While some victims of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church may see justice, but for the vast majority, my dad included, it is already too late.
Faith and denial. Two very different words upon first appearance, but if you look at them closer you see there isn’t really any difference at all. Those two words are the words that made me realise that I needed to write this. This being not my story but the story of someone very close to me – my father. This is the story of something that should never have happened, but it did. And it shaped his life.
In 2013, the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse within the Catholic Church was launched. Justice Peter McClellan, the head of the commission, has referred 2,025 incidents of abuse to authorities, which has resulted in nearly 130 prosecutions to date.
2,025 is a big number but it is just a number to many. As a newsreader I was constantly reporting on statistics. Road tolls, rates of domestic violence and instances of sexual abuse on children in the 1950s and ’60s by figures of the Catholic Church. Often those figures were faceless, but to me the abuse within the Catholic Church was not.
My dad may have mentioned what happened to him earlier but the first time in my memory of him mentioning it was when I was 17. I was dealing with too many emotions and I was sharing my feelings of hopelessness with my father. My parents had brought us up to be open and were always available for us to talk to. The feeling of not wanting to be alive was not one to be shied away from in our family. As with many teenagers I felt my parents didn’t understand me, but my dad did. We sat down on our front porch and he told me of how when he was just eight years old he had the same feeling of hopelessness.
My father, Christopher Bannerman, was born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1947. His mother Diana and father Valentine, better known as Talex, chose to raise their six children as Catholic. Because of this, my dad was sent to St Virgil’s in Hobart’s city.
While visiting Hobart recently with my parents my dad drove past the school previously called St Virgil’s and pointed out to my mother and I that this was the home of pedophiles. To anyone looking from the outside in, St Virgil’s looked like any other school. But for my dad and countless other men those walls witnessed their nightmares.
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St Virgil’s vision is to follow the example of Jesus in embracing gospel values, demonstrating care and concern for all, in a community that is safe, secure and just.
St Virgil’s was far from safe, secure and just for my dad and a number of other boys. When he was just eight years old my father rushed home sobbing with blood covering the top of his pants.
My father is the youngest of six children; his mother’s baby. Diana scooped my father up into her arms and took him into her room with her eldest daughter, who we will call T, following close behind.
While visiting Hobart we visited my Aunty T. My dad and her have quite a turbulent history and I don’t blame my father for having very little to do with her. She didn’t think it was proper for my dad to go to the royal commission about the abuse he suffered. She told him that it would bring shame on the family. She is still very involved in the Catholic community, a community that has many members who don’t accept what happened at schools across Australia in the 1950s and ’60s. Faith and denial. Those two words rear their ugly head again.
Aunty T’s comments are similar to those of my grandparents in the 1950s.
After dad came home that day distraught, my grandmother Diana and her husband Talex approached the school about what had happened to their son. Their 8-year-old son had been raped by one of the St Virgil Brothers.
I thought long and hard about whether to name this so called man of god, but this isn’t his story. This is my dad’s.
My dad was not the only boy to suffer at the hands of this rapist. In fact Dad says he witnessed other boys being taken into the room where he was raped.
At least two of those boys have gone public about their story and I asked my dad if he thought there were other boys. Dad says of course there were many more but he says they may never come forward.
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Many of those boys would be in their seventies by now. Some of those boys would be dead, some at their own hands because of the abuse they suffered. They died without ever being apologised to. Not that an apology could make up for their childhoods being taken away from them.
Dad says many of those boys though would still be alive, but he says they will never speak out about the abuse they suffered. He explains it as the attitude of that time. The attitude they were raised to accept. Dad says even though those little boys couldn’t do anything to stop what was happening to them, it is still considered shameful by some.
That so called shame I believe is what allowed these rapists within the Catholic Church to continue to take away the childhood of many more boys. It’s been widely reported that senior members within the Catholic Church were informed of what was happening. My dad is one such case. His parents confronted the Church about what was happening but the Church informed Diana and Talex that if the authorities were informed and the rapes were made public than that would ensure dad would grow up a disgrace. I am certain this was the case for many other victims.
So instead of handing these Priests and Brothers over to the police, they were simply moved on. They were moved on to another parish in Australia so they could continue to sexually assault other little boys.
Faith and denial. They shouldn’t but they do go hand in hand. That faith and denial allowed other boys to be violated. And that faith and denial continues to force those boys who are now adults to still feel like they did something wrong. But it was those who were meant to protect them that wronged them.
St Virgil’s vision to create a safe, secure and just community for those boys could not be further from the truth.