Nightmare at Xavier College: New claims of abuse, ritual humiliation


Physically small and a long way from his parents’ farm, Albert* was doing his best to fit in during his first year as a boarder at Xavier College's Burke Hall campus in Melbourne.

But then, according to a statement of claim filed on Albert's behalf by law firm Ryan Carlisle Thomas in the Victorian Supreme Court in September, something happened to the 12-year-old boy that made him instantly notorious among his schoolmates and left an emotional mark long after the physical ones had disappeared.

Albert was asleep late one night in the dormitory when the housemaster at the time, Melbourne priest Father Celso Romanin, allegedly lifted him out of his bed and carried him into his bedroom.

Waiting in 24-year-old Father Romanin’s dimly-lit room was a group of older school boys arranged in a circle. A still drowsy Albert was placed in the middle of the circle and told to take off his pyjamas and lift his penis up.

Each person in the room, including Father Romanin, then allegedly grabbed coloured textas and drew on Albert’s stomach, legs and around his penis.

It took days for the texta markings to wash off. But the damage was done. The rest of the boarding community knew that Albert was among those who had been got at by Father Romanin and his followers. Fitting in at school had become that much harder.

Several other students were allegedly abused by Father Romanin in the same way, according to Albert's statement of claim.

A website dedicated to exposing alleged historic abuse at Xavier College also refers to students having their genitals drawn on by Father Romanin.

Despite the intense focus of the royal commission into sexual abuse at religious institutions and a number of other cases of abuse identified at Xavier College, Father Romanin’s alleged abuse between 1964 and 1966 has not been reported until now.

After leaving Xavier College, Father Romanin became a parish priest in Melbourne suburbs such as Richmond and Hawthorn, as well as the Adelaide suburb of Norwood and the Lavender Bay-Kirribilli parish in Sydney. He also was the first co-ordinator for the Jesuit Refuge Service, a role which took him to Africa in the 1990s.

Albert told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that Father Romanin had abused him on other occasions as well. In one incident, Father Romanin again woke Albert at night and took him to his room. There, he allegedly fondled Albert’s penis and drew on his bottom before forcing him to lie face down on the man’s back while he completed a set of push-ups.

Albert also alleged he was sexually abused by another Burke Hall teacher. Albert claimed Father Romanin witnessed the incident and grinned.

“There was a group of us that copped it,” he says. “Romanin was as strong as a bull and had a fierce temper. They went after the smaller, prettier boys.”

The Catholic organisation responsible for the exclusive Xavier College, The Society of Jesus in Australia Limited, began an investigation into the historic abuse claims about Father Romanin in 2015 through the church's "Melbourne Response" process. The investigation, led by respected Melbourne barrister Ross Gillies, QC, was triggered by a 2014 complaint about Father Romanin's alleged historic abuse lodged with the Melbourne archdiocese.

Albert was contacted as part of the investigation and asked to give a statement about his alleged abuse at Burke Hall. He later appeared before Mr Gillies at a hearing at Melbourne's County Court. This was not a court process but the court was used as a venue for the Melbourne Response's own "hearings".

Father Romanin is not serving in any official capacity with the church now. His most recent role was as the assistant parish priest in Hawthorn, but it is unclear when Father Romanin stopped performing his duties. He is still listed as assistant priest on the parish's website.

A spokeswoman for The Society of Jesus in Australia said the organisation could not respond to questions because of the litigation. Father Romanin was also asked to comment but was unable to because the matters were before the court. The Society of Jesus in Australia, the entity that is named as the defendant, is disputing aspects of the legal case.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas senior associate, Amy Olver, said the problem with internal investigations like the one Albert was involved in, was that the institutions and the perpetrators they employed continued to hold all the cards.

“When reports of abuse are ignored or dismissed by institutions, it gives perpetrators a chance to re-offend and strips survivors of confidence to talk to the police,” Ms Olver said. "For these reasons, we are now seeking compensation for loss of wages and for pain and suffering incurred over the course of his life.”

What happened at Burke Hall has had a life-long effect on Albert. He said the feeling of helplessness at not being able to defend himself had caused him to respond to certain situations in his life with an explosive rage. He also suffered anorexia nervosa at one point and continues to have difficulty concentrating.

“I developed characters in my head to take me to another place,” he said.

Albert is considering reporting Father Romanin’s alleged abuse to Victoria Police.

Ms Olver said the alleged abuse experienced by Albert was all the more horrific because it occurred in front of his peers. She is hopeful other witnesses or survivors of abuse at Xavier will come forward.

The statement of claim alleges complaints about Father Romanin were raised with senior figures at the Jesuit school at the time but these were ignored.

Historical allegations against a number of other teachers at Xavier have been aired in the Royal Commission, or in private settlements and the criminal courts, and have been acknowledged by the school.

*A pseudonym has been used to protect Albert’s identity.

 

(Source)


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