Federal government writes to regulators investigating Opus Dei-affiliated schools that former students say caused ‘pain and suffering’
The federal government has warned that an independent investigator may be appointed following a state inquiry into whether schools affiliated with the small but powerful Catholic organization Opus Dei have breached the Commonwealth Education Act.
Key points: Education Minister Jason Clare said the allegations contained in Monday’s program were “serious” The NSW Education Standards Authority has been ordered to investigate the schools More students have come forward to Four Corners alleging similar experiences
Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said his department had written to the NSW Education Standards Authority on Tuesday, following a Four Corners investigation into troubling practices at the schools.
Mr Clare said the allegations contained in Monday’s program were “serious” and it was important they were properly investigated by NSW authorities.
“Depending on what the outcome of that investigation is, my department has the power to appoint an independent person to conduct their own investigation,” Mr Clare said.
Premier Dominic Perrottet called on the NSW Education Standards Authority to investigate Tangara School for Girls and Redfield College after being informed of the allegations before Four Corners’ broadcast on Monday.
Mr Clare said the trigger for breaching the Commonwealth Education Act would be if his department found that the schools were not fully implementing the approved curriculum.
The Four Corners investigation featured former students who attended the schools over a 20-year period, up to 2021.
They said they were told that watching pornography causes holes in the brain, were discouraged from getting a life-saving cancer vaccine, and described textbooks from the curriculum with pages ripped out or redacted.
Students at Redfield College say they were horribly bullied by other students. (Four Corners: Nick Wiggins)
Former students also said they were made to watch videos and attend speaker sessions where they were told masturbation was mentally disordered behavior.
They said homophobia was widespread and there were persistent attempts to recruit school pupils to Opus Dei.
The schools have denied teaching the wrong information and said they comply with the NSW curriculum.
They say they do not seek to recruit students into the conservative Catholic organization, and do not condone the practice.
Tangara School for Girls said it now provides information to students about the HPV vaccine that is consistent with accepted medical advice, and textbooks are not edited.
The schools said “no children were victimized because of their sexual orientation,” and the safety and well-being of students is paramount.
“We have strict policies and procedures in place to deal with victimization or bullying… [and] also work closely with families of students who identify as LGBTIQ to provide additional support as needed,” the schools said.
‘I had to hide myself’
Since Monday’s broadcast, many more students have come forward to Four Corners claiming similar experiences.
Eamon McCaughan, who graduated from Redfield in 2008, is from a strict Opus Dei background and is part of a group of young gay men who say they are scarred from their time at the school.
Eamon McCaughan says he was horribly bullied. (Four Corners: Nick Wiggins)
He said an investigation was “a big step forward and a step in the right direction”.
“This is not a revenge story, it’s not about getting back at people. It’s about accountability and it’s about creating a safer place for people who are different.”
Eamon said he was “horribly bullied” at Redfield College by other students.
“I was set on fire, electrocuted, targeted at sports,” he said.
But by this point Eamon had given up telling anyone about the bullying.
“I had to hide myself from the regular groups of people who ended up trying to bully me [it] got so bad that I tried to commit suicide before my 18th birthday.”
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Eamon said his suicide attempt was the night before his HSC maths exam.
He never told a soul, but was aware of other alumni who killed themselves.
Four Corners spoke to two families of boys who took their own lives.
Eamon said he is speaking out because his time at Redfield took away his freedom and his voice.
“The pain and suffering I went through, I don’t want anyone else to go through and I’ve been quiet about it for too long.”
“I’m not going to let this happen anymore. We all deserve a chance to be heard, and I know I’m just one voice of many who want Redfield and Opus Dei to be held accountable for the way we treat is. school.”