NRL great Matthew Johns has revealed he witnessed “incredible cruelty” during his time in the Catholic education system.
Johns — who played rugby league for Newcastle, Cronulla, New South Wales and Australia — attended All Saints College in Maitland, NSW, for his education.
The school was formerly run by Marist Brothers, and Johns, deeply moved by the ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, opened up on Wednesday morning.
He dubbed evidence that has emerged as “horrific” and added that his own experience attending a Catholic school was “tough” and “over the top”.
“I didn’t see anything, as far as child abuse, of a sexual nature,” Johns told listeners on his Triple M breakfast radio show, The Grill Team.
“What I saw was incredible cruelty. Some of the punishments they would hand out were full on.
“It goes without saying education was different in our days but … we had a teacher who would tie your hands in a vice if you were doing the wrong thing.
“And he would crack them across the arse and things like that. Their discipline was tough and it was over the top.”
Johns — now a host and rugby league expert at Fox Sports after a stint with the Nine Network — admitted the “violent discipline” he witnessed would stay with him.
“That Catholic education was synonymous with violent discipline for whatever reason,” he said.
“It’s hard to know what’s in the mindset there.”
He was also shaken by findings into the Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse.
They stated that more than 40 per cent of St John of God Brothers were alleged to have sexually abused children in Australia, while the same claims were levelled at 22 per cent of Christian Brothers, 20.4 per cent of Marist Brothers, 21.9 per cent of Salesians of Don Bosco Brothers and 13.8 per cent of De La Salle Brothers.
The findings come from six decades of church records and Johns was disgusted.
“Some of the stories that have come out — horrific doesn’t cut it,” he said.
“Families out there trusted the local priest and the Marist Brothers and the Catholic Church more than anything.
“They handed their children over basically to an organisation that, let’s face it, has been proven in some cases to be a paedophile ring.”
‘That is soul murder’
Earlier in the week, priest Dr Thomas Doyle, who has worked with thousands of abuse survivors, said many clerics and church leaders were unable to comprehend the damage that child sexual abuse or the rape of an adult does to an individual.
“They don’t comprehend what has happened to those victims,” Dr Doyle told the royal commission.
“That’s never going to go away. That’s soul murder and sometimes those murdered souls stay dead.”
– with AAP