Growing up in a devout Catholic family in the 1950s, Anthony felt a strong connection to the faith and served as an altar boy at his local church outside Melbourne, sometimes assisting Father Rowlands five or six times a week.
He was 11 years old when Rowlands began abusing him. Anthony told the Commissioner, ‘He would take me into the front room of the presbytery and then sexually assault me’.
Rowlands also abused Anthony in his car on several occasions, and during school hours he would often ring teachers and ask them to send him to the church for ‘religious instruction’.
Anthony did his best to avoid Rowlands, even jumping the presbytery fence and hiding in the carpark. The priest would report these absences to the teachers, who then punished Anthony with beatings when he returned to school.
‘But I didn’t mind the pain, I could handle the pain … I’d sooner take that than what I’d get from Rowlands.’
After about a year, Anthony reported the sexual abuse to a senior Church official. ‘He told me he would deal with it and not to say anything to anybody else, and it eased off for a little while, and it happened again about a month after that.’
Anthony then told another priest. ‘He instructed me to write to the archbishop, but I didn’t know how to put it into words or how to explain what was going on.’
As far as Anthony knows, no action was taken against Rowlands at that time. Then, in the early 60s, the mother of another boy made a complaint and the priest was moved to a new parish, then sent overseas.
Anthony was relieved the abuse was over, but said that he had already lost his chance at a good education.
‘What hurts more than anything is when you see that the chaps you were at school with and that they’ve excelled, they’ve done really well, and yet academically and sporting-wise I was much further in front.’
For the next three decades Anthony kept the abuse to himself because he was afraid of the impact it would have on his family. Then, in the late 90s, he decided to approach the Church.
‘At this stage I didn’t know that this Father Rowlands had deceased and I thought, “If he’s still up to it, if I can save one person from going through the torture I was put through, I’m going down”. And actually it took two occasions. I come down on the train … and then I turned around and come back home. And then the next time I went down I rang up and I got the appointment.’
Anthony’s feelings about his faith are complex. He feels saddened that many Catholics still refuse to face up to the truth about child sexual abuse. Yet, despite everything, he has a great respect for those priests who have spoken out in support of victims, and he remains cautiously optimistic about the future.