Jacob has few happy family childhood memories.
He told the Commissioner, ‘my father was a drug addict and an alcoholic employed as a police officer and was a very abusive man’.
When Jacob was 13 he ran away to escape the violent home environment. ‘My parents didn’t report me missing or anything.’
Jacob lived on the streets and slept under bridges. He hitchhiked to Queensland where he was picked up by police and sent to a youth refuge run by the Catholic Church. Jacob recalled the parish priest would visit the youth refuge every couple of days.
‘I got along really well with Father James, and when he invited me to live with him at the presbytery I thought all my Christmases had come at once. Having a home with my own room and someone to care for me was the stuff my dreams were made of.’
Rohan, a youth worker at the refuge urged Jacob not to take up the priest’s offer, but against that advice, Jacob moved in with Father James.
‘I’ve since spoken with Rohan and he’s admitted to knowing Father James had been moved on from a parish in another part of the state for acting inappropriately with boys. But I understand now that Rohan was quite powerless against the Church, and his job may have been at risk if he’d spoken.’
Jacob recalled that the abuse started within a week of him moving in with Father James.
‘Father James made me believe that having oral sex with him, masturbating him, and kissing him with an open mouth was the way I should show him love. My only alternative was to return to life on the street, which just terrified me. I used to cry a lot and tell him I didn’t want to do what he was asking, but that made no difference.’
Jacob lived with Father James for nearly two years, and said he was often encouraged to ‘get plastered’ and smoke with him and sometimes with visiting priests as well.
‘I started drinking a lot, and was allowed to do pretty much anything I wanted except leave. It was clear I’d be kicked out if I did. If I refused sexual demands, he’d make me feel guilty by saying things like, “I’ve given you a home, nobody can love you like I can, you have to love me back”. With visiting priests he’d say, “You have to love them like you love me”, so I’d give them oral sex.’
On one occasion Jacob recalled a visiting priest attempted to rape him.
‘I heard footsteps echo down the staircase, and Father Wayne came over to my bed, violently rolled me over and pulled my tracksuit pants down. He tried to penetrate me, and I was too scared to yell but remember clenching to avoid it. He couldn’t do it, so he rolled me over and masturbated on me. I lay for hours with his mess on me, just frozen still with shock. That was one of the most terrifying nights of my life.’
One day Father James introduced Jacob to a 12-year-old boy, Jonathon, who was staying at the youth refuge. Jonathon soon became a regular visitor to the presbytery and later confessed to Jacob that the priest was also abusing him.
When a Marist Brother unexpectedly discovered Father James and Jacob sleeping naked beside each other, one of the 16-year-old’s greatest fears became reality.
‘We’d both been drinking and Father James passed out with his hand on my penis. The Bishop was called, and despite our flat denial of any abuse, both Jonathon and I were told to “Get out and leave the area”.
'It was cold and brutal, and I was devastated because we were told we couldn’t go back to the youth refuge, so we were going back to the streets. Jonathon ended up throwing himself under a train. I promised him I’d have a good life in his honour, and I’ve never forgotten him.’
To Jacob’s knowledge, Father James was not held accountable and remained active in the Church until his death in the mid-2000s.
Jacob approached the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing program in the late 2000s in the hope of receiving an apology. Instead, he found the process as intimidating, and his abuse claims largely trivialised by those involved.
‘I wasn’t allowed to talk about Father Wayne or Jonathon, and felt I was being purposely misguided. A meeting was set up with a social worker which felt more like an interrogation, and I later found out that person was an assessor for the Catholic Church and wasn’t there to counsel me at all. That really upset me. I knew they had proof of my abuse, but were trying to drag the process out unnecessarily to intimidate me, and perhaps deter me from going to court.’
Jacob later met with the archbishop in the hope of receiving an apology.
‘The archbishop came to the meeting with four elderly women, and I felt their presence was intended to silence me because it’s not easy to talk about children being molested by priests in front of older women. When I asked the archbishop why he let paedophiles into the Church, he brushed the comment off saying “Oh Jacob, they’re not paedophiles, they’re gay”. He wasted no time in asking how much money I was after, when I’d come for an apology, not money.’
From the age of 14 Jacob battled drug and alcohol addictions that would last until his 30s, and affected his ability to maintain personal relationships.
‘I was always off my face, it was killing me not being able to talk to anyone about my abuse. The first girl I met I married, but that relationship broke down. I always struggled with sex, I felt very confused. Father James wrecked my life, and I never go to church now but I do still believe in God and that’s helped me somehow survive.’
Jacob said he hopes the Church will one day offer him an apology, but more importantly, accept responsibility for what happened to him and other children under its care and make changes to protect the young and vulnerable community members.