Day of justice

Michelle Slater

The Marist Brothers paid nearly $4 million in compensation in out-of-court settlements and issued an apology to survivors of sex abuse carried out by a serial paedophile at the former St Paul’s College in Traralgon.

Brother Gerard McNamara served nine months in prison in 2018 after he pleaded guilty to sex abuse between 1970 and 1975 at the school, which is now known as Lavalla Catholic College.

The former St Paul’s principal and sports master is awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty to another five charges including indecent and common assault from the same period.

One survivor, who chose to be known as Frank, told The Express he was awaiting a face-to-face apology from the Marist Brothers after years of violent and ongoing abuse from McNamara.

“It’s secondary justice, the first thing was getting him in jail, then there was the money. A face-to-face apology would end this for me and I would be able to let go a bit more,” Frank said.

Frank was 13 when McNamara began abusing him and he sometimes hid in the science lab to escape the predator.

He estimated the abuse was carried out more than 30 times in five years.

“There was penetration. I was a scared little boy lying on a massage table with no clothing on, but I didn’t know what he penetrated me with,” Frank said.

“He’d put Dencorub on me and everyone could smell it when I went into the playground so they knew where I had been.

“He was such a violent man, he’d lose his temper and veins would pop out on his forehead.”

Frank recalled McNamara inviting himself over on a Friday night and telling his parents “what a good job he was doing looking after me”.

“I knew what he was doing, but I felt I was at fault, I didn’t want anyone to know as I thought I’d get into trouble,” he said.

“But it’s made me a good survivor. It caused me a lot of depression and suicide attempts, one attempt when I was 16. I’ve had nightmares all my life.”

Frank hoped his story would empower others to report their own incidents of abuse, as there were still avenues for survivors who hadn’t yet done so.

Rightside Legal senior associate Laird McDonald represented the group of survivors and was unable to say how many would share in the $4m, but said it was “significant” compensation considering the extent of McNamara’s abuse.

“But we still don’t think this is the extent of the damage he has done, we think there are more men who have suffered at his hands,” Mr McDonald said.

“The Royal Commission has revealed some will never report their abuse. He was such a prolific offender and the Marist Brothers has had to address this so many years later.”

He said legal changes made after the Royal Commission into child sex abuse opened up avenues for survivors seeking justice.

“Marist Brothers only paid this because of changes in the legal landscape, as for a long time they were able to hide behind legal technicalities,” he said.

“My clients said almost everyone in the school knew about this sex abuse, it was an open secret.”

Marist Brothers Australia Provincial Peter Carroll issued an “unreserved and enduring” apology on the organisation’s website.

“That any child could be so harmed and failed when in the care of the Marist Brothers is a matter of profound sorrow yet it is what tragically occurred,” Brother Carroll said.

“We cannot undo the past however we can work to ensure that it does not occur again.

“Our failings reflect those found in a common thread across almost every Australian institution – children were not properly protected and when complaints were raised, they were not acted upon as they should have.”

Lavalla Catholic College principal John Freeman issued a statement on behalf of the school.

“I am aware of historical abuse cases that occurred at St Paul’s College, Traralgon during the 1970s. This deeply saddens me and I once again offer my sincere apologies to any former student who attended this school who suffered abuse and a profound betrayal by the adults responsible for their care,” he said.

“I know that the Marist Brothers, who have made this settlement, have apologised unreservedly to those who have suffered great pain as a result of that breach of trust. Furthermore, they are fully committed to work to provide healing to those who have suffered abuse in Marist institutions.

“The Professional Standards Office of the Marist Brothers is able to provide expert assistance and is contactable on (02) 9218 4000.

“The Marist Brothers have also joined the National Redress System for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse. This scheme has been in operation since July 1, 2018.

“At Lavalla Catholic College, student safety and wellbeing is of paramount importance. Accordingly, should anyone wish to act upon or voice your direct experiences of past harm or hurt, I want to assure you of my availability and that I will make every effort that I can to help connect survivors with mechanisms of reporting and support.”