Iain Michael's story

For a long time, Iain thought he was the only boy who was abused by Father Barrie. He never saw anybody else being touched by him, and he never heard anybody say anything bad about him.

‘I don’t know of anybody in my age group that had any problems with this priest, so that’s the bit that baffled me. When you think of it, there should have been others. Why just me? Was it because I lived next-door to the presbytery? I don’t know…’

‘The more I kept thinking about it, I thought there had to be more in my age group. Because there was a hundred kids in Grade 2 or Grade 3, so there had to be.’

Iain grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne in the 1950s as the eldest child in a large family, with a devoutly Catholic mother. They attended the local Catholic school and the family lived just across from the convent. If the nuns needed jobs done they would stand outside and clap their hands until his mother sent one of the children out to help them. He described the nuns as ‘hard as nails’.

Iain became an altar boy, which made his mother extremely proud, and he thinks that’s how he came into Father Barrie’s orbit. When he was about nine or 10, Father Barrie started sexually abusing him. He would call him over and take him into a private room in the presbytery, where he would fondle and kiss him.

‘I think about it now and I think – even then when I really thought about it – that’s not normal. It just didn’t feel and seem normal but you were sworn to secrecy. He said “God’s up there watching everything you’re doing”. He basically said “It’s between you and me, it’s nothing to do with anybody else”. To make you feel locked into him I suppose. You can’t talk about it.’

Iain said Father Barrie played on his sense of trust, the thing that kids look for and yearn for most.

He remembers the abuse happening a few times, but thinks it probably happened more often than that. He particularly remembers the last time it happened.

‘He give me a whack on the bum just to say get out of here, as if it was my fault. I can remember this door slamming in the background. Now, whether the wind got it or the housekeeper come in the back door, I don’t know. Whether he thought he was going to get sprung, I don’t know. He give me one hell of a whack as if I was a bad boy, get out of here and that sort of stuff.

‘To be quite honest, I can never remember ever seeing him again, even as an altar boy. So whether they did move him on, I don’t know.’

Iain said he had no respect for priests at all and wanted to rebel against anything to do with the Church. He was asked to stop being an altar boy because of his attitude. He developed a distrust for people in authority, hated school and couldn’t wait to get out of there. At age 15 he went and got a junior level job in an industry that allowed him to work on his own a lot, and he has stayed in the industry for most of his working life.

The first person he ever told about the abuse was his mother, years later.

‘She just sat back. I remember her face just dropped. She said “Yeah, there was talk about something, that’s why he left”. And I thought hmm … She obviously had heard in the parish that something was going on. Not that her little boy would have been involved in it.

‘She just kept it to herself. I don’t even know if she told Dad because I certainly didn’t. What he would have done wouldn’t have been pleasant.’

After that, Iain pretty much kept the abuse to himself, pushing it down and working hard so he would be tired and could sleep well at night. But he said, ‘It’s still shoved back there. I don’t like bringing it up because I’m scared of what’ll come out. I don’t know what’s really hidden down deep’.

He married and had a child. That relationship didn’t last, but he remarried and had more children and he and his wife are still together. She knows about his past and is a great support to him, as are his children. Although the abuse played on his mind all his life, he didn’t seek professional help and didn’t tell anyone else until recently, when cases of child sexual abuse were making the news.

‘Something come out in the paper. Pell was saying “This never happened” and all that and it just ticked me off. I said “No, this is not true”.’

He is now going through a redress process with legal help and is happy with how things are moving ahead. He said the reason he started, and the reason he is telling his story now, is to try and prevent such things from happening in the future as it’s so important for children to feel safe.

‘The only regret I’ve got about the whole lot, besides the sexual part, is the parish priest we had prior to him was magnificent because he went out and got us cricket bats and wickets and we had a big bag of stuff we’d never had … So he went out and got the boys involved. And all the good things he done has been ripped apart by this other clown.’

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