David became a Catholic priest in the early 1970s, suffered a mental breakdown in the late 1970s, returned to the priesthood briefly, then decided he had to leave. Something felt wrong inside him but he couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
Years later he caught up with an old friend who happened to be a Catholic priest. While listing a few of the Church’s woes, the friend added, ‘And then there was the trouble with Anthony’. David quizzed him about what he meant. ‘He said, “Don’t you know?” “I don’t know, otherwise I wouldn’t be asking”. He said, “The sexual abuse”.’
David went home that night feeling angry and agitated. He paced the house, trying to distract himself with books and TV but it was no use, he couldn’t switch off and he didn’t know why.
‘I just sat there with the music on on the couch and just tried to relax. I thought I was really angry about all those guys being hurt. And then I realised: it wasn’t them; it was about me. I was angry about them but I was furious about me. Once I realised that I just broke down.’
In that moment all the ‘threads’ came together and David saw that much of the pain and confusion he’d felt as an adult was caused by the actions of one man, a priest named Father Anthony Riley.
Father Riley was the Student Director at the school where David studied to become a priest. He was a volatile, controlling man prone to outbursts of anger. Fifteen-year-old David took an immediate dislike to him.
One evening Father Riley popped his head into the study hall and asked David to accompany him to his office. This wasn’t unusual. Riley often took boys aside to give them one-on-one spiritual counselling. David had participated in such counselling many times without incident. But this time was different.
Riley began asking David about sex. David didn’t know what he was talking about as he’d never heard the term ‘sexual intercourse’ before. Riley then asked if David knew where his ‘vas deferens’ was located. When David said no, Riley offered to show him.
He told David to take down his trousers and David did. Then Riley put his hand on the inside of David’s leg. David drew back.
‘He stopped immediately and asked something like, “Did you feel anything?” I don’t know what I said, apart from nodding. He told me about blood flow and that I was beginning to have an erection. I was really embarrassed and completely thrown by all this.’
David left the office and went straight to the washroom where he sat alone for a while trying to assemble his scattered thoughts. Eventually he returned to his studies and tried to carry on as if nothing had happened.
‘Carrying on as if nothing had happened’ became David’s coping strategy for the next few years. It failed disastrously when he was in his early 30s. Anxiety and depression overtook him and he was hospitalised.
After his recovery he tried to return to the priesthood but it felt wrong, ‘like a big gaping hole inside me’ and he quit the vocation for good.
‘It was a big challenge … I was upset at the time. I felt I was doing the right thing but I didn’t join to leave. I believe that I was cheated out of the life that I had chosen and since then I’ve buggered my life up. I really felt like I’ve battled away.’
David hasn’t talked to many people about the incident with Riley. He told his partner but she couldn’t understand his feelings nor why he would stay with the Catholic faith after everything he’d been through.
David never reported Riley to police – he always assumed that a prosecution would be impossible because the incident had happened so long ago. He’s never taken action against the Catholic Church either, and doesn’t plan to. David has so many friends and family ‘on the inside’ that he doesn’t feel comfortable taking the Church to court.
What he wants is to talk, to spread the word, not only across Australia but around the world.
‘Because I want the rest of the world to be protected, because this order operates in a lot of countries where sexual issues aren’t mentioned.’