Years ago, before I started investigating the sexual abuse crisis, I had a series of dreams in which I encountered the souls of boys who had died and did not know that they were dead. They had to make the final step into death but they were afraid. I tried to comfort them as best I could, knowing that they would never become fathers, one of our great consolations in this world ruled by death. Then they left me, and passed out completely out of this world into the next.
When he was a Christian Brother , the Rev Robert Charles Best with his fellow abuser Brother Gerald Ridsdale would hunt boys at their school and abuse them.
Among the victims are 26 suicides, victims who were assaulted as boys by Best and his associates such as the convicted pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.
Twenty-six suicides, twenty-six known suicides, twenty-six known suicides to date.
There will be more. The detective investigating the cases is worried about the fallout from his investigation.
Detective Sergeant Carson also feels a particular guilt of his own.
As he has investigated Best and his friends, he has questioned himself.
“When you have blokes the same age as me coming in here and crying their eyes out as they give their statements you know there are more important things than just me,” he said.
“If we hadn’t done the investigation we might not have uncovered what these blokes did.
“But there are times when I wonder about it all.”
The anguish of one of Best’s victims who suicided after talking to police is particularly haunting.
“I talked that kid into making a statement,” Detective Sergeant Carson said.
“I said, ‘We’ll do something about this.’ So who’s responsible for his death, me or Best?
“Another fella said to me that as soon as his mum dies he’s going to kill himself.
“I can’t do anything about it. I’d rather see people live rather than me come along and take a statement from them and upsetting them more.”
And the sole focus of the hierarchy was the abusers:
“Best got convicted for earlier crimes last December and the church knew that,” he said.
“Yet the Catholic Church spent millions of dollars on this bloke’s defence in his latest trials and did nothing for the victims.”
The man who says he was one a “fairly strong Catholic” does his best to be charitable in his view of the church he grew up in.
But he doesn’t always succeed.
“So many people in the Catholic Church do so many good things, yet the hierarchy of the Catholic Church go and do all they can for this bloke knowing full well there are victims at three separate schools over an enormous period of time,” he said.
If I had accidentally killed a child, if I had inadvertently driven someone to suicide, I would mourn the rest of my life. I would do penance and plead night and day for forgiveness and pray for the person. If I had been responsible, I would find it hard to go on living – yet the bishops are far more troubled by any criticism leveled against them than by the hundreds of victims who committed suicide. Is it possible for men suffering from such hardness of heart to be saved?
Yet Christ died for the worst of sinners. Every day when I was on the Camino de Santiago, I prayed for the victims, that they would be healed; I prayed for the abusers, that they would repent; and I prayed for the enabling church officials that they would acknowledge their responsibility and repent and make such amends as they could. So far the latter two prayers do not seem to have been answered.