Parish priests rotated often through the Victorian town in which Ignatius grew up. ‘None of them stayed for more than three years, many sort of passed through the town in less than a year. To my mind, I can’t prove it, there was an active program of putting people there who were damaged and dangerous.’
Over several decades, Father Blayney sexually abused scores of children throughout southern Australia and he was frequently moved by the Church hierarchy. At the age of 10, Ignatius was a serving altar boy in his town’s Catholic church when he was sexually abused by Blayney on multiple occasions.
Ignatius said he thought the fact that his father was a violent alcoholic made him a target for the abuse. He didn’t tell his mother because he felt ashamed and embarrassed, and was conscious she was working hard to keep the family functioning. Ignatius said he still felt guilty that he hadn’t disclosed the abuse, particularly as more and more of Blayney’s victims came forward in later years to recount their tales of abuse.
In the late 1970s Ignatius was alone at home one day when another priest, Father Clarence, came to the house and cornered the 13-year-old, and then tried to fondle him. Ignatius picked up a cricket bat and hit the priest who quickly left.
Ignatius was angry at the Catholic Church hierarchy’s response to numerous allegations of sexual abuse against Blayney and his subsequent conviction and imprisonment. While noting many good people worked within the Church, Ignatius said everyone had been let down by a system which ‘gave ammunition to the paedophiles and gave them the opportunity’.
He thought Church authorities should have asked difficult questions early on to find out who had been affected by the abuse and when. ‘You actually get off your bum, get in the car and drive to the various towns where these events occurred … It doesn’t take a lot of work to actually get down there or work the phones for 20 minutes and ring people.’
In 2013 Ignatius was approached by Victoria Police who at the time were investigating allegations against both Blayney and Clarence. Ignatius made a formal statement in a process he found daunting but positive.
‘I went in and they were exceptional, fantastic … They gave me the space to say what I was 100 per cent sure had happened, what I was 100 per cent sure didn’t happen, and what were the grey areas … I was incredibly impressed with how it was conducted and the manner in which it was done.’
A group of charges, including Ignatius’s, was brought against Blayney in about five years ago. They were the third group to be heard, with the previous two groups having resulted in prison terms. Blayney again pleaded guilty and was sentenced to further years in jail.
At the time of making his police statement, Ignatius applied to Towards Healing for an acknowledgement of the abuse and financial compensation. ‘The Church is not going to learn anything until you actually hurt them financially’, he said.
Initially told by Towards Healing staff that they couldn’t take any action because of pending criminal action, Ignatius contacted them again after Blayney’s guilty plea. He was told to wait until after sentencing. When that process was finalised, Ignatius again contacted them, but two months later hadn’t received any response.
He also learned that many documents relating to Blayney had been destroyed by the bishop. ‘It’s bordering on criminal negligence, that you’ve got an organisation that can effectively condone behaviours like that. That bothers me enormously … If this was any other organisation other than a religious … they would be closed down.’
He is now considering joining a class action. ‘To be honest, as a taxpayer, I feel what a waste of resources. Australian courts have got better things to deal with than this, you know? It’s so obvious what occurred. Just get on with it and make a settlement. I mean, the more and more I think about this, the angrier I get.’
Ignatius said he lost faith in the Catholic Church a long time ago. While he has done well in his personal life and employment, he still has a problem with authority. ‘So whilst I’ve been really, really lucky, I had a great career, it probably hasn’t been as good as it could have been. In fact, yeah, I struggle a lot with that.’