Stu never considered telling his parents that Brother Quintus was sexually abusing him and his Year Four classmates. Stu’s father had returned from World War II ‘a changed man’, and was violent and often drunk, and Stu’s mother ‘had the weight of the world on her’, trying to keep the family together.
Brother Quintus arrived at the Patrician Brothers’ school in Sydney in the 1950s. ‘He was Irish and about 40’, Stu said. ‘He was a bit of a funny man in the classroom, often cracking jokes, but he obviously had a rather twisted sort of morality.’
As a matter of routine, Quintus would pick out boys and tell them to follow him so they could be weighed for football. ‘Everyone in the class knew what that invitation was. He’d take you down to the storeroom where there were scales and he’d say, “Strip off”. So you’d strip off down to your underpants and hop on the scales and he’d check your weight. Then he’d call you over and you’d get on his knee and he’d put his hand in your pants and fondle you, and he’d ask all sorts of questions about things. That’s what happened.’
Stu told the Commissioner that over two years, Quintus abused many boys in the class. ‘We all hated it but we all knew what was going on. I felt lucky because it wasn’t just me; I didn’t think, “I’m the only one”. I knew most of my classmates were involved. I believe I was also lucky when I hear of others’ torturous experiences. But it was still something I hated and most of my classmates hated.’
Reflecting on the impact of the abuse on the rest of his life, Stu said it was hard to quantify its effect. The combination of his father’s violent, alcoholic rages together with Quintus’ sexual abuse led to him often feeling there was nothing he could do to stop others’ troubling behaviours or to speak up against bullies.
‘With my father I was very much a victim in the sense that when he was in the house he was totally dominating and there was nothing I could do about it, and that went on for years. I think there was a sense that I was a victim with [Quintus] and there are people who are bullies who can spot a victim walking down the street. People would look at my life and say, “You haven’t been a victim”, but I know I have been in some parts of my life, so the victim role got reinforced.’
After marrying in his early 20s, Stu said he was constantly vigilant around his three children and ‘kept an eye on them in case anybody sexually abused them’. He described his first wife as ‘a bully’ and they divorced after 28 years. He later remarried. ‘I’m thrilled to say I’ve got a wonderful wife.’
At the time of his divorce in the 2000s, Stu approached the Catholic Church to report Quintus’ abuse. ‘Over 50 years after the incidents, I decided to seek some recognition and support from the Church.’
He was directed to Towards Healing and met with ‘a nominee’, he thought to be a social worker but who, at a final meeting, disclosed he was a lawyer working for the Church. ‘The nominee’s approach was cool, factual, well-mannered – not especially sympathetic and certainly non-committal. Had I known I was speaking to a potential opponent’s attorney then I would have understood his approach and known what to expect. I would have also responded differently to the process. Having some legal advice and representation would have been an option.’
Stu said he kept being asked what he wanted out of the process. ‘I think he thought I was after money. Money was not what I was seeking at all. I wanted to be heard. I wanted my grievance acknowledged and if possible I wanted it believed.’
A meeting was arranged between Stu and the provincial of the Patrician Brothers, who volunteered that Quintus had returned to Ireland and was now deceased. ‘The meaning to me was clear – there was no one to sue. Further, he said there were no other complaints against [Quintus]. So he was doubting my veracity, implying that my grievance was somehow concocted. I replied angrily that if he wasn’t careful I would supply him with a class full of victims. He never again challenged my veracity.’
Stu said he felt that the Brother heard him but ‘acknowledgement and belief were absent’. Asked again what he wanted, Stu replied that he wanted a thousand dollars. ‘It was a symbol of acknowledgement that something did happen.’ The Brother said he’d need to consider the request.
Eight months later a cheque for $1,000 arrived with an accompanying letter that stated in part: ‘There is no evidence available to me that corroborates your complaint … [but] We make this offer on the basis of the Healing and Pastoral philosophy that underpins the Towards Healing Protocol’. The letter also requested Stu provide written acknowledgement that the matter was concluded. He chose not to do so.
Stu said he found going through the process of Towards Healing ‘re-traumatising and re-victimising’. He doubted whether he’d do it again now that he knew what was involved. ‘For me [the money] was a symbol, a recognition, but they could have avoided all that with a bit of empathy and sincerity.’