Gerald had his first stroke in his late 30s, and two more followed. Now in his mid-50s, both his physical and mental health are fragile. Medical bills and ongoing treatment for psychological issues have cost him both his house and his superannuation.
Living on a disability pension, he has recently been officially classified as homeless, and is soon to move out of his sister’s place into community housing.
Without a doubt, he believes, the damage to his health is closely related to the abuse he had suffered as a child. The same can be said for the breakdown he had in his late 20s, and the many issues he’s had to deal with in his personal life.
‘I’ve never married – because I was frightened what would happen’, he explained. ‘I didn’t know how to take chances. I’ve never had any long-term relationships. I can’t. [The abuse] has affected all these abilities.’
Gerald’s mother was Catholic, and he and his three siblings attended Catholic schools in their Sydney suburb. He received private tuition from a parish priest, Father Oliveri, who was also in charge of organising weekend and holiday camps for the boys of the diocese.
Gerald was sexually abused by Father Oliveri over a three-year period, starting when he was eight. The abuse included fondling during one-to-one tutoring sessions in the presbytery, and on camps.
He was not the only child the priest abused. On one camp with about 14 boys Father Oliveri delivered a detailed, lengthy sex education lecture in the morning. Gerald was about nine at the time and ‘I still remember it’.
The lecture was followed in the afternoon by a swimming session at a nearby river. Father Oliveri instructed all the boys to strip before they got in the water. Then he stripped too, got in, and swam about fondling and performing oral sex on them.
None of the boys spoke out, then or afterwards. ‘In my case I felt like I’d done something wrong, and we were being punished. I couldn’t understand why we were being punished. It just opened up a lot of confusion.’
The other boys were quite stunned, he recalled. ‘I still see their ghostly faces.’
Gerald had learning difficulties, and as his academic performance worsened his parents moved him to a state school. He stopped going to camps, and spent weekends and holidays with his grandmother instead. This brought his abuse at the hands of Father Oliveri to an end.
But Gerald was abused again, at the state school, by an older student. He had never spoken of this experience before coming to the Royal Commission. ‘It’s like a minefield that you close off because you’re terrified’, he said. ‘I couldn’t put it into words’.
And anyway, he asked, who would have believed him?
‘A lot of the battle is for someone to believe what you say. Because when a child goes against an adult, in my generation, you couldn’t do that. You were considered a liar. And I’ve battled that for so long.’
Gerald first disclosed Father Oliveri’s abuse to his sister, shortly after he’d had his first stroke. She knew already that something was wrong, he said. He had also now approached Towards Healing, seeking compensation from the Church. ‘Finally I’ve been able to step forward out of the shadows.’
He had found the process a difficult one. ‘They don’t seem to have much compassion.’ While Towards Healing had reported the abuse to police, Gerald felt he didn’t have the strength to pursue the matter through the courts.
‘It’s a long drawn out court process and I become the victim and the one that’s on trial. I couldn’t go through that.’
As yet he has not received the Church’s response to his claim. He is hoping for not just a lump sum but ongoing financial support to help him access the ongoing medical treatment and counselling services he depends on.
Gerald believes a model of ongoing support for abuse survivors should be adopted more generally. And he wanted to see shopfronts established, where survivors could go to share experiences with each other, establish support networks and receive referrals for services from qualified and skilled professionals.
‘It sounds pie in the sky’, he said, but ‘I believe from what I’ve seen, it’s what’s needed’.