A DARK history of abuse, torture, rape and shattered lives across the Ballarat region has been revealed by a group submission to the Victorian inquiry into clergy sexual abuse.
The tragic stories of 11 victims are included in the submission, which details sustained abuse by Catholic priests and brothers between 1963 and 1985 at St Alipius Christian Brothers School and St Patrick’s College.
Victims as young as five were bashed, punched, kicked, choked, whipped, locked in cupboards, subject to strappings, fondling and rape by clergy.
One victim said he was put into a mental asylum for two weeks after he tried to report clergy sex crimes.
Another said a Christian Brother hit students on the buttocks with a T-Square which had screws protruding from it.
When one child pushed the hands of a brother away from his genitals, he was physically and then sexually assaulted.
Public submissions to the inquiry closed yesterday with the Catholic Church in Victoria acknowledging 620 cases of criminal child abuse by clergy upheld in the past 16 years.
Abused by a Christian Brother when he was 11 years old, submission organiser Peter Blenkiron said the aim of the group was to keep fellow victims alive.
“It’s easy for onlookers to think speaking out publicly means the scars from the abuse have healed,” Mr Blenkiron said.
“And while speaking out is a healthy step, in actual fact, every part of life continues to be irrevocably changed because of what happened.”
Mr Blenkiron said trauma had caused him to lose his ability to earn a living and saw him sell his business.
He describes himself today as a damaged man, working full-time to find healing – just like many others at different parts of their journey all over Ballarat.
The extensive document was prepared with the assistance of Monash University PhD candidate Judy Courtin.
A further 21 victims acted as signatories, unable to tell of their experiences due to sustained and severe trauma they have endured.
Ms Courtin said the men who did speak about their abuse had endured subsequent stress and called on the Victorian Parliament’s Families and Community Development Committee to recognise the strength required for the preparation of the document.
“The fact that there is an inquiry into the crimes and cover-up of the church, means an enormous amount to these men and their families,” the submission says.
Ms Courtin said the submission showed evidence of an arch of child abuse, beginning with corporal punishment and continuing through to rape and even torture.
“It is almost as if physical assaults were an insidious precursor to sexual abuse and a fairly common story among these men involves things like children being given far, far too much homework.
“They would stress because they couldn’t get it done or didn’t get the answers right and would then be hit or bashed. The teacher would comfort the child away from their peers and then rape or sexually assault them,” she said.
Often suffering in silence or not believed by their parents who trusted members of religious organisations, Ms Courtin said the young children’s abuse was compounded by physiological damage which meant they were unable to learn and did not trust authority figures.
“One victim talks about going to bed at night trying not to breathe, so he wouldn’t wake up and wouldn’t have to go to school the next day,” she said.
The crimes of clergy in Ballarat are well known in the community, with recent convictions of paedophile Christian Brother Robert Charles Best and priest Fr Gerard Ridsdale.
Ms Courtin said the coming inquiry, which will include hearings in Melbourne and regional Victoria, would be a difficult time for victims, their families, the Catholic Church and the state.
“There are alleged perpetrators included in this submission who have not been charged or convicted,” she said.
Catholic Church spokesman and Bungaree parish priest Fr Shane Mackinlay said a “culture of silence’’ had existed in the past.
Fr Mackinlay has acknowledged the church was too slow to act on complaints, and restated a promise by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart and Ballarat Bishop Peter Connors to co-operate fully with the inquiry.
A hearing is expected to be held in Ballarat.
Victims requiring help or access to local support groups and services can contact the Victims of Crime Helpline on 1800 819 817 or Lifeline on 131114.