Christian's story

‘I was an altar boy in [the 1970s]. I had the misfortune of coming across a priest who sexually abused me and at that time, being the youngest in the family, and the Church held in such high regard, I was too scared to tell Mum and Dad.’

At the age of 11, Christian was raped by a priest visiting his school parish in Sydney. He ‘was at a loss’ following the assault. Bleeding and in pain, not sure what to do, he returned home and threw his blood-stained underpants in the rubbish bin. Although he didn’t tell his parents, the following week he worked up the courage to tell his class teacher, Mrs Feldon.

‘I didn’t know the words, “sexual abuse”. I said, “He’s hurting me”. She knew what I meant and she didn’t believe me. She became very violent towards me to the point where it really affected me. It does hurt me still.’

Christian told the Commissioner that he became terrified of going to school, and as a way of avoiding it, pretended that he couldn’t walk. His concerned parents took him to see several specialist doctors, but none could find a reason for the sudden disability.

‘I put it on. I physically couldn’t walk, but I could jump up and down on the bed when the door closed. I was so excited not going to school. It was only when my brother came home on leave from the army; he’d heard that I’d been sick. I remember him coming in and sitting down beside me. He offered me 20 bucks to walk. I took the money.’

Although his parents didn’t know about the abuse, they realised something was wrong and were encouraged by Christian’s uncle, a Marist Brother, to move their son to a state school. ‘That was huge for a Catholic family’, Christian said. Decades later, the uncle revealed that he suspected sexual abuse as the reason for Christian’s problems, but he hadn’t thought to pursue the matter or take it any further.

As soon as he could, Christian left school and got an apprenticeship as an electrician. His reading and writing were poor but he made up for it by being ‘good with my hands’. He did well and at 20 years of age, met Pam whom he married. Thirty-four years and three children later, they are still happily together.

In the 2000s, Christian was watching men being interviewed on television about their experiences of being sexual abused by priests and Brothers in the Catholic Church. ‘I’m thinking, “God, you’re brave”.’ Two weeks after the program, an open letter was published in newspapers inviting people who’d been abused by members of the Church to participate in the Church’s Towards Healing response. When Christian saw the letter, he disclosed his abuse to Pam.

Pam, who accompanied Christian to the Royal Commission, said that the disclosure ‘explained a lot’. ‘It explained why he never let our son be an altar boy, and why he was never allowed to join Scouts. It explained why this intelligent man couldn’t read or write.’

Christian also told his siblings about the abuse, and with their encouragement and that of Pam, he submitted his account to Towards Healing. He was surprised that at the initial meeting, the first questions asked were related to his marriage. ‘They asked, “Is this your second marriage? Is this your third marriage? You’ve been married four times.” I was gob-smacked.’

He replied that he was married once, but the questions’ purpose and origin were never clarified. At his next meeting, the assessor said he had a magic wand and asked Christian if he could have anything in the world, what he would wish for. ‘I said, “Take me back to [the 1970s]. I won’t become an altar boy.” I really thought that strange. What a question to ask.’

Because Christian couldn’t name the priest who’d abused him, the Church’s investigators began to doubt his story. One staff member drew parallels between his account and that of a person who’d been hurt or wronged by a shop assistant in David Jones, concluding that if the complainant couldn’t identify the name of the assistant who’d wronged them, the company bore no responsibility for the matter.

The Church initially offered Christian $1,000 as payment ‘for counselling’. This and subsequent offers of $3,000 and $5,000 were rejected. Correspondence from the Church stated in part: ‘Notwithstanding the absence of definitive evidence, counselling was offered as a practical and tangible means of support’.

In the mid-2000s, Christian received $56,000 and ‘a half-hearted apology’. He said that throughout the process, no one had ever asked him about his well-being or how he was going.

‘I got through it. I survived it. I come from a good legacy and have a good family [and] our three kids.’

He’d made a statement to NSW Police to have it recorded as historical sexual abuse. Telling his story to the Royal Commission was important, he said. ‘Being heard, being really heard. I never thought I’d get this chance. I’m trusting in you to make something better, so no one has to go what I went through.’

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