Dave was one of more than a dozen kids who grew up under the care of foster parents Cathy and John Norris. Cathy was a devout Catholic who, as Dave put it, ‘did a bloody great job with what she had to work with’. John was a violent drunk who was often away from the home on business.
Dave was officially adopted by the Norrises in the early 1970s at the age of one. At that stage, Cathy was the only Catholic member of the family, but some years later John converted and then the whole family started attending church regularly.
At age 12 Dave became an altar boy and began helping the new priest with small week night services. The priest’s name was Father Timothy Keene. At first, Dave said, he seemed like ‘an okay person’. He ‘came over a few times for lunch at our house. And he was accepted in our family as a fine person’.
Then, one warm summer night Father Keene instructed Dave to remove his T-shirt before putting on his altar robes so that he’d be more comfortable in the heat. When Dave obliged and took off his shirt, Keene started rubbing his naked back. Dave thought this was odd but he wasn’t worried about it – until something similar happened the following week, and again the week after that.
‘It was just basically touchy-feely, it was nothing sexual or anything like that to start with. And then over time it progressively grew worse and worse to he was undoing me pants and feeling me up and masturbating me.’
The abuse continued on a regular basis for about two years. Every now and then Father Keene would threaten Dave, promising to denounce him as a liar if he ever mentioned the abuse to anyone.
‘He used that as a weapon. And he also said that if I did say anything I would absolutely get in trouble with the other parishioners and also the police … I was so scared, so I just went with whatever he said.’
The abuse ended when Dave took a job at age 14 and no longer had the time to serve as an altar boy. By then, Dave was already set on a destructive path. He’d started drinking at 13, and got into marijuana a short while after that.
‘I didn’t deal with it very well at all. As I said, I was scared, I didn’t know where to turn. I ended up turning to basically alcohol abuse when I was young and eventually I turned to drugs to sort of try to mask the hurt and the confusion.’
In social situations he became aggressive, quick to explode at the slightest provocation. This led to isolation that had flow-on effects in his early adulthood.
‘[I was] constantly getting meself into trouble. Just doing like full-on stupid things. I don’t know if I was trying to make up for what had happened to me, trying to make friends by showing off. When the abuse was happening I didn’t have any friends because I was withdrawn into meself. It was more just trying in a way to prove myself to people.’
Dave’s risk-taking behaviour landed him in jail twice for driving offences. At the time of his session with the Royal Commission, Dave was doing a third stint in jail – this time for offences relating to his ex-partner. The offences came about, Dave said, after he told his partner about the abuse and she responded by trying to use it against him.
‘A couple of years ago my daughter’s mother accused me of interfering with my daughter and then she’s done it again last year, which is the reason why I’m in this time, because of my reactions to when she’s accused me of interfering with my daughter. Those allegations were proved to be false through the police, DOCS and medical checks.’
Dave is hoping to get partial custody of his daughter once he gets out of jail, though he’s expecting he’ll have to fight though the Family Court to get it. It won’t be the only legal battle ahead of him. Dave is also planning to report Father Keene to police and to the Catholic Church. He knows that this will be a tough road, so he’s taking advantage of the professional support provided in jail.
‘I’ve been speaking to a psychologist since I’ve been in here about everything that’s happened, and I’m seeing him again tomorrow, and he’s going to be organising a support program of seeing a psychologist on the outside and basically different support groups … I’m prepared to follow this all the way to the end of it.’