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Royal commission told of torture, rape and beatings by Christian Brothers in WA

Emil Moulton and AAP

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May 7, 2014

John Hennessey outside the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Picture: Ross Swanborough Source: News Corp Australia

FOR John Hennessey being robbed of his innocence was not the most unforgivable thing he endured at the hands of the Christian Brothers – it was being robbed of the chance to have children of his own.

For five years he was brutally raped, beaten and emotionally abused by 10 brothers at Bindoon boys home during the 1940s.

Yet it was the after-effects of that abuse that he sees as being the most destructive.

The former Deputy Mayor of Campbeltown Council, who received an OBE for his role following the Granville train disaster, told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sex Abuse he was so scarred by his experience at the remote Catholic boys home in WA that he was unable to form any real relationship in his later years.

The commission is investigating how the religious order and successive WA governments responded to allegations of abuse at four Christian Brothers run homes in Bindoon, Clontarf, Tardun and Casltedare.

It has heard boys were routinely tortured, raped and beaten by Christian Brothers in the four WA institutions since the 1950s.

The commission was also told child abusers at the WA Christian Brothers schools knew they could sexually torture children with impunity, safe in the knowledge the state would do nothing.

Choking back tears several times, Mr Hennessey, who was sent to Australia from the UK at just 11 as part of the child migration scheme, recounted the horrific sexual and physical abuse he suffered at the hands of the brothers – the worst of which was by Brother Paul Keaney.

The former teacher, who emigrated to Australia from Ireland, almost beat him to death after he stole grapes from his precious vineyard.

The flogging, which was carried out in front of other boys as well as brothers, was so bad Mr Hennessey developed a stutter as a result.

Brother Keaney beat him regularly with a leather strap with pennies sewn into it. He was also made to perform a range of sexual acts on the brother, which he said he later did willingly after years of abuse by other brothers.

Mr Hennessey told the hearing, Brother Keaney groomed him from the day he arrived, and had such a hold over him that he believed his abuse was a form of affection.

“Brother Keaney kept a pool of pets,” he told the hearing. “At the time I didn’t understand what he was doing to me. But I felt somehow privileged.”

It was only after he left the home that Mr Hennessey said he realised that he had been sexually “exploited and abused by criminals”.

Mr Hennessey told the commission the men who abused him during his time at St Joseph's Farm and Trade School in Bindoon felt safe in doing so.

“I was exploited and abused by criminals (who were) safe in the knowledge that the state government and church were my legal guardians, and would never bother to meet their responsibilities,” he said.

Mr Hennessey also spoke of being made to being treated “like a leper” when details of his abuse was first made public in the 1970s, and was labelled a child molester and was also beaten up by vigilantes.

He was also questioned by police on a few occassions and as a result he will not have any child in his home unless their parents are with them.

He said he had thought about suicide several times, and was angry the Christian Brothers changed his identity when he arrived to prevent anyone from being able to find him.

But of all the things he was robbed of it was the chance to have children of his own.

“I regret not having children of my own,” he said. “I have never had a committed relationship. I did not trust people.

“I had issues with my sexuality. I am the last one in my family. There’s no little Hennesseys of my own. This is unforgivable.

“I will go to my grave a tormented person.”