Ewin’s home in country Victoria was frequently visited by Father Jim McMahon, the local assistant parish priest, who’d bring boys to swim in the dam and go shooting. McMahon knew all the Catholic parents and children in the district and would often be at the school when the bus arrived, greeting and jostling boys as they made their way to classes.
Ewin told the Commissioner that McMahon had a habit of grabbing hold of boys and squeezing them tight to his body while he fondled their buttocks with one hand and genitals with the other. He didn’t try to hide his behaviour, nor was he threatening in any way. ‘He’d say, “I’ll get you” in a joking way. I suppose it was just matter-of-fact.’
A frequent presence in the school grounds, McMahon would drop in on classes and take boys out on the pretext of doing various tasks in the school grounds and presbytery. For two years from the age of 13, Ewin was one of many boys called from class and groped and masturbated by McMahon. Ewin said he never thought to report the abuse and it only stopped when McMahon moved suddenly from the parish in the mid-1960s.
For almost 35 years, Ewin didn’t give the abuse much thought. He married, had children and worked for years in a government job. In the mid-1990s, news of McMahon’s offending became public and he was charged with numerous child sex offences dating back to the 1950s.
The Catholic Church vigorously defended the priest at the time. They were later found to have known of his history of abuse, but had moved him around whenever allegations surfaced. McMahon remained a priest until his death in jail in the late 1990s.
As an adult, Ewin has had friends who are priests and he has noticed that they don’t recognise the scope of child sexual abuse, or that systemic issues within religious life can contribute to offenders’ behaviour.
As someone who saw the impact on his own life through heavy alcohol use and aggressive behaviour, Ewin is ‘angry at the cover-up by authorities, the obfuscation. My friends still don’t seem to get it … They cannot take off the blinkers’. Many of them refused to believe, or made excuses for the abuse. ‘They say, “We know that happened, but …” There’s always a “but”. Until people stand up and challenge the culture, it won’t change.’