St Patrick’s College principal John Crowley has shed many silent tears for past students at previous Royal Commission hearings into child sexual abuse.
They were tears for boys who were let down by a systematic failure of children in Ballarat which spanned decades.
Mr Crowley is bracing for another difficult week with the distressing history of the school set to be put under the spotlight again. A hearing into allegations of sexual abuse concerning the Christian Brothers begins at the Ballarat Magistrates Court on Monday.
Mr Crowley said for many survivors of sexual abuse, the Royal Commission hearings were an extremely difficult time. He said the school’s number one priority was to support and listen to victims.
“Even though the abuse is historical it is still very real for the victims,” Mr Crowley said. “The community is going to hear about a devastating time when men were let down in the most appalling way. This abuse remains a living, daily reality for many victims.”
Mr Crowley said the push to put the needs of survivors first was lead by current clergy including Bishop Paul Bird and Ballarat Catholic Diocese Vicar-general Justin Driscoll. Mr Crowley said he had been “personally transformed” by the strength and selflessness of Ballarat’s clergy survivors.
The school is currently working alongside survivors including Peter Blenkiron to create a pioneering program aimed at teaching children protective behaviours to empower future generations.
“Even though they have been through such an incredibly devastating experience they (survivors) are always thinking about others and how they can support other people who need help,” he said. “Getting to know a number of survivors personally has taught me more about humanity in a year than my 46 years of living.”
Mr Crowley the school had always strived to acknowledge its past “without any hesitation or reservation.”
“It is incredibly hard to hear those stories of abuse because the school I lead today is a wonderful school where boys are encouraged to flourish,” he said. “These men have not been able to experience the education or opportunities that boys get at the school get today. They were let down by people meant to nurture and protect them.”
Each year level was given age appropriate information on the abuse and counselling for students and staff was available throughout the hearing.
“Senior students in particular, are very acute to the news and what’s happening around them,” he said. “They will feel it very deeply as well.” Ribbons will be available at the school’s reception for students and staff to tie on the gates of the school to remember former students who were abused.