‘“If you’re ready to talk, we’re ready to listen”. Those simple closing words in one of the Commission’s information videos reduced me to tears.’
Ervin has travelled a very long and hard road on his journey to tell his story of child sexual abuse at the hands of members of the Catholic Church.
When he was growing up in the late 1960s, Ervin’s family had no connection at all to the Church – they weren’t even Christian – but he attended a Catholic college in suburban Melbourne because it was close to his home and had a good academic reputation.
One of the lay teachers at the school groomed Ervin both in and outside the classroom and went on to abuse him, kissing and cuddling him and rubbing his genitals.
Ervin’s parents complained to the school but nothing was done.
When he was about 15, Ervin needed somewhere to stay and asked the Brothers if he could stay with them at the priory. They allowed it and Ervin enjoyed his stay, having significant spiritual revelations while there, what he called his ‘God moment’.
He also met a Brother who was there on holiday. That man later invited Ervin to visit him at his home and sexually abused him there. He repeated the abuse on a visit back to Melbourne the following year.
By the time he was 17, Ervin had decided he wanted to join the order, and he met Father Peters, a man who should have helped him with this process but who instead groomed, manipulated and isolated him. Peters knew Ervin had been abused before and took advantage of this, abusing Ervin many times over a period of years.
Ervin didn’t even realise he was being abused. ‘I didn’t know there was a name for it, and assumed it happened to everyone interested in joining.’
Peters told Ervin that he was confessing his ‘sins’ to someone else within the order, and that he had been made to return from a position in Indonesia ‘due to some trouble he had with a boy there’, and yet the Church still put Peters in a position of influence over young men wishing to enter religious life.
Ervin said his life fell apart in his late teens, and he had a breakdown. He had bouts of rage that affected his relationships with family and friends and he started counselling. However, he didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until the early 90s, when he saw a TV show about abuse within the Church and finally understood what had happened to him. The realisation left him in deep shock and unable to work. He has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ervin approached the Church to seek redress but they stalled the process so he engaged a lawyer to pursue a civil claim. During what turned into a two-year ordeal, the Church interviewed Ervin’s school friends, had him followed by a private investigator and even hired a boy in his late teens to proposition him for sex.
Ervin said the process was ‘disgusting, inhumane, immoral and crushing to spirit and soul’. The Church finally agreed to a $100,000 settlement – which allowed Ervin to put a deposit on a house and achieve some much-needed security – and to publish a notice of apology. However, they never admitted liability and Father Peters maintained that the abuse was consensual sexual activity.
Ervin continued to suffer impacts of the abuse, including extreme fatigue caused by constant hyper-vigilance, rage, difficulties in his relationships and self-harming.
After a number of years, and much more therapy, Ervin again approached the Church to tackle the statement by Peters regarding consent. During a meeting in the late 2000s, senior members of the Church acknowledged Ervin was abused and apologised to him. However, he discovered that Peters had been in a sexual relationship with a nun and had been removed from active ministry for this reason alone – that he had broken canon law – not because he had committed child sexual abuse.
He said there is a significant problem with the Church’s placement of canon law above secular law, and with the institution being responsible for the redress process. He said the Church should fund the healing process, but not facilitate it.
Ervin has also been left with a deep spiritual wound that he is unable to heal. He called it his ‘enduring spiritual cancer’. He said he’d be amazed if he was the only survivor who is enduring a damaged or destroyed relationship with God. For him, repairing this would be the cornerstone of healing.
‘I assume I’m like a silent majority of Church survivors – unable to work within Church structure as it stands … the buildings, the personnel, the rituals that became inextricably juxtaposed with sex, sexuality and misuse of power.’
Ervin is lucky to have a very supportive wife and family. He runs a successful business and has much to be positive about. But his scars run very deep, as demonstrated in this excerpt from a short story he wrote about an imagined meeting with God, which he gave the Commissioner at his private session:
‘And now here we are, across a table. So close, but a chasm of uncertainty between us. I wonder if he feels the same urge I do – to reach across the table and touch. But I pull back … that would be a step too far … a reminder too raw of what we shared.’