In the mid-1970s, when Gannon was in his mid-teens, he became a boarder at a Jesuit college on the east coast. As a lonely and isolated new arrival he was soon targeted by a teacher, Brother Arber, and then the housemaster, Father Herth.
‘Brother Francis Arber was, you know, predatory. Asking about how things were going, how everything else is working out, all this sort of stuff. And the conversation very quickly moved into a sexual dimension …
‘I’d never discussed the abuse. And it was genital fondling, including digital rape … I certainly didn’t mention anything to anyone, but regarding the housemaster he’d pull me in …
‘“Oh, you’ve been discussing with Brother Arber about maturity and development” and all this sort of stuff. And then I knew, “Oh my God, I’m in trouble”. And his whole manner changed. And then any chance for me to be disciplined, he was right on it.
‘And then he took the opportunity to discipline me without clothes, or with very little clothes on. Lying on his bed, late at night …
‘It hurt beyond belief but even that I could’ve … it was such a gross betrayal, if you’re talking about gross betrayals of trust … Herth is infinitely worse than the grotesque creature in Arber … Arber was like the janitor that was just hovering around the place. But Herth had the position of responsibility, had the duty of care, meant to have the compassion, and decided “No” …
‘Herth was my surrogate father. And he did that.’
Soon after this Gannon was transferred to another Jesuit school, for ‘a number of infractions’. He believes Herth became worried that someone would find out about the sexual abuse and decided to get rid of him.
After leaving school Gannon ‘managed to scrape’ into university. It was here that he first disclosed the abuse, to a chaplain. ‘And he said, “You’ve just got to get through and put it in your past” … this is a hard one but I don’t think there was malice involved … it’s like “this stuff happened to you, get on with it”, that’s how I read it.’
It wasn’t until the early 2010s that Gannon spoke about the abuse again, this time to his mother. She was a devout Catholic, a ‘bead fiddler par excellence’, and refused to believe him.
A few years later, after following the work of the Royal Commission, Gannon reported Arber and Herth to the Jesuits. He said he was treated with respect and referred to a clinical psychologist, who has been enormously helpful. The Jesuits are paying for the sessions.
He also engaged a lawyer to commence civil action, and gave a detailed statement to police. Reliving the abuse was traumatic, but it was a ‘walk in the park’ compared to some of his subsequent dealings with the Catholic Church.
When Gannon went to the police, he learnt that Francis Arber was facing prosecution for child sex offences in another state. When Arber was shown Gannon’s statement, he immediately pleaded guilty to the charges.
Gannon then discovered that there were allegations against Arber over decades, which the Jesuits responded to by moving him to different schools.
At the time of Gannon’s private session, new charges were being prepared in relation to incidents of abuse at his school. Father Herth was working at the Vatican. ‘And they’re doing everything they possibly can to prevent anything happening to him.’
For the future, Gannon believes that the ‘medieval’ structures of the Church must change, and it must be made more accountable.
‘The accountability to society is zero, because they don’t see themselves as accountable …
‘I just cannot believe that they could just go to the altar and say the things that they say and profess the things they profess, and do the things that they do. It’s the height of hypocrisy.
‘And it will recur again, unless society takes a firm grip on them.’
He also believes that counselling should be handled by ‘proper clinicians’ with experience in working with survivors, not just anyone calling themselves a counsellor.
He also thinks that a ‘particular outreach’ to rural areas is vital, because there are too many men and women with no access to help.
Gannon found speaking with the Commissioner draining, but he was grateful for the chance to tell his story.
‘Sometimes you get bursts of delusion, where you think you can get through it. You can to a certain extent, but you need help. And this is why things like this are not just important, they’re critical. Because you can’t walk a walk like this, because you’ve exploded inside in ways you do not know.’