Finlay was ‘very naive, very sheltered’ and ‘a bit of a loner’ as a child. In the 1980s, when he was 13 years old, he started at a Melbourne Catholic college. ‘It was very strict. A lot more strict than primary school ... It was made very clear there would be little deviation from the rules.’
A couple of years later, the vice principal, Father Emerson, started paying special attention to Finlay under the guise of having concern for a member of Finlay’s family who was ill.
‘From a predatory point of view, it was an ideal situation for Emerson. He was in a position where he acted as counsel, someone to console a young kid who was struggling. He was in a position where he could close an office door in such a strict school and no one would dare ever open it. He effectively had everything at his hands, and means to be able to do whatever he wanted to do, unchallenged and unchecked.
‘He invited me in a couple of times after school had finished to have a chat ... He asked me to come into his office under the pretence of checking how I was, and how I was coping ... He on more than one occasion asked me if I wanted to have a drink. And at 14, 15, to flaunt the rules of having an alcoholic drink with a priest at school was, I guess – I doubt anyone at the stage would have said no ... It was just a cool thing to think you were allowed to do that.’
Having been occasionally allowed some alcohol at home already, Finlay reckons he may have had more tolerance to it than Emerson expected. ‘I think Emerson thought that I would be unconscious by the end of my first drink, and it didn’t happen. As much as it was a blessing, it’s a curse that you can still remember so much.’
During one of these meetings ‘he had a drink as well. He straddled me while I was sitting on a chair. Tried putting his arms around me, and it just freaked me out. I didn’t know what to do. I thought if someone who cared ... could do this, who the hell can I trust?’
Finlay didn’t know how to tell anyone what was happening. ‘I didn’t know that it was alright to say to my mum “this is going on”.’
For around ‘six months in total’ the priest sexually abused Finlay, usually in his office or residence, including anally raping him.
Throughout this period Emerson was always friendly in his manner, and never behaved in an overtly threatening way. ‘He was friendly always, like a role model. I think this is why it worked so well for him, is that he went unseen because he had so many kids that he got along with in the same manner that he didn’t abuse.’
Finlay began self-harming, hoping to make himself less desirable, and he also became withdrawn and unable to concentrate in class. ‘I just hoped that no-one would want to find me attractive enough to want to do anything to.’
Eventually Finlay asked his mother if he could change to a different school. Although she asked why he wished to do so, he did not disclose the abuse. ‘I wouldn’t tell her why. She’d taken me to psychiatrists and she accused me of being on drugs.’
After a few months he moved to a local state high school. When he later left school, he found work, married in his 20s, and had children. His first disclosure of the abuse was to his mother around 15 years after it had happened.
Finlay has lived with a lot of anger and has ‘spent a lot of time trying to calm down and trying to work through my issues. It has affected everything that I became as an adult ... I spent a lot of time stumbling around the dark, making a lot of mistakes due to anger ... I strive to learn as much as I can to better myself, and I don’t ever want to be that person that I was’.
A few years ago Finlay approached police and made a complaint against Emerson. The priest was charged with offences against him and a number of other victims. Reliving the memories of the sexual abuse while giving evidence was one of the hardest things Finlay had ever done.
‘I felt there were stupid questions asked. Like it didn’t matter where his furniture was in the room, it didn’t change what he’d done or how he’d done it, or why he’d done it. I didn’t see the point, where the windows were in the room, where the door was, what colour the couch was in the corner ... Sorry to sound rude, but it pissed me off because I hated the fact that I remembered all that. And I started to relive it in slow detail ... I remember every part of what happened to me there. And I hate the fact that I remember so much detail.’
Still, it also gave him a ‘sense of accomplishment’ as ‘I was able to do something that mattered ... It felt good to be able to say something, but I’d never want to do it again ... I felt like I’d done what I needed to do’. Emerson was acquitted, apparently on a ‘technicality’.
More recently Emerson was charged again, but Finlay declined to join this case as a complainant because he was reluctant to relive the memories of the abuse another time. Emerson was convicted of charges against several other victims and given a custodial sentence.