In the early 1990s, Fergal was one of many men who reported to police Father Hogan’s sexual abuse of them as children. The impetus for Fergal to come forward was the increasing publicity that Hogan had abused boys over decades as he moved between parishes in Victoria.
Until then Fergal hadn’t disclosed the abuse to anyone, though he thought his mother ‘knew within herself’ about Hogan.
‘When I was about 17 or something I probably came home after a few beers or something like that’, Fergal said. ‘It might have been on the news, and I think I may have mentioned it or made a stupid remark about how I wasn’t protected. She picked up on that. So I think from that moment she sort of had an inkling.’
Growing up, Fergal had been part of a strongly Catholic family with priests as regular visitors to his home. He was nine in the late 1970s when the abuse by Hogan began and it continued ‘for a few years’.
Hogan would expose his genitals before and after mass as Fergal served as altar boy. During sleepovers at the presbytery, Hogan abused Fergal as well as many other boys. The culture of the school was one of strict discipline and Fergal said he wouldn’t have dared speak out against a priest. One of the nuns at the school used to organise sleepovers and Fergal wondered whether she did so as a measure to try and keep children safe from Hogan.
From the time the abuse started, Fergal went from doing well at school to losing all interest and getting ‘in trouble for fighting all the time’. He left at the age of 15 and used alcohol a lot and drugs a little to block out his feelings. He married in the early 1990s and disclosed the abuse to his wife at the time of the court case. With his children, he was ‘over protective to a ridiculous point’.
‘It’s more, I don’t know, I’m an angry bitter person, I suppose. Not to the point where I’d ever hurt me kids or anything like that – or anyone – but I just get angry in myself.’
In 1997, Fergal went through a mediation process with the Catholic Church. He received $30,000 but didn’t understand the process at the time. He was insulted by the first offer of $5,000 and felt the money should have been a reflection of the damage done not only to him but to those around him.
‘I sat in a room with some barristers, and they’re talking footy and then this guy walks in and offers five thousand. Bit ordinary. It was worse than a police station.
'They don’t understand it’s not just about the victim, there’s a lot of victims along the way. It’s not just me, it’s everyone that I know, and my family. I mean, to offer my mother five thousand for the knowledge that she thinks that she failed to protect me is an absolute insult.’
Fergal said he’d been ‘going okay’ until the Royal Commission was announced. He said that he’d ‘dealt with it my way for a long time’. He told the Commissioner that he’d recently had a brief chat with a work counsellor and planned to see him again. He’d also disclosed the abuse to his manager at work.
‘I felt like I had to tell my boss for the fact that, I don’t know why, but I felt like I was visible. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. You feel like people are looking at you because of the way you’re acting or you’re different to what you normally are.
'I’ve spent years making a joke out of everything. That’s how I’ve coped and so my demeanour’s changed. I just felt he might think, “What’s going on? Is his performance up to scratch?” And all that type of thing. He was supportive in his own way – and shocked.’
Fergal’s mother still went to church because, ‘that’s all she’s got to hang on to’, but it was ‘more to do with her belief in the religion and not the Church’. She had lost faith in the priests she’d previously so deeply trusted and hoped the bishop who’d moved Hogan around would be ‘brought to some sort of answer’.
Fergal recommended priests go through an appraisal system to assess their suitability to work in the community, and he wanted the results made public. ‘Get something on paper on a regular basis. How’s this priest going? I don’t know how you go about it. They’re in the community. How are they performing the community? Are they meeting the values of the Church?
‘If you look in the country towns, the Catholic Church is dying. I take my mother up to the church where it all happened and there’s five or six old people left. There’s no young families anymore. When I was a kid, that church was full – and it was 30, 40 kids running around outside afterwards. It’s just half a dozen old people. I can’t see it coming back.’