Decades after he was abused by a Catholic priest, Hugo made a civil claim against him. But the matter has been postponed numerous times, much to Hugo’s frustration. ‘I think the guy will consider this to be a successful defence if he dies before he gets to court. That seems to be the way it's going.’
Hugo was not Father Frank Moroney’s only victim. ‘And he's been able to skilfully avoid getting anywhere near a court, repeatedly over two to three years now. And it would appear the court system almost seems to aid and abet him, which is quite frustrating as, I think, at last count, this guy's got, you know, 60, 70 charges against him, and hasn't even had to face it yet.’
Hugo grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. His mother, a widow, raised their large Catholic family and worked for the Catholic Church. Father Frank Moroney befriended the family and stayed in contact even when they moved parishes.
Moroney picked Hugo up after school, from when Hugo was about nine years old, and took him to Moroney’s living quarters. He also took Hugo on outings. He abused Hugo on a regular basis up until he was nearly 16, except for a period of about two years when Moroney was overseas.
The abuse included fondling, showering and swimming naked together, and being photographed while Hugo was undressing.
‘I withdrew. So it was almost out of body, but I withdrew inside, and was almost able to suspend belief, or just be a spectator.’
Moroney groomed Hugo by giving him substantial gifts. In his police statement, Hugo recalls, ‘This generosity helped soothe my uncomfortable feelings towards the situation and made me second-guess the uncomfortable feelings. Looking back on it now, I believe that this was what Father had intended’.
Hugo didn’t disclose the abuse until he was an adult. As he said in his police statement, ‘I remember that when I was about 15 or 16 I felt I should stop him by going to the police because I didn't want him doing it to someone else. However, I succeeded in convincing myself that I was the only one and I'd never reported it. This is something I regretted and struggled with for the last 40 years’.
Nevertheless, Hugo was able to focus on his studies and did well at school. This led him to a successful, professional career.
In his 20s, he told a workmate about the abuse. His workmate’s speechless reaction discouraged Hugo from telling anyone else. However, also while in his 20s, he told his wife, Georgina, before they were married, as he thought she should know. In his 30s, he sought counselling for other issues and disclosed then as well.
‘Over the years, Father infrequently either called me or told someone … that he was asking after me. I believe that this contact was more to make sure that I wasn’t telling anyone about what had happened between us rather than a friendly gesture. I believe that at some level that I was being warned.’
Hugo has self-medicated with alcohol and sought prescription medication without disclosing the abuse to his doctor. He has a range of stress-related illnesses for which he takes a huge amount of medication. ‘I rattle … I’ve got no doubt that [the abuse] has played a part in being unwell at this stage of my life.’
Georgina accompanied Hugo to his session at the Royal Commission. When discussing his resilience, she said, ‘You said something to me once that you wanted so hard to appear normal. That you went the extra mile so that nobody would know … Everyone would think he was the same as everybody else. He wanted to appear normal’.
In recent years, Hugo became aware of a current charge against Moroney in relation to abuse dating back to the 80s. He then decided to contact the police and make a statement – and take civil action.
‘The conversation with [the detective], as opposed to the conversation with my lawyer, was miles apart in sensitivity. I was a mess for a couple of days after talking to lawyer. He just trampled over me.’
Hugo’s motivation is not the money. ‘It's the only way I can sort of [say] to the Church … “You've done wrong and you knew it, and you covered it up”.’
Hugo knows it’s a cover-up because he’s aware of a 1970s out-of-court settlement in relation to Moroney, after which, Moroney remained a priest.
Hugo has endured a number of postponements with the court case. For example, Moroney’s health was questioned by the defence. Hugo notes that Moroney was living independently, but now has been moved into a high care aged facility, a move Hugo sees as a legal ploy.
‘I guess the interesting thing is that if you take a step back, which I tried to do and failed miserably … there's a certain repetition with the way these cases seem to roll out. And there's a certain repetition of excuses that are rolled out as well. And it appears to be orchestrated … It just appears to be an organised defence from the Church, to be honest.’