Bernard Henry's story

'Father Pat give me five bucks. Back when you're 12-13 years old, shit! Five bucks! How good's this? I'm going up the street … driving his car.

'What my mum said: "They all sat in our house, Ferguson sat in here, he drunk beer, whisky with your dad, he had meals here".’

Father Pat Ferguson was one of the priests in Bernard's outer suburban parish in the early 1980s. Bernard's family was large and staunchly Catholic so naturally Bernard became an altar boy. Father Pat groomed Bernard's parents as well as Bernard. Also naturally for them, Bernard's parents allowed him to spend a lot of time with Father Pat at the presbytery, at camps for altar boys, at Father Pat's caravan on the coast and at Father Pat's house in the mountains. They never questioned or suspected anything.

Bernard was 12 years old when Father Pat began sexually abusing him. From then until Bernard was 21 the priest was a constant dominating presence in his life. Father Pat gave him money, alcohol, attention. Bernard confided in him. Father Pat allowed Bernard to drive his car when he was too young to obtain a learner's permit. He even paid his school fees. The abuse was physical and psychological. After Father Pat was posted to another parish Bernard went to stay with him. Father Pat attended Bernard’s 21st birthday party.

When Bernard was in his mid-teens, another parish priest – Father Piers Kiel – also began abusing him. Bernard suspects Father Pat knew what Father Piers was doing. Father Piers was at the parish a few years. Again Bernard's parents made Father Piers welcome in their home and were oblivious to the danger he posed and damage he caused their son. Bernard's mother used to let Bernard help Pat and Piers around their house. Father Piers was also associated in an official capacity with the police.

When he was 21 Bernard decided 'enough is enough' and ended his dependence on Father Pat. A couple of years after that he disclosed the abuse to Father Garry Fisher, a priest who was at the parish then. Garry helped Bernard tell his parents.

Bernard's mother cried and believed every word he said but Bernard doesn't think his father believes him. 'He don't give a shit about me because I'm a thorn in his side.' While his mother won't have anything to do with the Church now, his father is still a staunch practising Catholic. This has led to friction between Bernard and his father.

'He's in denial. He still goes to church … It shits me to the bone. He would rather go help a poor person on the street than help his son which is me. I can't understand that.

'I thinks he was abused as well. 'Cause he went to the Catholic Brothers' school ... My personal thoughts are, because I was involved in a group where other men were abused by priests, just what I know from them and what I hear from other people … I do think my dad may have been abused and he can't handle it.'

Bernard also told his siblings and has been heartened by their complete support; they support him 'one hundred percent'. His wife Judy also supports him.

Garry took Bernard to report the abuse to the archdiocese. At the meeting the diocesan official, Father Keith Parker, responded angrily to the allegation that 'one of their star priests' was sexually abusing Bernard. It 'was like "you're full of shit"'. 'He said there was no way in the world that Patrick Ferguson would sexually abuse you.’ But Garry said, 'I believe him'.

'And then Keith Parker said alright I have to go to someone else. As the Catholic Church do they go down the ladder and then they go back up the ladder and then you've got a hurdle and then you jump that hurdle and then you go to someone else and 10 years later something's finally said and you've heard it all before. Okay the Church are just a pack of arseholes. … And at the end of the day ... it should have been dealt with straight away but it wasn't.'

Even though he has advanced in the Church hierarchy, Garry has continued to support Bernard. But Bernard could see he was conflicted. 'Garry was always dodging, like really serious questions I would throw at him. This is what I said before, he's on the fence. He would help me, he would bat for me but then he would also bowl for the Church as well so he was on the fence for a lot of the time. … He would always say "we're looking into things".'

On one occasion Barnard confronted the local bishop on church premises after which he was arrested and threatened to be charged with a serious offence for which there was no evidence. The detective 'turned around and he goes "I'm going to get you", I went "I beg your pardon". He says "My mate's the bishop"'. However Bernard was charged with a minor offence.

The Church offered Bernard counselling. The psychologist, Fiona Clegg, was another of the succession of people whose professional ethics have been compromised.

‘Fiona Clegg was running back to … [the local bishop] and saying what me and Judy was saying in the counselling sessions so I had no hope. What I was saying to Fiona Clegg she was running back and saying to the bishop.’

When Bernard confronted Clegg about this, asking her why she did it, Clegg said, ‘Because he told me to tell him what you said to me'.

Bernard had continued to agitate for the Church and police to take action about the priests who abused him, to provide compensation, and to investigate the detective who threatened to charge him with the false charge.

Bernard has to work for himself because he can't handle authority and has to do things his own way. He received an amount under victims compensation and compensation from Towards Healing. He still struggles to cope and suffers post-traumatic stress disorder. Counselling has helped but the memory of the abuse 'is there until I die'.

Content updating Updating complete