For more than 50 years Walt lived a normal life with no memory of the sexual abuse he suffered as a little boy. Then in the early 2000s, just after he’d retired, he picked up a newspaper and saw a photo of an archbishop he recognised from his childhood.
‘There he was with his bare face hanging out saying he had no knowledge of any child sexual abuse in any Catholic school.’
Shortly after that, Walt started having dreams and flashbacks. He spoke to his wife about what was happening and then had some sessions with a psychiatrist. Eventually he was able to piece together what had happened to him.
Walt was sent to a Christian Brothers boarding school at the age of seven. He remembers it as a harsh place where he was regularly beaten. One of the Brothers was a man named Hanrahan. Walt now recalls several occasions on which Brother Hanrahan dressed him in a girl’s school uniform and then ‘played with and fondled me’ while other Brothers were present in the room.
Walt’s most ‘graphic memory’ begins with him sitting in the bath, being washed by the matron. ‘She said, “You must be nice and clean for the bishop”.’ When the bathing was done, the matron dressed Walt in girl’s clothes, took him across to the cathedral and left him there.
‘Hanrahan was there, another Christian Brother and the bishop … I was dressed as if a girl for first communion, white dress, with these silly grey socks and black shoes. But the first communion wasn’t a bread wafer. I’ll leave it to your imagination to what he stuck in my mouth.’
Walt said that at the same time, ‘One of the other two got at me from behind. The phrase that popped into my mind was, “Like doing a poo backwards”’. But Walt said that the worst part of all was when Hanrahan said to him, ‘If you tell anyone about this, God will strike you dead and you’ll go straight to hell’.
In the months that followed, Walt’s school marks dropped. One day the principal called him and his mother into the office. What followed was one of the few moments that Walt has always remembered. The principal said to his mother, ‘Your son is not much better than an idiot’.
Walt was expelled and put into a state school. The move turned out to be ‘the best thing that happened in my childhood’. Not only was he free from his abusers, he was also given the chance to learn in a safe environment. Walt thrived. After school he went on to enjoy a long and successful career and a marriage that he describes as ‘the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me’.
In the 2000s, after the memories had returned to him, Walt decided to participate in the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. He found some of the counselling sessions helpful, but in the end the process didn’t give him what he was looking for.
‘I had all this angst that had come more or less from nowhere, and what I wanted to do was to be able to forgive. And I still haven’t, and that rankles me because I don’t really want to carry ill will, especially ill will towards the dead. But I can’t help it. And the Towards Healing people didn’t help me to forgive.’
As part of the process Walt received a written apology from the Church. He laughed out loud when quoting it to the Commissioner. It said, ‘We are sorry that your experience at the school was not all you could wish for’.
These days, Walt considers himself a ‘devout atheist’. He told the Commissioner, ‘I just cannot believe in a god that would let these things happen’. He is still seeing a counsellor and she has encouraged him to talk openly about the abuse, which Walt tries to do as often as he can.
‘We hear about abusers who have themselves been abused, but we don’t hear about the abused who go on to live a full and happy life, like me.’