Geoffrey’s biological father wasn’t Catholic, and the two had never met. ‘I was raised by bigots … and that was unfortunate.’
From the age of 10 Geoffrey was physically abused by his stepfather, a Vietnam veteran who ‘depended a lot on alcohol to get through the days, so I can … understand why he was the way he was, but it didn’t help me at the time’.
Geoffrey told the Commissioner that ‘it got that bad, the police were involved on a number of occasions. [My mother] approached Father Peterson, and I went into his care. He would find me accommodation with another family’. Father Peterson was a young friar who helped run the youth group at the local parish church in an outer suburb of Sydney in the 1980s. ‘I … felt very good about him.’
When he was 15, Geoffrey was taken into emergency accommodation at a house where five priests lived. ‘I knew one of the other priests … he was a nice man. I hope he’s not involved.’ Father Peterson asked if Geoffrey could sleep in a stretcher beside his bed and Geoffrey ‘felt good about that. I trusted him’.
During the night Geoffrey felt Father Peterson fondling his genitals and ‘I was just laying there and I then rolled over to pretend that I was asleep because I didn’t know what to …’ Father Peterson then ‘sat … on his bed and began to masturbate and calling out my name as he got climaxed and I thought it was very odd’.
In the bedroom the next morning, when Father Peterson began acting as if nothing happened, Geoffrey thought, ‘Good. If he thinks that, I will go along with that, and get the hell out of here’. For the rest of his stay, Geoffrey slept on the couch in the lounge room. A couple of days later he was placed with a foster family.
When his foster mother noticed a change in his behaviour – ‘not showing up for school … drugs’ – she ‘brought up how … “After everything Father Peterson has done for you” … and that was when I exploded and I said, “I’ll tell you what your Father Peterson has done”, and that triggered an avalanche … I was pretty much turfed out of her house’.
A meeting was called with Geoffrey, his foster mother, Father Peterson and Susan Ellis, a senior lay person from the church who Geoffrey ‘still think[s] fondly of’. His foster mother ‘kept interjecting, “How dare you say that” and Susan said … “Let the boy have his say. This has happened before”’. Geoffrey doesn’t know what she meant by that, but told the Commissioner that Father Peterson had appeared at their church suddenly and with no advance warning, indicating that he may have offended elsewhere.
When Father Peterson denied the abuse, ‘that was the end of it, and then I ended up having to leave school and I lived on the streets’. Before Geoffrey left, someone must have talked about the allegations, because he was spat on at school and ostracised by all his friends.
Geoffrey told the Commissioner, ‘bad things happened in the area … I had to leave because I was being propositioned by older men for sex … It was seen that I may have been indulging in sex with this priest. I had appendages exposed to me to perform sex on people … attacks from every opportunist you could imagine’.
In his late teens, Geoffrey moved to the country to live with his grandfather. It took a long time for him to gain the trust of the small rural community. ‘By this stage I was drinking and taking drugs and I guess that alone could have been a reason not to [trust me].’
Geoffrey told his wife about the abuse in the early 2010s because, ‘the way I was carrying on … she knew something was … there was more to it. There was still a lot of anger. A lot of drinking … the depression that goes with alcoholic remorse, all that business. [My family] would see that … and then a day or two of normal living, and then it happens again. So they just saw that cycle’.
Geoffrey told the Commissioner he was well known to the police. ‘I’ve been charged, I’ve been jailed. I’ve been placed on all sorts of orders … I was barred from everywhere in my town … and then something began to happen to me … wanting to stop it all’.
Geoffrey has been seeing a psychologist and has begun taking anti-depressants. Talking to the psychologist had made him understand that ‘I did nothing wrong … My behaviour … was a normal response … and there’s a disappointment in that … had something been done earlier, a lot could have been avoided’.
As a result of the Royal Commission, Geoffrey was approached by the police and asked if he knew Father Peterson. There were other men with similar stories to Geoffrey’s. He provided a statement and is still waiting to hear about extradition proceedings, as Peterson had left the Church and was now living overseas.
Geoffrey wonders why the matter wasn’t reported to the police at the time. ‘The Church is not the authority here, the police are … From what I’m hearing it probably would have got brushed aside … but I just don’t know why criminal … allegations aren’t brought to the police’s attention.’
Geoffrey told the Commissioner, ‘It’s odd that these victims that have been getting compensation, they have an uphill battle … because if you slip over at Big W, and there’s no sign there ‘cause the floor was wet, under the law there’s no questions asked. What do we do now? Put a sign in front of the church: “This building may contain paedophiles. Be warned”. Why can’t we do that? We have warning signs everywhere else in society’.