Stephen grew up in suburban Sydney, and in late primary school he attended a Marist Brothers’ college, which was run on a culture of fear and physical punishment.
In the 1970s Brother Cecil was Stephen’s Year 6 teacher, and taught ‘wearing the cross of Jesus over his heart’. The Brother would gather the students around his desk, getting Stephen to sit on his lap so that the bottom half of his body was hidden from view. He would then unzip Stephen’s shorts and fondle his genitals until he got an erection. This happened many times.
When Stephen experienced a family bereavement, Brother Cecil offered to provide counselling. He took Stephen into a private room, cuddled him, touched his penis and attempted to masturbate him.
After this incident Stephen tried to avoid the Brother and did not return for further counselling, although the abuse in the classroom continued for the rest of the year.
Stephen remembers a few other boys in the class who were ‘pets’ and also being abused by Brother Cecil. None of them reported it at the time.
‘I don’t know why we didn’t speak up. I’ve been racking my brains thinking why. If I went to my dad, my dad would have taken his head off ... He was a violent man, and I didn’t want that to happen. Nothing comes out of violence.’
The impact of the sexual abuse was compounded by Stephen’s pre-existing grief. He lost confidence and didn’t do well at school, self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, and lost faith in people.
Stephen told the Commissioner he was a very late bloomer. He questioned his sexuality and had issues being intimate with women because it ‘felt wrong’. He never became a father, but is still hyper-vigilant about his friends’ children.
At first Stephen didn’t want compensation from the Church, just for the truth to be told, but he’s now reconsidering this.
‘I’ve always been a poor man, I’ve always been a battler ... But you know what? I’m thinking now how much money the Catholic Church have got, and how much of a hide they’ve got to hand the effing plate around on a Sunday. “Would you give us your money for the Lord?”, you know, when you’re on struggle street yourself.
‘The damned Church should be giving out money to the parishioners, not the other way round ... Maybe I want to think of that, too.’
With his drinking now under control Stephen is doing further study in order to change careers. He has a good GP and has engaged with counselling in the past, but did not disclose the sexual abuse to anyone before contacting the Royal Commission.
Now he thinks he could benefit from obtaining a mental health plan so he can access psychological support about the abuse, to help him move forward with his life.
‘I do believe I can give something to society. I’m not finished yet.’