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Havelock's story

‘It is my forlorn hope that one day the Roman Catholic Church will cease to exist. They are just a bunch of dirty money-grubbing old men in fancy robes. They have no business claiming to represent Jesus Christ on this Earth.’

At first, Havelock was grateful for the special attention Father Jim McMahon paid to him. When he started attending the Catholic primary school in Melbourne, the priest had requested to meet him, and soon gave him a nickname.

McMahon’s interest, and his hugs and kisses were in sharp contrast to the ways of Havelock’s distant and authoritarian father. ‘I had never had a close encounter with a priest before and I was pleased and flattered. He would seek me out every day and get me to mind his dog.’

In the late 1940s, when Havelock was eight, he became an altar boy. It was then that McMahon began sexually abusing him.

‘He would sit on a chair and place me on his knee with my back to him. He would begin cuddling and kissing me, which I disliked because he had heavy bristles.

‘He would then place his hands high up on my bare legs – short pants back then – and start rocking backwards and forwards underneath me. He would place one hand underneath me, undo his buttons and begin scratching himself, and sometimes place his other hand over my groin area.

‘This would also occur in his car. I was becoming disturbed, confused, and fearful, and tried to avoid him as much as possible. But he would come into the classroom and tell the nun he was taking me over to help him clean the church or hear my Latin.

‘I am now sure the nuns were aware of what was happening. One day McMahon dropped me back at the school late after the lunch break. When I told the nun that McMahon had taken me for a ride in his car, she said “Father McMahon is becoming too fond of you”.’

The situation ‘came to a head’ one day when Havelock was swimming with his cousins at the beach. McMahon appeared ‘out of nowhere’, and said he would give Havelock swimming lessons.

‘When we got into deeper water he started trying to get my bathers off ... I became enraged with McMahon, and was yelling and punching at him. I told him that I was going to tell my parents what he had been doing to me.

‘He started laughing loudly for the benefit of the people on the beach, [and] began holding me under water. I was terrified and got two handfuls of his abundant body hair and twisted it until he let me go.

‘I ran home in tears and told my parents that McMahon had tried to drown me. Their reply was “Oh don't be a sook. He was only playing with you”. I couldn't see any point in telling them any more.’

Havelock stayed well away from McMahon after this incident. In the early 1960s another former altar boy, Reg, told Havelock he had been abused by McMahon at the same time.

Reg had told his parents when it was happening, and they reported the abuse to the nuns at the school. Reg was banished from serving at the altar, and McMahon was transferred to another parish not long afterwards.

‘Nothing was said about it. My parents were not warned … My parents knew nothing about what had been happening. I had not told them anything, I was too frightened and I had no idea that McMahon was molesting Reg too.

‘As an eight-year-old I didn't know what to tell them. I had never heard the words “homosexual”, “masturbation” and “paedophile”, and I had no idea such practises existed.’

After Reg disclosed to him, Havelock told his wife about the abuse. He didn’t let their kids go to Catholic schools, and instructed them to be wary of priests. ‘They knew from an early age what had happened.’

In the early 1990s, Havelock read that McMahon was facing sexual assault charges. His mother had died by then, but he finally disclosed to his father that he had been abused.

He also contacted police. After making a statement, ‘I was declared a victim, and included in the charges against McMahon’.

Havelock was ‘completely devastated by the way I had been deceived and betrayed by my Church … I became aware how the Church had been aware of McMahon’s proclivities and how they had protected him and other bastards like him ... I had never been a pious Catholic, but I tried to be a good one’.

The priest eventually pleaded guilty to offences against him and a number of other children. He was sentenced to a short period of incarceration, and is now deceased.

At the invitation of his solicitor, Havelock agreed to take part in a class action against the Church, a decision he now regrets.

‘I was made to feel by various representatives of the Church that I was somehow partly to blame for what had happened, and I felt that I was under suspicion. I was bullied and intimidated ... Not once did a representative of the Church offer any sympathy or say they were sorry for what had happened to me.’

The Church did not offer Havelock an apology or counselling. He was ‘eventually awarded a pittance of $28,000, and the solicitor took $17,000. I regarded it as hush money, a case of “Here, take this and shut up”’.

Knowing McMahon went on to abuse more kids after him, Havelock still feels guilty that he did not report it at the time, in case doing so could have prevented their suffering.

He also worries about the belief some people have, that survivors of abuse will go on to abuse kids themselves. ‘The feelings of shame and everything else have gone, but I still worry about being thought of as a molester myself. I’m not.’

Now in his late 70s, Havelock is keen to engage with counselling, to work through these issues. ‘I just tried to put the whole thing away, and shut the door ... It always comes back.’

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