In his last year of primary school in the mid-1970s, Ciaran became the focus of Father Jim McMahon’s attention, with the parish priest taking the then 10-year-old for drives during class time and on weekends, and encouraging him to become an altar boy.
After a period of giving presents and special privileges, McMahon began sexually abusing Ciaran and continued to do so for more than a year.
Ciaran went from being a ‘straight A student’ to failing. ‘In the last year I just didn’t end up going to school. All I did was spend time with this guy.’
After Ciaran moved to high school, it became harder for McMahon to remove him from the classroom unnoticed. At the same time, Ciaran started to ‘pull away’ from the priest. He stopped going to church and when his mother asked why, he disclosed the sexual abuse. She told him it wasn’t true and he should ‘never say that again’. In subsequent years, Ciaran disclosed the abuse twice more to his mother but she still refused to believe him.
Ciaran said that the principal of the high school, De La Salle Brother Lonergan, was strongly influenced by McMahon. After Ciaran stopped contact with the priest, Lonergan became physically abusive under the guise of issuing punishments. On one occasion, when he saw Lonergan coming towards him, Ciaran was so frightened he escaped by running the length of a corridor straight through a plate glass window.
In Year 10, Ciaran moved to a public school but said by then he ‘was shot from school’ and regularly drinking alcohol. He went on to technical college but struggled. Later, he worked as a sports professional and got married, but after the birth of his daughter he wasn’t able to have a sexual relationship with his wife and the marriage broke up.
In the 1990s, Ciaran saw a newspaper article about McMahon and rang the priest to ask why he’d abused him. McMahon at first denied knowledge of what Ciaran was talking about, then became emotional and said another former student had complained about him to police. The same year, Ciaran disclosed the abuse to his sister who informed the nuns at the primary school, but no action was taken.
Some years later, Victoria Police contacted Ciaran as part of their investigations into abuse allegations against McMahon. He made a formal statement and McMahon pleaded guilty to 12 charges in a court process Ciaran described as ‘surreal’.
‘He still didn’t think he was going to go to jail’, Ciaran said. ‘He was strutting around. He didn’t think he’d done anything wrong.’
McMahon was imprisoned but, at the time of his death in the 90s, remained an ordained priest.
Ten years after McMahon’s conviction, Ciaran received $25,000 in compensation. At the time of speaking with the Royal Commission, he was thinking about asking for a review of the payment, particularly in light of amounts paid by the Church in the United States.
‘I did receive compensation but it was totally inadequate. I have not found anything which has helped me subsequently. The abuse lives with me every day. Every day I live with its impact.’