At four, Vito was the youngest in his family as they sailed in the 1960s from Italy to Australia to start a new life.
The family settled in Melbourne where, Vito said, his name and large lunches always meant trouble at school. He was called ‘wog’ and ‘dago’, and was physically bullied by the other children. By the time he was 10, Vito and several other Italian boys were regularly wagging school. Already known to police for truancy, one day Vito was caught stealing a bicycle. After a brief court appearance, he was made a ward of the Victorian State and sent to a Christian Brothers’ orphanage.
For four years in the 1970s, Vito remained at the orphanage, visiting his family on weekends and for holidays. He told the Commissioner that his academic work improved and he excelled at football, becoming team captain and winning numerous trophies. He joined the choir and became an altar boy – progress Vito attributed to a Brother who he described as a good and fair man.
One day a seminarian, John Upton, visited the school and soon took an interest in Vito, befriending him and his parents. Upton visited the family home often.
‘Mum would say, “The priest has been around, and he said you’re doing really well at school”. She was happy, because a priest taking an interest in her boy was everything.’
When he was 13, Vito was taken with several other boys by Upton to stay at a house on the coast. Upton offered to give Vito a driving lesson and drove him to nearby sand dunes, where he gave the boy cigarettes and beer, and started touching him.
‘He put his hand up my shorts, and started playing with my penis’, Vito said. ‘Then he went down on me. I was dumbfounded. I’d finished the bottle of beer, so I was pretty drunk. Then he ejaculated and cleaned himself up.’
For the next year, Upton turned up at places to see Vito. ‘I’d be at the pinball parlour, and he’d park his car across the road. I’d go over to him and he’d give me money and cigarettes, and take me for a drive. I didn’t know what to do, you know, to stop it.’
Vito said that one night he was offered five dollars to perform oral sex on Upton. ‘I vomited all over him. I said I wanted to go home. He tried to put his hand between my legs and I punched him in the face.’ Vito stopped contact with Upton, although for the next year, the seminarian ‘stalked’ him.
In the 1990s, Vito saw a television show referring to sexual abuse at his school. ‘My jaw hit the ground. That’s when it all just flooded back.’
In the early 2000s, he approached the Church and commenced the Towards Healing process. ‘The investigation was meant to take three months, and it took three years. I couldn’t understand why I had to keep repeating the story to so many different people.’
Vito attended a mediation session but said he thought the Church’s offer of $35,000 to settle his claim was ‘insulting’. Eventually he was awarded $42,000 which represented the initial offer plus eight years' interest. Vito also sought and received $10,000 each from Christian Brothers Australia and the Victorian State Government.
‘Not once in the mediation did the Church mention God’, Vito said. ‘They didn’t ever try to understand the effects of the abuse on my life. I’ve got fantastic kids, but I lost my marriage; I tried to take my life twice, I haven’t got a job. It was like they wanted to make sure you knew they were the superior people in this. They’re very well organised.’