Chris grew up in suburban Melbourne, and by the time he was 12 in the 1980s his parents’ relationship was in trouble. He thinks these issues at home are why he started acting out by skipping school and causing trouble in class.
His mother Leslie tried to help him. She sought advice from a close family friend, who suggested that Chris and Leslie attend a camping trip with a Catholic priest, Father Young, and some other boys.
During this trip Young sexually abused Chris by masturbating him and forcing Chris to touch him.
Young became a family friend and confidante of both Leslie and Chris’s father. After Chris’s parents broke up, Chris lived with his mother. The priest would take him on trips and pick him up from school. Sometimes Chris stayed over at his residence. Leslie was a ‘staunch Catholic’, and was overwhelmed by Young’s helpfulness and the kindness of the Church.
As a single parent, Leslie was unable to support Chris, and looked to Young to provide a fatherly role in his life. Chris was then sent to live with Young at a presbytery in country Victoria where Young was serving as parish priest.
‘Dad and Young had spoken and they decided to send me up there to live with him up there. I had no real say in that … I was told I was going to live up there and go to school, they wanted me to settle down in the country.’
Young continued to sexually abuse Chris throughout the six months he lived there, including masturbation and oral sex. While Chris had his own bedroom he rarely slept there as he was expected to sleep with the priest.
During this period Chris tried to escape the abuse by asking his school friends if he could stay at their homes. ‘I would never mention anything about what happened to me, and I doubt I would have said anything back then. It was so obvious to everyone, Mum and Dad knew I lived with him.’
It was only when Chris was removed from the presbytery to move in with a friend that the abuse ceased. However, his education was disrupted and as a consequence he left school in Year 10 and took up work. He struggled with relationships and was forced to leave a job because of his difficulties with drugs and alcohol. Young continued to keep in contact with Chris’s father after Chris moved away, and tried to stay involved in Chris’s life.
Father Young was publicly named as a child sex offender in the 1990s, and was given a long jail sentence for crimes against other children. Immediately after Young was outed Chris’s father contacted him and encouraged him to go to the police. This was the first time Chris had told his parents about the abuse.
Although the police were supportive, Chris found the subsequent criminal trial very difficult, and he attempted suicide twice.
‘Looking back, the services and the counselling that are around today is a lot easier. Back then there was nothing. You went to a psychiatrist for a session and that was it. There was no real support.’
After the criminal proceeding, Chris was contacted by a legal firm and began a civil action. The lawyers advised him it would be difficult to sue the Church and he ended up accepting the Church’s compensation offer.
Chris’s relationship with Leslie suffered during this time. Before Young’s trial, she remained faithful to the Church and did not want Chris to sue them. Her lack of support for him was hurtful and they did not speak for a number of years.
Since the trial, Chris has contacted many other survivors of Young’s abuse and is in the process of establishing a local survivors’ group. He is ‘pleased to be building something positive out of something evil’.
Chris lives with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep difficulties. He has had psychiatric admissions and other psychological assistance over the years. It is only in the past couple of years that he has found counselling significantly helpful.
Since the trial Chris and Leslie have reconnected. She has also received counselling in recent years with Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA). Chris believes that she feels incredibly guilty for what happened and is astounded that the Church has never offered any support since the abuse Chris experienced was made known. She has now stopped attending church.
‘Not a thing from the Church. Mum was never approached by the Church either, and they all know her situation. She was a part of a well-known parish and she never received any help until we did with the counselling.’