A man abused while at a Catholic boarding school in the early 1950s says he is not convinced the church’s approach to dealing with abuse has changed at all.

The 81-year old Mr F did not tell anyone of the abuse he suffered for 49-years.

On Tuesday he gave evidence to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care.

Published in Radio New Zealand

At age 14 and in his first year at St Patrick’s College in Silverstream, he was groomed by the rector, Fr Frank Durning.

He said after a few weeks, Durning called him into his office and sexually assaulted him.

“When I was inside he grabbed me. This was despite my attempts to hold him off with my knees and elbows. He became more and more excited and repeated the words over and over: ‘I don’t know what to make of you’. The attack went on for a long time. He eventually said, ‘whip it out and let’s have a look’.”

Mr F said he went from being a high achiever to someone feeling guilty, a failure and with low self-esteem.

He recounted how the scent of his abuser lasted with him for many years.

“From the time of my abuse I could smell Durning and the smell didn’t leave me until 2002, 49 years later when I reported my abuse to the Society of Mary.”

He estimates that in Durning’s 63 years as a priest he probably abused between 100 and 200 boys.

When Mr F’s own son started at another Catholic high school, he too was abused.

He confronted the abuser, who first denied it, but then broke down and soon left the school.

“In fact, the brother was lucky not to be beaten up because my son had told other boys in the dormitory what had happened and they were waiting for him to return. One to turn the lights on and one had a baseball bat. They were fired up.”

Mr F said what happened to him did not define his life, although the abuse did impact his life.

“I did not experience the normal formative teenage years. I could not go into a public toilet because of fear. When I did join a sports club I could not step off the field and strip off and have a shower.

“My sense of anger at the invasion of my sexuality drives me to report this abuse.”

Mr F went through a drawn-out process seeking redress from the Catholic Church which he describes as traumatising and unsatisfactory.

He came away not knowing if abuse in the church would stop, he said.

“I have no assurance that other children will not be abused in church institutions. I have no reassurance the church is looking after victims. I have no belief that the church will make sure what happened to me and my son will not keep happening to others and is not still happening.”

Mr F wants a transformative change in the Catholic Church.

“I still feel boys at boarding schools are at risk.”

He would like a helpline set up outside of a school.

“A dedicated avenue that provides an independent way to ask for help.”

Mr F believes the Catholic Church has a sense of entitlement and that must end and it must stop putting the church’s reputation above people.

“The church has a responsibility to be open about the abuse which their members have been doing.”

He wants the Royal Commission to open up all of the church’s files.

Mr F wants the church to listen rather than closing down and defending themselves.

“The church has a responsibility to protect our children.”

By Andrew McRae
Published in Radio New Zealand
1 Dec 2020