Claude and Joseph's story

Joseph: 'Dad wasn't that comfortable with the outside world. So he created this protective screen around us and the only person he let into that protective screen was O'Rourke and O'Rourke was the abuser. I intuitively felt I could never tell Dad even as a kid not just as an adult. As a kid I felt Dad couldn't cope with it rightly or wrongly. I felt it would almost destroy him.'

Claude and Joseph's childhood in Brisbane in the 1950s was enveloped by their family's strict observance of their deeply-held Catholic faith. Soon after they arrived in the parish their father enrolled Claude, his brother Joseph and some of his other brothers as altar boys. Both Claude and Joseph were sexually abused by Father O'Rourke.

The brothers are concerned about the 'others with the same story' who need support and they would like 'the Church to take some formal recognition that one of their agents abused us'. Claude is 'sure he didn't start with me', 'it was just a slick set-up'. The brothers suspect the priest's paedophilia was extensive although the abuse itself was 'limited' because 'Father was fat, old and diabetic'.

Reading from his written statement, Claude explained O'Rourke's modus operandi:

'After Benediction Father would take us in his car for hot potato chips at a shop ... When we had collected the food he would then take us to the Presbytery at [parish name]. The house was a typical Queensland house on the outside but the inside was lavishly furnished with renaissance style antiques, gilded furniture, curios and beautiful old clocks. There were velvet curtains and hangings, carpet, elaborate wall paper, and beautiful mirrors. He had lots of books and in particular he had bound editions of the London Illustrated. We would eat our chips and look at and play with the curios and books. Father would then call one of us to look at a book with him at his desk.

'While I was looking at a book with him he put his hand on the inside of my thigh and then up into my pants touching my scrotum and my penis. When this happened I was stunned, terrified and frozen with horror.

'After a while he sent me away and called another boy. This happened on another three or four Friday nights and on each occasion I was appalled but unable to resist or say anything.

'I escaped this by joining my family after Benediction and going home with them rather than joining the group of altar boys waiting at Father's car.'

On one occasion when O'Rourke took the altar boys on an outing, Claude was extremely embarrassed and upset after O'Rourke insisted 'in public' on closely examining and stroking his upper inner thigh where he had a bruise.

Claude's anguish was compounded and entrenched by there being no possibility of telling his father what had happened. 'Shortly after these events my father told me that children were telling lies about priests and showed his anger at them for this.'

'Another concern was how the priest worked on my father to warn him that certain children were besmirching the reputation of priests with lies and stories. Dad was a police officer and very loyal Catholic so was fertile ground for this kind of lie. He warned us seriously about some children "telling lies and stories about priests" and we got the message.

'His regard for the sanctity of the priesthood blinded him to any possibility that we might be telling the truth and needed his help. The only possible recourse we had was denied us. This was the most corrupt action the priest ever performed.'

'The fact that my father thought to tell me about children telling lies about priests indicates that Father O'Rourke had sensed he might have something to answer for if I spoke up and since Dad was such a staunch supporter of the Church had him on side already. This wasn't a coincidence.

'Several times in the confessional Father asked me if I was touching myself. I am convinced he was using the opportunity to appraise me as a target for his attentions.'

'It's a real tyranny. At that age I didn't know what sex was about. Had no idea what it was or how being lewd or impure or anything like that had anything to do with anything at all, you know, and these men they're hearing confession.'

'In those years when I was growing up the most horrific thing was the confessional, horrific, because if you made a mistake it was a mortal sin. You could go to hell. So you know like all these stories and the Church taught that any sin against chastity or purity was a mortal sin and you'd go to hell.

'And we had vivid discussions about what kind of tortures there were in hell so I had years of nightmares about this. And then there was the expectation in our family that we would always receive communion on Sunday and I don't know whether I'm free from sin or been forgiven or whatever and I'm forced to receive communion and compound the whole thing by committing a blasphemy.

'It was really a circle of horror from week to week to week. For years. And having to talk to a strange person about something ... It's just really cruel.'

'It still concerns me that the Catholic Church puts men [priests] who are strangers to the children they are confessing in a position that they don't have any right to be in. They are confidantes and judges and in a position where they can ask and expect answers to the most intimate and private details. The priests are privy to intimate details that not even a mother would know or expect to discuss with her child. This is also a form of sexual abuse. These men have no children of their own, often can show little empathy or sympathy especially after hearing confession for a large number of people. Priests have no idea what the child knows or understands.'

'We were taught that any impurity of thought or action was a mortal sin and would merit an eternity being tortured and burnt in hell. From my experience the ordeal of confession made my childhood a misery. Every time I was forced to discuss deeply private, intimate details about my developing sexuality and any events that occurred in that regard with a priest I felt upset …

'I wish the practice could be stopped for children and used only by consenting adults. Who speaks up for the children who don't have the words to express their anguish when they are sent to the confessional?'

While acknowledging that the Church has 'done great things', Claude added that it has 'done really cruel things to their own clergy'. Some of 'these men [priests of that era] were most unhappy. They had no companionship, very few friends. I'm sure that Father O'Rourke was a complete cynic about his faith, a complete cynic, so you get these people who are bullies. … And I think it is all part of removing any loyalty to the community so they are loyal to the Church but they lose everything'.

Claude had 'a breakdown' when he was 18 but went to university and has had a fulfilling career. The first person he told about the abuse was his brother Joseph and only after both their father and mother had died. Claude said that when he was a child there was not the community awareness about the subject of child sexual assault that there is today, and his family was already over-protective and insular.

'Our family didn't socialise very much and we were intensely religious and didn't have the opportunity to have anybody mount a counter argument to what we'd been told by the priests and the parents.'

Content updating Updating complete