Those thousands of Canberrans who have journeyed with Marist College these past 40 years, as students, parents or teachers, might ask themselves whether they really want to know what is being said in a little room in the Magistrates Court in Civic these past few days. That’s because it is genuinely confronting.
People like myself, who have been "streaming in" to much of the proceedings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse are witnesses to an arcane legal process, but one that still allows for people to have their say, to speak of their pain, to say what happened. There are times when I find myself reaching for the speaker volume controls to mute the feed – one can easily get overloaded – at other times you want to pump up the volume to hear every word.
It is obviously beyond painful for these men to tell their stories. I don’t think I am alone in the wide Marist community when I say that we, who were not victims, stand with those who were. We feel for them and with them, and in a lesser way of course, share their pain. These are brave men who have fought demons without, and demons within, to bring themselves to the point where they have the extreme courage required to speak in their own voice, before the nation, of their painful story. I admire them.
Like them I journeyed with the Marist experience at the time the abuse occurred, but for me, on the whole, it was a good place to be, a place of learning and a place in which my Catholic faith was nurtured well. But in the same halls, the same corridors, their experience was so starkly different. I think of the immense sacrifice parents made to pay for their children’s education, trusting the Marist Brothers with their most precious of possessions: the care of their boys. For the parents of the victims the despair must be beyond words.
I knew Brother Kostka and I remember how he used to look at me differently compared with the other Brothers. He never groomed me, but I can recall that his eyes had some hidden intent, some unspoken purpose. He used to say that his white habit, his gown, concealed a multitude of sins. Now we know what he meant. I knew Paul Lyons, and was one of his favourite students, his friend, but he also never groomed me. In his suicide he passed judgment on his own actions.
It was good to see the current senior school Principal Richard Sidorko at the hearing. Parents take comfort in that gesture. Now a Marist parent, I have sent my kids to my old school. I thought hard about it. Rumour of the horrors has long been in the minds of those like myself who realise now it was all going on while we were blissfully ignorant. But I am absolutely confident there is no trace of this behaviour in the life of the school today.
But as a committed Catholic this enfolding scandal cruels me. A few of this church’s professed servants have more of less destroyed the reputation of a great teaching order in this city. How must those faithful, loving Marist Brothers feel? I fear there is more to come out, and I suspect that there are many more victims. If so I hope they have the strength to come forward and trust the commission process which I think is proceeding well.
We must let the commission run its course, we must let the order’s representatives speak of how they handled the matter, and when it is over the commission and we Marist people, who are the silent jury in these proceedings, will pass judgment. But whatever that verdict will be, in my mind there can be nothing but praise for the brave men who have come forward to tell their story. I am on their side, unequivocally.
Dr Brendan Long is a former Marist student and the parent of a Marist student.