‘There’s always nutters out there. We’ll always have guys that are a little just, you know, bits of loose cannons and they’re going to do something stupid, but at least now it’s not such a forbidden thing to say anything about it. I mean when I was a kid, good heavens above, you would never have said anything. I wouldn’t have told anyone.’
Earle was a teenager when he joined the group of Young Christian Students connected with his New South Wales Catholic school. Camps and retreats were among the various activities organised and in the early 1970s, when Earle was about 16, he went away on a trip with Father Dominic Jones as the youth group leader.
As part of sleeping arrangements, Earle was allocated a bed in a room with Father Jones. He thought nothing of it at first but about an hour after he’d fallen asleep he awoke to find the priest in bed with him. On that occasion and about five other times, Jones sexually abused Earle and after each assault, directed Earle to confess his sins so he could be granted absolution.
‘He’s got his hand around my pecker and oral sex became the end to it all’, Earle said. ‘That was sort of it and then at the end of it, he’d hear your confession or give you absolution, which I always thought was a bit strange. Anyway that’s what he did. That’s why in all of the years since then, I’ve never ever gone to confession because I think, oh well that was a lot of nonsense because that’s my memory of what took place. So I said, “Well, how can anyone absolve you from anything and turn around five minutes later and commit the same thing?” It’s just a nonsense to me.’
Earle described himself as a ‘naive’ teenager, not at all ‘streetwise’, and he ‘didn’t know what was going on’.
‘He was brilliant at what he did’, Earle said. ‘He got me in and he made me feel special, like he used to say there was something about me that was special to him. He was buttering me up, you know, but at the time I believed him – you know, you think you’re kind of special. No one had ever said anything like that to me before and I just went with it.’
After leaving school, Earle didn’t have further contact with Jones. He continued to maintain a strong religious faith, was active in his Catholic Church community and didn’t think the actions of Jones reflected that of most members of the clergy.
As a teenager and young adult, he hadn’t disclosed the abuse to anyone because he was ‘ashamed of what happened, absolutely terrified that someone would find out’.
Father Jones was eventually convicted of child sex offences and went to jail. The news brought some relief to Earle who, knowing the priest’s behaviour was public, went to see his local bishop to let him know that he’d also been abused by Jones.
The bishop recommended Earle report the abuse to NSW Police but Earle declined, saying he just wanted his account noted so it could be used to inform any future reports. The bishop’s second avenue of response was to ask Earle if he wanted money.
‘I must admit I felt like I was trying to be, not bought but you know, I didn’t think that was the right way to go about it, you know. I told him the story, told him here’s my name, put me down as a number …
‘I just thought the way he came back to me and I don’t know, call it compensation or whatever, and ... it certainly wasn’t hush money or anything because it’s out there, but you know I thought his approach was a bit funny.’
Earle said he would have found it more helpful if the bishop had acknowledged his account of the abuse.
‘I would have just apologised, said, “Look I’m really, really sorry this has happened to you, but with the Royal Commission and everything else, we’re just implementing procedures in place so that it doesn’t happen again”. That’s sort of the angle I was [after].’
After Earle left school, he married and had a fulfilling life with his wife and children. He’d followed his childhood wish to work on a farm similar to the one he’d grown up on. In about 2014, he told his wife about the abuse, but didn’t want to discuss details with her and he had no intention of doing counselling.
‘It’s always been in your subconscious. It always something that’s always there. It never, ever goes away … It had a huge impact on my life. I wish it never did but it has and so that’s just one of the things you, well, some of the baggage you have to live with.
‘Certainly, a really, really dark deep horrible stuff that happened and you know, as I said, wish it didn’t, wish I was just still an innocent farm kid. But it did and I can’t do anything about it, only let’s just say talk to you and hope in the future it never happens again to somebody else, that’s all.’
He’d had ‘a wonderful life’, he said. ‘And honestly, even though all this has happened, I’ve had a blessed life because we’ve had four kids … they’re all nice and healthy. The oldest two have had little daughters now and that’s an absolute blessing so I don’t for any minute feel like I’ve been hard done by in life or anything like that … There’s a lot of good blessings out there in life and we’ve got two of them at the moment, our little granddaughters, so I’m very happy. We couldn’t be happier.’