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Stanley Michael's story

The Catholic boarding school Stanley attended in the 1950s and early 1960s was a ‘reasonably fair sort of place’, he told the Commissioner. He was eight when he was sent to the school, in a New South Wales town. His father had died, leaving him and his sister in the care of their step-mother, who couldn’t look after them.

There was bullying at the school, but nothing unusual for playground culture of that time. ‘It wasn’t particularly violent or dark’, he said. He recalled one incident – ‘I stood up for myself and bashed the other person down’ – after which he was left alone.

The junior and senior school were on different campuses. Stanley moved to the high school campus when he was about 10 or 11. The principal there was Brother Timothy, a large imposing man in his mid-60s. When Stanley was 12 or 13, he was woken one night by Brother Timothy shaking him and shining a torch in his face. It was about 2 am.

This was the first of many such awakenings over a five or six month period. ‘Nothing violent ever happened to me, but [Brother Timothy] would take me into his bedroom and sit me down on the bed and say “You’re having a lot of trouble with your maths or your Latin”, or whatever it was, and we’d talk about my work for a while.’ Then Brother Timothy would get into bed and instruct Stanley to join him. He’d give Stanley a little white pill and a glass of water. Stanley would fall asleep. He doesn’t know exactly what happened then but when he woke up there’d be a wet patch on his pyjama leg.

Stanley recalled Brother Timothy as ‘quite a kindly man, strangely … He was generally well liked in the school’. As principal, he was also the ultimate figure of authority, and that meant there was no one Stanley could report the abuse to. ‘The whole thing might have been covered up, or I might have been expelled, who knows.’ But one day by chance he found out that a fellow student was also being sexually assaulted by Brother Timothy. The discovery gave him the courage to take action.

‘I told a priest out of confession what had happened, [and] the whole story came to light’, he said.

The priest, an independent visitor to the school, reported the matter to Church authorities. Brother Timothy was gone within the week. A message went out that he’d been moved on due to health problems. Stanley suspects it was not the first time the Church had managed Brother Timothy’s behaviour by relocating him.

Stanley told the Commissioner his experience of school improved as the years went by. ‘I remember in the early years I thought “This is never going to end. It’s like being in a prison”. As I got older, around about 15, I started enjoying myself more. So it kind of got better as it went along. And when I left I felt – well, this whole thing about Brother Timothy, I must have dealt with it in my own way at the time.’

In the years since, he has not felt the need to manage the impact of the abuse because he has dealt with it even though he has not had sought counselling. ‘I think the time to talk was 58 years ago.’ However, he did acknowledged issues with alcohol and with forming long-term relationships which he thinks relate back to the abuse.

Hearing about the work of the Royal Commission prompted him to report the abuse to police, and also to seek legal advice about claiming compensation from the Church. The police told him that Brother Timothy had died, and when he relayed this information to the lawyer he was told he had no case for compensation because ‘there’s nobody to sue’.

Stanley said he’s been surprised by the emotions triggered in him by media reports of the Commission’s work. ‘It’s odd that it all came out again when the Royal Commission was in the media … It sort of brought it all out again, and I found that I was getting upset for no real reason’, he explained. ‘So that made me think it’s always been there, you know. I don’t like to bottle things up, so that’s why I’m here, to either talk it out, or … See, I feel better already, just coming here and speaking to you today.’

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