Vic didn’t want to talk much about the abuse he suffered. He told the Commissioner, ‘There’s not a lot to be gained going into all the details other than that it began shortly after my father’s death, I was young, and ranged from everything from being snuggled into a cassock with an erect penis through to savage and perverse semi-naked beatings, all the way through to mutual penis contact and anal rape’.
The abuse happened while Vic was living in Tasmania in the 1960s and 1970s, starting when he was seven and continuing into his mid-teens. He was abused by several perpetrators including two Catholic Brothers and his own stepfather. But Vic didn’t want to dwell on that. Nor did he want to dwell on the impacts that the abuse had on his life, though they were many and severe and included deep feelings of shame and guilt.
What Vic really wanted to talk about was his experience with the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. He first approached them in the early 2000s and was greeted with a string of excuses for why the Church was unable to pursue his case. ‘Either they [the offenders] were a lay teacher, they were no longer under the Church’s employ when the abuse occurred or the abuse happened across state and parish lines.’
Feeling ‘blocked and embattled’ Vic backed off. And there the matter rested. For a while.
In the late 2000s Vic saw a TV show that inspired him to open up to his Mum and tell her about the abuse. Then during a trip overseas a perceptive friend sensed that he was suffering from some hidden trauma and offered him the chance to talk about it. Reluctant at first, Vic thought ‘what have I got to lose?’ and ended up talking to the woman for five hours.
He kept on talking after that, disclosing the abuse to his siblings as well. They were even more supportive than he’d expected, to the point where his sister ‘bullied’ him into reigniting his complaint against the Church.
She began investigating on his behalf, going at it ‘like a terrier’, chasing up every lead she could. Specifically, her goal was to identify the name of one particular Brother who had abused Vic at school. In the late 2000s her work paid off. She located a Brother who had been the principal at Vic’s school around the time of the abuse and rang him up.
‘It was Melbourne Cup day and he’d had a few wines and whisky, and maybe getting close to approaching his God, and he just immediately said, “Oh, that would have been Martin Bradshaw”.’
Further research revealed that several years earlier, Brother Bradshaw had been convicted of sexual offences against more than 20 boys. Armed with this information and a new attitude, Vic went back to Towards Healing.
‘By this time, I’m happy to admit, I was feeling quite mercenary because I felt that I’d had years of my life taken from me and then they’re going to look after these pricks that they’d found guilty, till the day that they die, in perpetuity; they’d put them up at Lake’s Entrance and give them good whisky and health care. They want to give me 20,000 bucks so I can crawl back into my wicked ways and disappear under a rock and drink myself to death. That would be the best outcome for them.’
So when it came time to talk about money, Vic coolly pointed out that the Church’s offer was woefully inadequate. His comments and manner so enraged the Church negotiator that the man let slip his mask of compassion and revealed the true feelings underneath.
‘He just lost it. He got up, over the table, sort of leaning over and emphasising his points and telling me that “You’re smart enough to think you can defend yourself. You should be smart enough to appreciate the Catholic Church doesn’t exist, so you can’t sue it. … Every penny, other than what we’ve offered you, is tied up in trusts. Good luck”.’
The threats turned out to be little more than the latest negotiation tactic, and the Church eventually upped their offer to 50,000. Vic took the offer, not because he thought it was fair, but because he was exhausted and wary of how much more trauma he could take.
Vic is acutely aware of how vulnerable and emotionally fragile he and his fellow survivors can be. At a school reunion recently he noticed that many of his classmates were absent, lost to suicide. When asked how he managed to survive, Vic credited his family and, surprisingly, the culture of the 1970s.
‘It was a spiritual replacement. A lot of my peers, we’d thrown the Church and a lot of things out the window but Carlos Santana and other avenues like eastern music, it opened up a way at least to have some realisation of some sense of spirituality.’