‘The trouble with all situations like this, particularly with teachers, is that while they’re doing what they’re doing they’re opening up a different world for you. And he did. I can thank him for many, many things. But I can hate him for a lot of things too.’
Aiden met the teacher Father Graham in the early 1960s at a Catholic school in New South Wales. As Aiden entered his teens, Father Graham took a special interest in him and some of his friends, taking them out to the theatre, to lunch, and for drives in his car.
These apparently innocent displays of attention soon provided an environment for sexual abuse.
‘It began with groping’, Aiden said. ‘With Graham holding me, kissing me, trying to put his hand down my trousers.’
The priest then tried to masturbate Aiden, and to force Aiden to masturbate him. This became a regular occurrence that always ended the same way: as soon as Graham had ejaculated, his demeanour shifted abruptly. As well as being ‘pretty gross’, Aiden found this emotionally confusing.
Aiden said that one minute it was ‘“You’re special, you come and meet me here”, and minutes later it’s “You better get out of here. I’ll just check the corridor to make sure it’s clear”. And then you duck back to the chapel and be on your bike. It was horrific.’
After two years of being abused, Aiden went to the chapel to wait for Graham, as was the established pattern. As Aiden was waiting, a priest named Father Rourke came by and asked why he was there. When Aiden explained that he was waiting for Graham, Rourke told him sternly and knowingly that he’d better head straight home.
‘How do you think I felt at that moment? You feel like dirt. You feel like you’ve been found out guilty of a crime and you’re the criminal. Nobody can tell you, and you can’t tell anyone, so nobody can tell you you’re not the criminal.’
Aiden’s feelings of guilt were exacerbated by Graham’s behaviour the next day. Gone were the attention and affection; now the priest was ‘cold and callous’. From that moment he stopped abusing Aiden and turned his attentions to another boy.
Some weeks later Aiden found the boy crying in a corner of the school. The boy told Aiden that Father Graham had been touching him. Aiden replied, ‘this is something he’s been doing for a long time’.
Aiden believes the boy ‘must have said something to his dad’ because he was moved to another school, and Graham disappeared shortly after.
Free from his abuser, Aiden began to pick up the pieces of his life. His grades had dropped while the abuse was happening, but by the end of school, he managed to improve his grades and score a spot at university. Academically he excelled, but socially he struggled.
In particular, he felt extremely uncomfortable with sex. Even after he formed a strong, loving relationship that led to marriage, these feelings continued to dog him.
‘We married because we loved each other, and we had two wonderful sons. We now have grandchildren. But I don’t even need these two hands to indicate in 16 years that I was married how many times we made love. I was terrified of anything down below the belt.
Aiden didn’t discuss the abuse with his wife. He told no one until the subject came up when Aiden’s mother received a call from Graham who had been trying to contact Aiden who was then in his early 30s.
When Aiden’s mother said ‘I really don’t think you need to follow this up’, Aiden asked ‘“Why do you say that?” And that’s when she said, “I always thought that something was happening with Graham”’.
By this stage, much of Aiden’s guilt and shame had transformed into anger. One time, he’d even gone to Graham’s presbytery to beat him up, only to find that the priest was not home. Aiden told his mother about the abuse, adding that he wanted to take legal action.
‘Her first comment was, “Whatever you do, don’t tell your father, it would kill him”. And when I said that somehow I’ve got to deal with this, she said, “Well please don’t do this while I’m alive”.’ Aiden respected his mother’s wishes.
In the late 2000s, after both his parents had died, Aiden reported Graham to police. He described the process of writing his statement as ‘two days of horror’, but thought that the police were ‘brilliant’.
‘The police got me to talk to Graham for the first time in about 40 years, by phone call, and it was recorded. And Graham gave himself away on that recording. He also admitted that he didn’t know it was hurting me, and that he treated me as extremely special.’
Graham was charged with multiple counts of abuse against Aiden but the trial never took place. The Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the case on grounds that the priest was too frail to be extradited interstate.
Aiden was furious. He engaged a lawyer and entered into negotiations with the Catholic Church, ultimately settling his case for large sum. He would have much preferred an apology from his abuser, but he’s accepted now that this will never happen.
‘I was over the anger about Graham until today. I can still feel it. But the reality is I’m more balanced. And there’s enough going on in my life and with my grandchildren now … that it’s more towards the future.’