‘I was an altar boy for the church and things were really good. I was doing very well at school and then the situation happened and it drastically changed. There’s not really much more to add to it other than I was having a great time in life.’
As a seven-year-old boy serving in a Catholic church in Sydney, Fergus was invited by a visiting priest to pray with him in the presbytery. While they were there, Fergus was told by the priest to sit on his knee and when Fergus obeyed, the priest digitally penetrated him.
Fergus didn’t tell his parents about the incident and they didn’t notice his behaviour suddenly change nor the deterioration in his grades.
‘The impact was quite severe’, he said. ‘I didn’t want to show intellect any further. I withdrew and I deliberately failed exams and I had to repeat a year because of it. The impact was horrible. The situation of having to repeat a year - highly embarrassing. The impact it’s had as a child - I thought I was a homosexual at eight years old. I thought [the priest] knew better. I had absolute faith in the priests and the Brothers and the nuns there.’
From second grade, Fergus started skipping classes and hiding in the toilets. Then he ‘tried to forget it and put it out of my mind’.
After leaving school he worked as a labourer and married and had children, but he has wondered if the subsequent breakdown of his marriage was partly a result of his ‘subconscious’ that ‘drove’ his wife away.
He’s always been unable to touch his children and grandchildren because he’s heard that those who were abused could become abusers themselves. It is hard to shift this belief even though he knows it couldn’t be further from his own truth.
As a child and young adult Fergus was too embarrassed to talk about the abuse, but in the mid 2000s at the age of 46, he went to see a religious Brother he’d known from school. The Brother offered him counselling and during the course of their meetings, Fergus disclosed what the priest had done to him as a child. It was the first time he’d spoken about it and he said the Brother listened and ‘was pretty good’, but ‘didn’t know what to do’.
In 2012, Fergus became unwell and went to hospital after his thoughts had become increasingly confused. He said after he was admitted ‘heaps of stuff came out’, including the sexual abuse. He began seeing a psychiatrist and continued to do so regularly. At around this time he also disclosed the abuse to his parents who he said had ‘probably been through the mill’ with his ‘odd behaviour’ over the years.
‘My father slowly got used to the idea and he’s actually a little bit interested but not really, you know what I mean? Well not the subject. I’d rather talk to him about fishing or something.’
Fergus told the Commissioner that he thought he’d ‘eventually get right over’ memories and the impact of the abuse, but that ‘it will take a few years’.
He’d never reported the priest to New South Wales Police nor had he contacted staff of the Catholic Church apart from the Brother. He said he still held the ‘wonderful beliefs of the Christian faith’ but didn’t go to church.
‘I don’t think I’d like to deal much with the Church anymore. I don’t think I’d like to have anything to do with them. You never know, years to come … I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like to get other people in trouble. I’d rather keep it to myself rather than sort of make a noise about things. It’s probably half the reason why I didn’t tell anyone.’