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Tony John's story

Tony had not intended to speak to the Royal Commission, but a chance encounter changed his mind. He met an elderly woman one night and they started chatting. She’d been closely following the work of the Commission. To his surprise, Tony found himself revealing that he had been abused for two years at a Catholic boys’ school in the mid 1980s. He had barely spoken of it before.

‘She held my hands with her hands … She said, “Do something”’, Tony recalled. ‘I knew about the Commission, but I probably at that point hadn’t decided really to do anything about it. But after meeting her, she changed my view.’

Tony grew up in an outer suburb of Sydney. He was a middle child in a large Catholic family. His parents were closely involved in the school community. When Tony began spending Saturday mornings with one of his teachers, Ed Fonseck, helping him to cover schoolbooks, his parents thought nothing of it.

Fonseck was a lay teacher. He had begun sexually abusing Tony the previous year, when Tony was about 10. He’d singled out Tony for attention early on.

‘I wasn’t the best behaved kid in class, or I was easily distracted’, Tony said. When Tony misbehaved one day, Fonseck told him to leave the class and wait in his office. ‘I thought I was going to be copping it’, Tony said.

It turned out to be Fonseck’s excuse to molest him. ‘At first it was, I guess you’d call it mild things, but it was still uncomfortable.’ Fonseck got Tony to stand beside him, then brought him closer and rested his arm around him. Then he placed his hand on Tony’s groin. ‘You’re thinking, "Is it an accident? Does he know he’s put his hand right there?"’

Many more episodes of fondling and molestation followed. Fonseck told Tony it was their secret. When kids in the class were punished, individually or collectively, Tony knew he wouldn’t be.

‘I knew nothing was going to happen – I sort of had this invincible feeling. And I enjoyed that aspect of it. That I was never going to get in trouble … I could get away with anything – and I tried to, I guess.’

Over time, the abuse escalated. On the Saturday mornings when Tony’s parents thought Tony was helping Fonseck cover books, Fonseck was showing Tony porn videos. Eventually Fonseck was getting Tony to do the things they saw in the videos. Fonseck lived on the school premises, and the abuse took place at his home. It occurred for the remainder of Year 5 and for most of Year 6, sometimes just occasionally and at other times ‘more often than not’.

‘I knew it was not right’, Tony said. But the longer he kept the abuse secret, the bigger the secret became and the harder it was to tell. ‘I was also worried, because this guy had a temper on him like you wouldn’t believe, and everybody knew that.’ He managed to end the abuse finally, when he refused to visit Fonseck at his home anymore. Fonseck was angry, but left Tony alone after that.

A few years later it became public knowledge in the school community that Fonseck had sexually abused children. He killed himself soon afterwards.

For many years, Tony didn’t think the abuse had really affected him. He had a bout of severe depression in his early 30s for which he sought psychiatric help. He told the psychiatrist about Fonseck – ‘I said I thought I’d dealt with it’ – but didn’t explore what had happened in any depth. He left the session with a prescription for antidepressants, which he has been taking ever since.

Now in his early 40s, Tony's mental health has deteriorated and he is finally recognising Fonseck’s abuse as a cause of the problems in his life. ‘Things have gone really bad over the past couple of years’, he told the Commissioner. ‘It’s been really hard for me to just act in a normal, motivated way.’

He has left his demanding, busy job. ‘The smallest things used to frustrate me. The [business] owners would come and have a meeting with me, and I’d walk into the office by myself, shut the door and just burst out in tears. A grown man just bawling, angry at them for what they’d suggested … I had to leave that job.’

Tony has also come to understand the impact of the abuse on his relationships with women. ‘The main reason why my first marriage ended, and my last [long-term] relationship ended – was a sex thing’, he explained. ‘Me getting annoyed with any sexual interaction. And frustrated.’

He married at 23 and separated several years later. ‘She thought I didn’t want to be intimate with her’, Tony said. ‘I had no reason not to be … I loved her – a lot. I wasn’t interested in anyone else.’

But he couldn’t help resisting her advances.

‘I’d try to conceal it, but I was aggravated in my mind … At the time I used to think I’m just not in the mood now – you know, “Later! Now’s not the time!” It wasn’t, “You’re touching me and that’s what he used to do”. There wasn’t those thoughts in my head … You don’t put two and two together.’

Tony has not reported his abuse to police, or to the Church. He approached a lawyer some years ago to investigate his options but wasn’t concerned with compensation. ‘I didn’t feel at the time that what I’d experienced really had warranted it. I thought other people had been through worse.’ He is now looking at his options again, to see what redress might be available to him.

Nor has he spoken of it to friends or family members. ‘It’s not something you can really easily talk about’, he said. He’d found that out years before, when his mother told him about Fonseck’s suicide. Fonseck had been a ‘very sick man’, she said. Tony tried to tell her, indirectly, that he knew firsthand about Fonseck. But she didn’t understand him. ‘Thinking of that possibility was just way out of her head, so she just totally didn’t hear it.’ He doesn’t plan to try again.

‘I couldn’t say that to her now, because it would just bring up a whole lot of hurt for her.’

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