‘We boys at school talked amongst ourselves and we generally knew which priests you could be friends with and which ones you couldn’t … We didn’t really know what homosexuality was, but we knew.’
As far back as he can remember, Chuck wanted to be a priest. Catholicism was a huge part of his life; he was raised in a devout family, attended church weekly, and prayed at home.
In the 1970s, after his parents separated, Chuck was sent to a Vincentian Catholic boarding school in regional New South Wales. He was in his mid-teens.
Chuck always had the feeling that something was going on at the school. Some of the Brothers used to give boys cigarettes, and one Brother used to ask boys to come into his room after lights out. Another Brother was known to lay on his bed naked while boys were in his room, and Chuck once saw a third Brother kissing a student in a classroom.
Chuck said that the boys ‘never touched anyone’ and ‘weren’t generally affectionate’. However, these moments of inappropriate behavior by the Brothers broke a ‘boundary’.
Chuck was aware that there was a ‘relationship’ between a boy his age and Brother Samuel, but no one talked about it. Chuck knew it was wrong, but didn’t know who to talk to. He thought about reporting it to Father McGuiness, who was the mentor and advisor for his year group, and a superior within the Vincentian congregation, but he didn’t think that anything would be done.
‘The rule started to develop in the Vincentians was that you don’t talk about it. They elect superiors who will cover for them.’
McGuiness groomed Chuck for three years by constantly questioning him about his sexuality - something Chuck found very odd.
When Chuck was in senor high school, his parents were finalising their divorce, and he needed some advice and understanding. He approached McGuiness for a counselling session. However, once he was alone with McGuiness, the priest suddenly came towards him and demanded to know about his sexuality.
‘He lunged at me, sort of held me down, got on top of me and shoved his face in my neck. I can remember him having a goatee … He said to me, “You’ve got to give in. You’re gay. I know you’re gay. You’ve got to accept you’re gay”. Then he put his hand on my groin and started rubbing me.’
Chuck pushed him away, but McGuinness grabbed his arm and said he wanted him to come to bed. Chuck ran out of the room, collided with a friend, and told him what McGuiness had just done. The friend said that the priest did this to everyone.
After leaving school, Chuck attended a vocation weekend where McGuiness was present, along with Father Peters and another candidate for the priesthood. Chuck asked Peters what it was like being a dormitory master. Peters said that he allowed boys to sleep in his bed when they were homesick or upset. Chuck never spoke to Peters again.
Chuck discontinued his vocation training and became ‘angry’. He lost respect for the Brothers and priests, and questioned his religious faith.
‘For a long time I didn’t go into a church, but I had to try and make sense of it within the overall context of the Church itself.’
When he was in his early 20s, Chuck disclosed the abuse to his grandparents, and was relieved that they believed him. They helped organise a meeting with McGuiness which would allow Chuck to confront and forgive McGuiness. However, during the meeting, the priest refused to admit that anything had happened.
In subsequent years, Chuck had difficulty staying in work because of his tendency to clash with bosses. Trust issues affected his relationships, and for much of his life, he’s been confused about his sexual orientation.
In the late 1990s, Chuck reported McGuiness to the Church, and participated in the Church’s Towards Healing process. He was upset when the investigator said that, although he believed Chuck’s report, he couldn’t do anything because of McGuiness’s denials. Chuck was told it was up to the Vincentian Provincial to discipline McGuiness.
In his 40s, Chuck reconnected with the Catholic Church. Wanting to again pursue a vocation, he joined a seminary. However, when he discovered that a priest was sexually abusing young seminarians, he reported him to his superior but nothing was done. Chuck left the seminary several months later.
At the time of his private session, Chuck has engaged lawyers to assist him with his Towards Healing claim which is yet to be settled. He has also reported his assault and concerns to the Vincentians, the Catholic Church, and the police. He is disheartened that most of the people he has reported to seem to bury their heads in the sand.
‘They have a view that [if] the law doesn’t get them, then they should be able to have sex with who they want. The only issue is whether you get caught.’