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Jimmy Christopher's story

‘Priests were seen and widely described as being a different type of human, a different type of person. An enormously high position within society … and a number of them exploited that.’

Jimmy was sent to a Catholic high school run by the Jesuit order in the 1980s. ‘I hated the school’, Jimmy told the Commissioner. ‘It’s a very strict disciplinarian school. A lot of Latin and beatings.’

When he was 13, Jimmy and one other boy were invited on a ‘special’ camping trip to remote bushland by one of the teachers, Father Luke Walsh.

‘On this camping trip, at night time, Father Walsh would remove his clothes and walk around the camp naked, and also strongly encourage us to do the same, stating something along the lines of how pleasant it is to be naked together, nice to feel the warmth of the fire on one’s naked body, and so on. We did not do this.

‘This was the behaviour every night for the whole camping trip of three nights and we felt very uncomfortable and threatened at night, especially given that we were sleeping in the same tent as him.’

Walsh made no other advances during the trip, but upon return he made the boys promise not to tell their parents about the campsite nudity.

Jimmy put the incident out of his mind, but he now sees it as a breach of trust that altered his relationship with the Church. He had been an altar boy and had considered joining the Jesuits. That changed. ‘As soon as I left school I stopped going to church.’ It was an act of rebellion that brought him into years of conflict with his devoutly Catholic family.

In his 20s Jimmy developed problems with anxiety and depression, which he coped with by using ‘copious quantities of marijuana and alcohol. And loud music’.

‘I’ve been masking my own anxiety. I’ve been self-medicating.’

When he was 30, Jimmy ran into a younger fellow student from his old school. ‘We got talking and he said, “Do you remember those camping trips that Father Walsh used to take his little boys on?” And it all came back and I said, “Oh my God, I’d forgotten about this entirely”. I’m not saying it was a suppressed memory but these things, they go to the back of your mind.’

Jimmy was worried that Father Walsh might still be teaching and ‘that this could be the thin edge of the wedge and that other events of a worse nature could have happened’. He wrote to the Jesuits about his camping trip experience. An investigator from the Church visited him and took a detailed statement. ‘After a few months I received a letter from the Church stating that there was no real evidence of abuse, that if I had bought it up earlier it would have been dealt with, and that Father Walsh was no longer teaching children.’

Jimmy considered the response rude and inadequate. ‘I was young and I was filled with anger.’

‘This issue, the camping trip and follow up “investigation” by the Catholic Church has affected me greatly in my life in that I am very angry and bitter about the Catholic Church, even though I have left it, and I have devoted far too much of my own time to thinking about this event and so on. I have spent quite a bit of time with various counsellors and psychologists discussing this and have worked through the issues as best I can.’

As well as professional help, Jimmy has found meditation useful. He has learnt to recognise various triggers for his anxiety – which include engaging with the Royal Commission.

‘This is basically the last I’m doing on this. Ever. This is a closure for me, I’m closing a door.’

He is hoping cultural and regulatory changes flow from the Commission’s work. ‘Mandatory reporting has to be there, failure to report stuff must be punished … that’s the mechanism where stuff is hidden.’

He believes children need to be taught protective behaviours early, and they need authority figures they can talk to without fear when they have a problem.

The Catholic Church represents a huge challenge. ‘Obviously you guys are looking at the institutional response to child sexual abuse, but it comes wrapped in a whole lot of context around people’s religion and family and society in the 70s and all that kind of thing.’

‘The Church just needs to be not scared. It’s a process they’re going to have to go through and they will become better. It’s a process of purifying themselves, in a sense.’

‘There has to be a will to do it.’

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