Survivor of physical and sexual abuse by school and church leaders
Marc Sinclair, 54, grew up in Dunedin where he suffered physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of two Christian Brothers teachers, Brother Victor Sullivan and Brother Desmond Fay, a diocesan priest, Father Kevin Kean, and a lay teacher, Ian Thompson.
Marc grew up in a loving family and was a highly intelligent and well-liked child. However, a series of tragedies happened to the family early in Marc’s life. At 9, he was told his father was dying of cancer and at about the same time, his older brother was diagnosed with cancer. Both died within a short period of one another, as did his grandfather, with whom he was very close.
At the time of these tragedies, Marc was attending St Edmund’s School in South Dunedin, an intermediate school run by the Christian Brothers where punishments were brutal. On one occasion, Marc was punched in the stomach by Brother Fay, an assault that left him winded and blacking out from pain. Marc was often sent to the principal’s office for minor school infringements, and it was here the principal, Brother Sullivan, physically and sexually abused Marc on an almost weekly basis. Brother Sullivan would put Marc over his knee and smack his bare bottom until Marc was crying so heavily, he could not breathe and at times Brother Sullivan would insert his finger and other items into Marc’s anus. But it was when Brother Fay was sometimes present that Marc would be forced to put his mouth around Brother Fay’s penis while he was being smacked.
When Marc was 12 and an altar boy at St Patricks Church, Father Kean, a parish priest, drove Marc unwillingly to an unlit road and grabbed his genitals, but Marc managed to escape before more could happen. Father Kean made other attempts to force Marc into his car, but he eventually told his mother, who confronted Father Kean and told him in no uncertain terms she would “kill him” if he ever tried to lay a hand on Marc again. Father Kean had no further contact with Marc. Shortly afterwards, Marc stopped being an altar boy and stopped going to church.
Marc moved on from St Edmunds to St Paul’s High School (also run by the Christian Brother Order). Here Marc met Ian Thompson, a notoriously violent lay-teacher. On one occasion he beat Marc with a long cane until he was semi-conscious. This was a common occurrence with other students at the school when punished by Ian Thompson in particular. He also, during photography lessons, fondled Marc’s genitals in the dark room. Later, Ian Thompson caught Marc smoking and called him to his residence for punishment. Marc was met by older students, who held him down while Mr Thompson caned him. After, Mr Thompson gave him a cup of tea and told him to take some “aspirin” he offered. The next thing Marc remembered was waking up next to another student. His shorts were unbuttoned and his underpants did not fit properly. Marc climbed out of a window to escape the locked house but soon felt nauseous and had violent stomach cramps. He made his way to a public toilet with cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea. His underpants were bloody, his anus was extremely sore, and there was blood in the toilet. Marc’s mother realised later there was something wrong because she arranged for him to leave school at just 14.
This trauma has left Marc with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) with associated persistent depression. He has suffered from severe anxiety, somatic disorders and alcoholism, and had previously made attempts to take his own life. He could not stay in New Zealand and left for Australia at 19 where he now lives. The abuse affected every aspect of his life and greatly impeded his ability to form meaningful, loving, long-term relationships. He has lived a life filled with fear, shame and guilt.
Marc could not tell anyone about the abuse while his mother was alive. After her death in 2013, he initially reported only part of Brother Sullivan’s abuse. The Catholic Church directed him to Christian Brothers Oceania. Marc was offered 10 counselling sessions, but he realised such a limited number of sessions, without being able to afford ongoing help himself, would only leave him in a more vulnerable state. After a difficult negotiation process, a settlement of $65,000 was agreed, plus up to $5,000 to seek independent legal advice. He was also sent a letter of apology. A year later, in desperate need of more support and rehabilitation treatment, he again approached the Christian Brothers for assistance with going to an addiction treatment centre, but this request was turned down.
Marc finds the church’s claims process highly legalistic and impersonal. The National Office of Professional Standards, the church body that manages complaints of sexual abuse against clergy and religious, does not have a mandate to investigate complaints against lay people (non-clergy and non-religious). And, more recently when Marc has sought to fully disclose the full breadth of his abuse, he had to fight to keep his whole story – including abuse by a lay teacher at a Christian Brothers’ school – together as much as possible. Through negotiation the National Office of Professional Standards agreed to provide Marc’s statement to the Christian Brothers so Marc would not need to give a second statement regarding this part of his experience.
Marc has extended his claim to include Brother Fay and Mr Thompson and is currently negotiating a top-up payment.
After discussions with the Bishop of Dunedin, Michael Dooley, about the abuse by Father Kean, the diocese (after an initial offer of $25,000) has agreed to a payment of $50,000. At Marc’s request, the diocese has also agreed to establish a scholarship to fund the education of an under-privileged student at Kavanagh College, Dunedin’s only Catholic secondary school, which was founded on the site of St Paul’s High School.
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