Abused as a boy, man calls for independent investigation

A man who suffered horrific sexual abuse at two Dunedin schools says an independent body should be established to investigate church abuse cases.

The man, named only as Marc, presented his evidence to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care via video conference from Australia yesterday.

He outlined how, between the ages of 10 and 14, he was raped, sexually assaulted, and physically abused by two Christian Brothers, a priest, and a lay teacher, at St Edmund’s Intermediate School and St Paul’s High School.

The abuse took place in the 1970s and early 1980s.

He named four perpetrators — Br Desmond Fay, Br Vincent Sullivan, Ian Thompson and a local parish priest.

It was seeing 2018 Otago Daily Times articles naming the four men as alleged abusers that prompted Marc to register with the royal commission.

The physical and sexual abuse began at St Edmund’s, where he alleged he was abused by Br Fay and school principal Br Sullivan.

"My aloneness at that time, when I thought that people that would have been caring for me or giving me a safe space and they were abusing me, it felt to me I had nowhere to run."

He was also allegedly sexually assaulted by the parish priest.

When he later attended St Paul’s High School, he was allegedly physically assaulted and raped by Mr Thompson, a teacher.

He spoke of the culture of corporal punishment in Catholic schools at the time.

He ultimately left school at the age of 14.

The trauma of the abuse he suffered had a profound impact on his life.

He described drinking heavily, suffering from nightmares and panic attacks.

After his mother died in 2014, he decided he wanted to finally reveal what he had suffered as a child.

He contacted the Catholic Church, and went through a process with the Australian equivalent of the National Office for Professional Standards, which investigates allegations against the Church.

At that time he outlined allegations only against Br Sullivan.

During the process he said he did not feel he was believed, and went to meetings "semi-intoxicated" to cope.

During the settlement process, when asked what redress he wanted from the Church, he said he wanted $250,000.

The money was intended to cover a specialist rehabilitation programme.

He was eventually given a $65,000 settlement and told he should feel lucky because "people who’d had worse happen had gotten less".

"It left me feeling dirty. It left me feeling that I was getting something more than what other people should have been entitled to and it hurt me a lot."

He went to rehab, but began drinking again soon after leaving.

He later got sober on his own and after one year on the wagon he came across the articles about his abusers.

He registered with the commission and engaged with the New Zealand National Office for Professional Standards, a process that still continues.

He told commissioners the only way proper change could occur, and proper redress be given to victims, was for the Church to take full responsibility for what had occurred.

But he was sceptical of the Church’s ability to be open and transparent. Instead, he wanted an independent body, which had judicial powers, to be established to investigate allegations of faith-based abuse.

It needed to put survivors first, he said.

"This isn’t an easy process and we need help moving forward."

The commission was originally expected to report its findings by 2023. However, it has signalled it may request an extension due to delays caused by Covid-19.

One hundred and twenty-seven survivors from Otago and Southland have registered with the commission.

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