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Gerry Thomas's story

Gerry was born into a devout Catholic family and grew up in a large regional Western Australian town. In the 1960s he was in his early teens, and started skipping out of church during services and hanging around with his mates outside.

The parish priest, Father Rutherford, would watch out for the boys who wagged mass. ‘Subsequently we would keep a lookout for him and scatter when he approached. However, he often outsmarted us and would catch one of us. As time went on he always seemed to get me. Whether he had singled me out I don't know.’

Rutherford would take Gerry back to the presbytery to discuss his behaviour, then sexually abuse him when they were alone, putting his hands inside Gerry’s pants and touching his genitals.

‘I remember being deeply shocked and how I froze with fear. I didn't know what to do ... I asked my mates if they had experienced any of this at his hands and learned that they hadn't. I recall the dreadful feelings of confusion, powerlessness and aloneness.

‘I became a disillusioned and deeply hurt little boy. I at times wished that I could just curl up in a ball in a corner and die. A bit later I went through a stage where I began to think that it was my fault that it had happened. This brought on strong feelings of guilt.

‘When I was abused again I remember resigning myself to my fate and would go into a type of protective dazed state. I couldn't tell anybody.’

During confession Rutherford took a particular interest in whether Gerry masturbated. He always ended with the question ‘Did you release the seed of life?’ and ‘appeared to enjoy’ asking this.

Gerry felt powerless and scared. He doubted his very religious mother would believe him if he disclosed the abuse – and worried that his father might believe him and assault the priest. His behaviour at school declined and he left early to get an apprenticeship.

‘It was at this time that I discovered alcohol and began drinking regularly which became heavier as time went on. It, I believed at the time, helped suppress all of my unwanted memories of these experiences and the depression that I had begun to experience through my daily life.’

In his late 20s he had a ‘nervous breakdown’. He stopped working for a while, but ‘eventually, with the assistance of medication, I recovered enough to be able to return to the workforce’.

As well as using alcohol to cope, Gerry learned ‘that if I really pushed myself workwise I could zone it out. This lead to me becoming a workaholic. I never rested, always doing something. I felt constantly compelled to do so to keep the depression at bay. I could never relax. At the time I was unaware that in reality my depression was becoming incrementally worse’.

Around 15 years ago Gerry read in the media that Rutherford had been reported for child abuse. ‘The reporter who wrote the item invited any other possible victims to come forward. I gave it some thought then felt I just didn't need to go there and dismissed it.’

More recently his mental health declined and he became physically and mentally ‘burnt out’. ‘My depression had become so deep and dark that it was life threatening.’

His doctor referred him to a psychiatrist ‘who has proved to be a truly wonderful man. He has assisted me to realise what is at the bottom of my depression, and along this present path to healing and personal growth’.

When going through some old papers Gerry came across some of his high school reports, realising his grades had deteriorated once the abuse started. He also found the article about Rutherford, which he did not remember having kept.

‘I had kept it for some reason. Out it all came. I broke down and was absolutely bereft. The same way one would when losing one close. This was so healing! The little boy had learned to cry again!’

Gerry has continued seeing his psychiatrist, disclosing some details about the abuse to him, and feels he has now reached a place where he can forgive Rutherford. ‘This is a big milestone in my life.’

He has also recently told his mother. She was shattered that she hadn’t protected him, but admitted she may not have believed him at the time if he had told her.

Gerry understands that Rutherford moved overseas many years ago, and is now likely to be deceased. As yet he has not applied for any compensation but on learning of the Church’s Towards Healing process is considering this, as it might help with the payment of his psychiatrist’s fees.

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