A number of events left Jack’s family wide open to being groomed by Robert Sneed, an ambitious young assistant in a local Anglican church. It was in the early 1960s. Jack’s father had left the family, his older sister had emotional problems to deal with and his brother had a serious illness. As a result his mother had her hands full and young Jack felt abandoned.
So Jack bonded with his aunt and uncle. But when his uncle died, he lost his second father figure. Sneed insinuated himself into the family as a trusted confidante of his mother’s and a friend of his aunt. Jack’s aunt even arranged for him to date Jack’s sister.
Then, when his mother grew ill, Sneed started to drive the kids to church, where Jack was an altar boy. ‘He didn’t have any more dates with my sister but he started taking a liking to me and things evolved from there.’
Jack was 10 or 11 years old. Any hopes he might have held for Sneed as a new father figure disintegrated when he started abusing Jack at every opportunity.
‘We would go into the vestry to put on the vestments … and he would be touching me and he would want me to touch him.’
If Jack’s brother wasn’t with them the abuse happened in Sneed’s car. At traffic lights, Sneed wanted Jack to masturbate him while they waited for the lights to change.
It escalated to oral sex and digital penetration. Jack asked Sneed where he learned to ‘do these things’. He told Jack that he went on religious retreats and that ‘these were things that were done between the men that would go to these retreats’.
Jack tried to tell his mother what was happening by acting out with her. But when he hugged her and was physical with her, ‘all she could do was rebuke, reject and say it was unnatural … And that I was too old for this type of behaviour and I should grow up’.
She didn’t see it as a cry for help. She even discussed Jack’s state of mind with Robert Sneed who by now had a strong hold over her. He would come to the house for meals. He took Jack, with his mum’s blessing, to all-night vigils and midnight services at church.
One day, a police car pulled up behind Sneed’s car while he was in the back seat with Jack. After two years of sexually abusing him, Robert Sneed was caught in the act. Jack remembers him saying immediately, ‘Don’t tell them about all the other stuff’. They were both hauled down to the station and his mother was called. Jack thought he was in trouble as well.
Jack didn’t tell the police about ‘all the other stuff’ and Sneed was put on a three-year good behaviour bond. Jack had to see a court-appointed counsellor. Amazingly, this counsellor wanted Jack to keep seeing Robert Sneed, because he had connected to him as a father figure.
Even though visits were meant to be chaperoned, Sneed managed to continue sexually abusing Jack, seeking him out in different places. ‘Nothing seemed to deter him.’
It was Sneed’s own father who finally broke the cycle. He told Jack’s mother he couldn’t take it anymore. He didn’t want his son coming round to see Jack at all.
From then on, all contact stopped.
Jack’s been left for years with a sense of complete betrayal. He feels victimised by the system. ‘By the police, by the psychiatrist, that they allowed the abuse to continue, the fact that he was still allowed to see me. Supposedly in a chaperoned environment, but actually in an unchaperoned environment.’
For years Jack thought that what he’d experienced with Sneed was normal homosexual behaviour, but now knows that’s not the case. As he grew up he realised he was attracted to females. His shame about the abuse made him homophobic.
‘You see this part of yourself and it’s something that’s so alien to what you naturally gravitate towards. And then it’s part of a dark past that no one has to know about.’
Jack has ongoing problems with anxiety and paranoia. So many things were given to him and then taken away again. He says Sneed’s betrayal ‘put in a floor that was not stable. And every time that would come away, everything would just collapse underneath it’.
What deeply distresses Jack is the fact that after Robert Sneed sexually abused him, he went on to achieve his dream of becoming a priest. He’d confessed his sins and been given ‘the prize of ordination’.
‘I felt that he didn’t get any penalty at all. He got exactly what he wanted.’ Jack wrote to the Anglican Primate, telling him about Sneed and what he’d done. A meeting was arranged between Sneed, Jack and the Anglican Primate. Jack requested that Sneed be defrocked.
The Primate later wrote to Jack and said he needed to forgive Sneed, because he had been convicted by a court, confessed his sin to God and received absolution. Also, because nothing bad had happened since Sneed was ordinated.
‘How do we know?’ Jack asked the Commissioner. ‘You really don’t know.’
Sneed apologised to Jack during the meeting but he felt it was a hollow response. He wrote to him, ‘When will you accept responsibility to own the outcomes of what you did - when?? When will you enter the fire and own the truth?’