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Edgar John's story

‘I could draw a picture of him now, I see him.’

Edgar and his brother attended a Catholic primary school in a suburb outside Melbourne in the mid-1960s. The school was on the same grounds as the parish church and presbytery, so it wasn’t uncommon to see priests around during school hours.

When Edgar was 10 years old, a young priest moved to the parish. Edgar noticed that he liked to ‘hang around the school playground’ during break time, and one afternoon, while supervising playground activities, he introduced himself as Father Spencer.

After this meeting, Father Spencer started to take an interest in Edgar and his older brother, George. He’d often come over for dinner and watch television with the family. Spencer would tell the boys’ parents that the boys needed ‘counselling’ and that he would need to speak to them privately.

‘He said to Dad, “I just need to chat with him, to sort a few things out”. So we went out into the driveway and the next thing I know, my hands are down his pants masturbating him.’

This ‘Friday night habit’ occurred around the same time that Spencer started calling Edgar out of class to go to the presbytery. Edgar remembers assisting Spencer with church services and initially feeling ‘special’ that he was given responsibilities, but it wasn’t long before he was being sexually abused there too.

Spencer would put Edgar’s hand on his penis and then force him to masturbate him. Edgar said that he didn’t understand what was happening and assumed that because Spencer was a priest, it ‘must have been okay’.

When Edgar was 11, Spencer asked his parents for permission to take him and George on a retreat. They were driven to the house of a friend of Spencer’s somewhere on the other side of town.

‘We were in a house with another bloke. Big, tall, gangly bloke he was. I don’t believe he was a priest. We just had tea, and Father Spencer took George off to the bedroom and there was only one bed left so I had to share it with this other bloke. I can remember going into the room, I cannot remember another thing … I remember waking up the next day and feeling terrible.’

Edgar now suspects he was raped that night. The following day the man told the boys that he was a ‘ballet instructor’, and proceeded to dress them both in ballet outfits including tights. He then took them to a nearby hall where a ballet class was underway with other, smaller children.

‘Now I look back, he’s not a ballet coach … we walk across this hall and there were seven or eight kids there … he got us doing points and things like that. He would say, “You’re very good at that, Edgar. Your tights are coming a little loose, you should pull your tights up”. I would get the hand inside the leg hole.’

Shortly after returning from the retreat, Spencer disappeared, and Edgar never heard from or saw him again.

Edgar hadn’t discussed the abuse with his brother or anyone else, but described afterwards being ‘an angry man’. He’d married and had children but felt like he’d ‘short-changed’ them, and he had been estranged from them for many decades.

He’d had issues with poor self-esteem and often felt that no matter how well he performed in a situation, he was ‘not good enough to be there’. He’d been in one relationship where his partner had been abusive towards him.

As a way of circumventing these feelings, he’d put other people’s needs first, helping them with practical tasks and enjoying it when they said, ‘he’s a good bloke’.

In the early 2000s, Edgar heard a radio program about the Catholic Church and rang the publicised hotline number. After some inquiry he was told there was no record of Father Spencer having been in the parish. He found this discouraging and felt that the people he spoke to didn’t care, so he didn’t pursue the matter any further.

In the early 2010s, he told his GP about the abuse and was referred to counselling. He’d found it helpful to talk about the abuse and the possible impacts it had had on his life, and it had also helped him manage his feelings of depression.

Edgar described coming to the Royal Commission as the ‘best thing’ he’d ever done. He and George had disclosed the abuse they’d experienced to each other and Edgar had encouraged George to come forward and tell his story, but his suggestion wasn’t taken up. George had told Edgar that he didn’t think the abuse had affected him.

Neither brother wanted to tell their mother about Spencer or his friend because ‘it would kill her’.

‘As far as the Catholic Church goes, they’re worse than dictators, tyrants and terrorists. With those: what you see is what you get. With the Catholic Church they’ve got this veil of holy, faithful, trustworthy [appearance] but behind that is the Catholic mafia. They will never recover from this and I don’t want them to.’

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