‘In the late 60s I was molested by the Catholic priest Holloway and in the late 90s I was fucked by the Catholic Church.’
So says Herman of the repeated sexual abuse by an assistant priest in a suburban parish in Melbourne in the 1960s and his experience three decades later with the Church’s Towards Healing process.
Now in his late 50s, Herman was raised in a family of ‘true Catholics’ by parents who never swore, sang in the choir and taught their children to respect authority figures as well as nuns and priests.
He was 11 when a close family member died and his mother was diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness. Father Howard Holloway had ‘done a bit of a grooming thing’ on Herman’s parents, coming to dinner frequently and staying late playing cards. The younger children found him ‘creepy’.
When Holloway offered to take Herman away for a weekend his parents were ‘very happy’, but for Herman it ‘tore my life apart’.
Over the next two years he was abused on at least six occasions, including in a bedroom and the shower. The priest would come up behind him and rub himself ‘against my bum and lower back’, after which Herman was sent to the other single bed in the room or Holloway left the shower. The priest also gave him alcohol.
He told no one at the time as he didn’t really know what Holloway was doing.
‘For some strange reason as a child I blamed myself for what Holloway did to me. I think that it is not so much the physical abuse but the emotional abuse that sticks with you over the years’, Herman wrote in documents he brought to the Royal Commission.
‘Here we have a priest who is supposed to look after and guide people and on the other hand he is interfering with young boys.’
A promising student with a high IQ, Herman ‘became disruptive and rebellious and acted out’ his anger against authority at home and at school.
He became an alcoholic and found it hard to keep jobs. He married and had children, but ‘found it very hard to change a nappy’ and would never ‘wrestle’ with his children.
Herman feels his birthright and potential were ‘stolen’ by Holloway, for whom he also served as an altar boy.
‘There is a shamed part of me that sabotages any undertaking that may bring me success or joy; it’s as though at some deep level I feel that I am unworthy.’
A succession of counsellors and psychiatrists ‘achieved nothing as my shame and self-loathing prevented me from expressing the pain I held so close inside’, Herman wrote.
‘The worst and most frustrating part is that even knowing that all of my problems stem from the abuse, I feel powerless to change and ashamed that I’m still a victim of the abuse that happened to me so many years ago. That frightens me.’
Herman’s sister, to whom he confided in the early 1990s, told his elderly parents about the abuse. The knowledge, Herman said, took 10 years off the life of his late father who ‘blamed himself’.
Unbeknownst to Herman, his parents approached the Church soon after. They had meetings with a senior clergyman, but nothing was done to stop Holloway serving as a priest.
Thirty years after the abuse ‘the worst part’ occurred – going through ‘beyond healing’, as Herman calls it.
He gave a statement to Melbourne police and, in the late 90s, Holloway was charged with the sexual abuse of multiple boys including Herman. The priest pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in jail, with only two to be served before parole.
Following the conviction, Herman was contacted by the Church. He then had to endure ‘medical tests, psychological tests and interviews’, his wife Rosanna said.
For Herman it was intimidating and traumatic. When it came time to talk compensation, although there were many people representing the Church, he was allowed only one support person. Rosanna had to wait outside.
One woman openly ‘scoffed’ at his demand for more than one million dollars compensation. The matter had clearly already been decided when he saw that ‘$32,500’ had been pre-typed into a document he was to sign ‘on the spot’ – ‘all a bit of a farce’, he said.
‘It wasn’t in writing, but we were told if we tried to take on the Church they’d drag it along for years and years.’
Herman said he tried to find some independent solicitors ‘or anyone’ who would take the case. His rural solicitor, probably unfamiliar with such issues, ‘didn’t want to know’.
‘No one would take on the Catholic Church, as no one will now. Even though I did sign the things, you know, that wasn’t going to be the end of it.’
Herman refused to take the free counselling offered because he didn’t trust anyone appointed by the Church.
With his disability pension, he can ‘randomly’ access some independent counselling – depending on ‘how the nightmares and everything are going’.
In Herman’s opinion ‘the government should think about prosecution’ and ‘heads should roll’ of those in the hierarchy who covered up paedophilia.
‘I mean, the Church were told by my parents in 93 and [Holloway] still functioned as a priest. I mean, they paid his rent and everything. They looked after him more than they did us.’