Eric grew up in Queensland among ‘very loving parents’, and an extended Catholic family. In the 1990s, while he was training to be an altar boy, a visiting priest named Father Kevin placed his foot on Eric’s penis and said, ‘You’re a man now. You can take it’.
When Eric told his parents, they reported it to the school principal, Mr Whitford, who then called Father Kevin, Eric and the other altar boys into his office. For Eric, this was like putting him ‘in the room with the monster’. When the principal told him to ‘tell this man what you’re accusing him of’, Eric felt too intimidated to speak up.
Eric’s parents also took him to the police station to make a statement, and later met with ‘a lady from the professional standards’. Because ‘there wasn’t any rape’, the lady ‘didn’t think it was a big deal’. She said that it was in Eric’s ‘best mental health interest’ to just get on with his education, and promised to keep Father Kevin away from Eric and other children, if the family did not press charges.
However, Eric said that ‘after he was told not to come near me, he turned up at my house twice. Mum said he was intoxicated’. The priest asked to speak to Eric, but his parents refused to let him into the house. Eric believes that Father Kevin was then sent ‘overseas on a mission’.
Eric had been a sporty student who was into exercise and long distance running, but in the months following the abuse, he began to experiment with marijuana and other substances. He was moved to a state high school, but after being wrongly accused of dealing drugs, he was suspended.
He left school a couple of years later in his mid-teens, and abused drugs and alcohol. He would later experience anxiety, depression, panic attacks and major health problems. ‘That’s why I can’t work’, he said.
Eric was addicted to heroin for the better part of two decades, but believes the abuse is ‘not fully to blame’ for this or other problems. He is saddened that his former girlfriend aborted her pregnancy in the belief that he would not be able to provide for a family. He’d hoped to be with her for the rest of his life, but understands that, in her eyes, he was not ‘a good catch’.
About 20 years ago, Eric realised that he needed support to obtain substantial professional help. He engaged a series of solicitors over a 10-year period who managed to obtain small compensation payments from the Catholic Church via their Towards Healing protocol. He had hoped that Towards Healing would seek a mutually satisfying outcome, and provide the funds he needed for rehabilitation, and the chance to confront his perpetrator. Not only did this not happen, Eric felt that their attitude was if ‘you’re not part of the parish, you’re not joining back in, don’t bother, don’t show your face, we don’t want to know you’.
He now feels that Towards Healing should be ‘scrapped’. ‘There’s nothing good that I can say that’s come of it. Only bad.’
Eric would love to be back in the Church and ‘have that support that everyone else has’. However, their response was not supportive, and some members of his extended family remain ‘upset’ with him for continuing to seek compensation. Their view is ‘God, they gave you a cheque. Why are you still going on about it?’ and ‘You weren’t raped, you weren’t sodomised’. They believed he didn’t deserve to be compensated. Eric said, ‘It sticks in my gut’.
Not yet 40, Eric’s years of drug abuse have taken a toll on his health, and he is on a disability support pension. However, he has been clean for some years now, has weekly counselling, and participates in an opioid replacement program. ‘So it means if my friends are using, I can’t use with them because it will make me sick’, he said. ‘It even stops you from using alcohol. I don’t even drink.’
Eric feels that the abuse of trust affected him the most. ‘It wasn’t about what he did’, he said. ‘These are your elders, these are the people you look up to, and these are the people that are going to set out in life and show you what sort of character, or what sort of moral character or being you are going to be. And you know, they say, “If you sin, you’re going to go to Hell and everything”, and then they sin. The first thing they do. And I’m a child … And then you lose your faith.’