so.’
Some thefts occurred at the school and everyone assumed it was Hugh, as he had after-hours access, something the teaching staff were not happy about. When Shawn reported this to Brother Frank, he was told it was okay.
On one occasion Shawn witnessed Hugh demanding money that was ‘owed’ him, from Brother Frank.
Another time Shawn discovered two boys in the metal work room. They were working on a shortened barrel and a firing mechanism of a rifle. Shawn confiscated these items and told the deputy principal, who said he would report it to the police. After discovering the deputy had not done so, Shawn reported it himself. He was later reprimanded in writing for going to the police directly.
‘Disciplinary problems with boys were the responsibility of Brother Frank.’ However, even though they’d be sent to his office, Shawn observed ‘there was no discipline … [and that] appeared to be a payment in kind, that Brother Frank was delivering, for services’.
Brother Frank left the school quite suddenly, which was a shock to the staff. ‘It was recognised that principals don’t leave mid-year.’ Shawn went to the new principal, Brother Rogers, with concerns about how his department was run financially as he was aware that fraudulent activities had taken place. The principal was not interested and asked Shawn to leave the meeting.
Shortly afterwards, Shawn’s superior wrote a damning report. Shawn disputed it and also raised the issues of sexual abuse and discipline. Brother Rogers delivered an ultimatum – resign or you will be dismissed. Shawn saw he had no option, and no longer wanted to work in that environment. He was given a glowing reference.
Only two years after Shawn embarked on what he thought would be a promising career, he was devastated, speechless and confused. ‘I wondered what I had done wrong.’
Through lawyers, Shawn made a claim against the Catholic office and received a payment of $12,000. He recalled that each time an issue was raised – something he had witnessed – the sum would go up. Finally, the Church wouldn’t budge any further.
Shawn did go on to work as a teacher in the public sector where he discovered major systemic differences. Parents were more involved. There were committees for areas such as finance and discipline. There was greater transparency. He was astounded by the amount of professional development that was available to him. None of that happened in the Catholic school.
Shawn was grateful to be able to speak to the Commission. ‘I am eternally sorry that I didn’t report it to police in that I may have been able to prevent another incident happening. But, in the same instance, even today I would not report it to the police in [my town]. Or the police in a small town. I would not seek legal advice in a small town regarding it. There’s a very strong Catholic population.’