Cade Jackson's story

‘I grew up idolising priests. There was something powerful about them, something that as a small child I couldn’t understand. In my middle primary school years, I actually wanted to be a priest.’

Cade grew up in a staunchly Catholic family in regional New South Wales and became an altar boy in the 1980s.

‘I found this experience both nerve-racking and exhilarating. I was always worried about doing something wrong. However, I liked being part of the “show” that was mass. I felt important, included.’

During this time, Father Graham came to their church to serve as a relief parish priest. Graham was ‘a very personable man’ and ‘very popular with the parishioners’. ‘He took a special interest in me … and became a trusted friend of our family.’

Cade’s parents let him spend time with Graham in the presbytery after mass and ‘it was during these visits that the abuse began. At first it began with tickling … the tickling eventually led to further touching … He would slip his hands down my pants to fondle my penis and testicles.’

The priest ‘would ask me not to tell my parents about our physical interactions. I felt guilty and powerless so I remained silent’.

When Cade was about nine years old Graham invited him to spend a weekend at a holiday house, and his parents gave permission for this.

‘In a time when there’s no media or scandals kicking around, I guess you automatically assume that these people are trustworthy because of the way your parents engage with them, and you know, they give you no reason not to.’

It was a cold, wet weekend and Graham ‘would keep pulling me close from behind to hug me and keep me warm’. ‘On several occasions, he [placed] his hands down my pants to fondle my penis and testicles. I remember I could feel something pressing against my back. In hindsight, I realise he was rubbing his erection against my back.’

At one stage Graham ‘went off to say mass’. ‘Looking back, I can’t help but be amazed by the hypocrisy of sexually abusing a pre-pubescent boy, and then using those very hands to perform the most holy of ceremonies.’

That night the priest suggested that as it was so cold, it would be good for them to share a bed. After failing to force Cade to masturbate him, he lay next to him masturbating himself. The next morning Cade was ‘overcome with an incredible sense of guilt and shame’. He sat outside crying, and threw his breakfast into the garden. ‘I couldn’t eat.’

Graham ‘knew by my reaction the following day that a line had been crossed because, you know, after that, I stopped going to mass, I didn’t want to be an altar boy anymore, and then he got transferred away anyway’.

The priest later came back to visit Cade’s family, and his parents couldn’t understand why Cade didn’t want to see him. His father asked him if something had happened on their weekend away, but Cade said no.

During his high school years, Cade wrote letters to a female school friend, and she is the first person he told about the sexual abuse. He couldn’t tell his parents because of their strong religious beliefs.

When Cade was 19 he told his parents that he was gay, and they found it very difficult to accept. After an argument with his mother, he moved to Sydney with some student friends.

‘No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remove the guilt and shame from my soul. I wanted to distance myself as far as I could from the Catholic Church, its teachings, its people.’

Cade ‘became involved with drugs … I am very fortunate to have escaped that period of my life, with my life’. His housemate ‘wasn’t so lucky.’

Although Cade has never told his parents about the sexual abuse he experienced as a child, his father believes that something must have happened and constantly blames himself for having ‘failed as a father’. Cade tells him that he was ‘the best dad in the world’.

Cade has in the past questioned whether Graham targeted him because he was gay, or if the abuse somehow made him gay.

‘As a teenage boy growing up in a Catholic family, it is a lot harder to come to terms with your sexuality when you have been abused by someone in your life who held such a position of power.’

Cade told the Commissioner, ‘Over the years I found it extremely difficult to form lasting relationships. I used to refer to myself as “un-dateable” because of how damaged I was … It wasn’t until I met my current partner … that I realised that someone could love me for the broken mess that I was’.

In the early 2010s Cade began experiencing severe anxiety and depression. He saw a counsellor but it wasn’t working, and he had a breakdown.

‘During these dark times … I would cry at the drop of a hat and I just wanted to remove myself from the world. I contemplated suicide … As the light gradually came back into my life, I realised that I couldn’t let this injustice in my past continue to linger.’

Cade is still seeing a counsellor. He is taking prescribed medication, but would like to stop soon.

Cade came to the Royal Commission because ‘I wanted him to know that what he did was not right’. ‘Failing that … now I think the most important thing is being part of a process like this and making sure that my voice is heard and that I contribute to your research and your reporting on this … I just wanted to be as involved as I can be’.

‘The Catholic Church has done itself no favours in putting the walls up to people who have suffered abuse … I think it’s so offensive to see people like George Pell on TV with his lapses of memory …

‘If they want to promote a compassionate, forgiving religion, then they need to be compassionate and apologetic and open about either what they’ve been hiding, what’s happened to people that have, you know, been affected, and all the [family and friends] that have also been affected.’

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