‘It’s a long time ago … between 65 and 70 years ago ... but the details of what happened to me are very vivid. They don’t go away.’
One of six children, Herbie endured more than three years of sexual abuse by Father Lloyd Tranter, a curate who officiated at mass in the small Victorian township where Herbie was an altar boy in the 1940s. The priest, revered like all priests in the small Victorian farming community, would tell Herbie’s mother he was taking her son to a child’s birthday party. But those ‘parties’ were just a ruse to sexually abuse Herbie.
On other occasions, Tranter would abuse Herbie in the church, after mass. He would then often attend Sunday lunch, with other priests, back at Herbie’s home.
Herbie still remembers the day that the parish priest, Father McMurtrie, came to see his father – unusually, on a week day – and can remember his distinctive car in the driveway. Years later, Herbie’s mother told him that that was the day Father McMurtrie told his father that a mother in the parish had reported to him that Father Tranter had ‘touched’ her child who was an altar boy.
The mother of the boy was not a Catholic, significant in a small region where priests were effectively untouchable to most devout families. ‘It was the greatest thing that happened’, Herbie recalled.
Herbie said Father Tranter was sent immediately to see the local bishop who then sent the offending priest to Western Australia.
Herbie was nine when he was sent to a Victorian boarding school. He arrived several days before the term began and on his second night needed to relieve himself. In the washroom he encountered a Brother and a boy in a compromising position.
‘I guess [the Brother] was about to rape this boy and I couldn’t believe it. And he screamed at me to “get out”.’
The Brother became Herbie’s form master. Verbal threats followed for two years during which Herbie was regularly victimised. Herbie ‘failed miserably’ at his studies and left early. He hated his time in high school – ‘only because of him’ – which later impacted on Herbie’s ability to find employment.
Some years later Father Tranter returned to Herbie’s town – turning up of all places at the bedside of Herbie’s father who was in hospital after an operation. Herbie’s father asked Herbie if he remembered Father Tranter.
He replied, ‘I certainly do’. He told his father to tell the priest he wanted to see him.
In his 20s at the time, Herbie intended to confront the priest the next day but was told Father Tranter had suddenly gone on 10 days leave. Herbie never saw him again.
‘I would have hit him, had I [been able to confront him face to face],’ Herbie told the Commissioner.
When Herbie was in his mid-20s a now-notorious paedophile priest, Father Ed Wallingham, who lived in the region, approached Herbie’s mother to see if Herbie would like to go fishing. They fished several times without incident but on the third fishing outing, Wallingham asked Herbie to look after his lines, while he disappeared into the bushes.
Herbie agreed and while walking over to the priest’s fishing poles, saw ‘disgusting’ pornographic magazines open on the ground – ‘naked women. Awful.’ Herbie kicked dirt over the magazines, pulled up his own poles and left the lake, telling his mother when he got home that that priest was no longer welcome. He believes the priest had been deliberately testing him, and set up the scenario to watch Herbie’s reaction to the magazines.
Herbie did not disclose Father Tranter’s abuse at the time. Priests were ‘sacrosanct’, God’s representatives on earth, and ‘nobody would have believed me’.
He never told his father, but did tell his mother at the end of her life. He saw that the Broken Rites website referred to two other victims of Tranter, one of whom he knew had suicided.
Episodes of stress and depression have impacted Herbie over the years. His strength has come from his wife of more than five decades, his children and siblings.
About 15 years ago he saw a television program on Ed Wallingham’s abuse of boys. ‘I burst into a flood of tears … it wasn’t until about three days later that I was able to [tell my wife] what was wrong with me, what had happened. She was the first person I told.’
Herbie’s priest referred him to his then local bishop. After belittlement during the Towards Healing process Herbie was paid $25,000 but did not receive an apology.
‘I was amazed to get anything, actually,’ Herbie said. The bishop has since snubbed him publicly several times.
He is now considering further redress, after 70 years of suffering. Herbie did not have legal representation and nor was he offered it when he was compensated in 2002, and there was a technical error on his legal documents.
‘They [bishops] think they are God almighty, but they’re not.’
Herbie remains shocked at the local bishop who commented that Herbie would have known what Tranter was doing because he had grown up on a farm.
‘It was ridiculous!’ It’s astonishing that anyone, let alone a bishop, could compare the sexual abuse of a child by a priest with the mating and birth of animals on a farm, he believes.
Herbie has never reported any of the offending priests to the police and continues to go to church, unlike any of his children or grandchildren. He regards himself as part of the ‘blue rinse brigade’ of older, remaining parishioners.
Priests should be able to marry, Herbie recommended. And while it may well have changed in recent years, young men considering a life in the Catholic Church should have more life experience, ‘for God’s sake’, and a broader education, if in their 20s they are to tell parishioners in their 60s how to live their lives.
Herbie was pleased to have felt ‘comforted’ by the Royal Commissioner during his private session. Taking the train home with his wife, he said he would actually ‘fly’ because he felt so much lighter.