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Jonathan's story

Jonathan told the Commissioner that he wanted to speak on behalf of himself and his brother, Luke.

Both boys grew up in a strict Catholic family. One evening in the early 1970s, when Jonathan was about six years old and his brother about eight, Father Simmons dropped round for dinner. While Jonathan’s mother was in the kitchen preparing the meal, the priest sat both boys on his knee and fondled their genitals.

A month or so later there was a similar incident, also in the family home. In a written statement, Jonathan told the Commission ‘After this last occasion both my brother and I were confused and talked about it to each other. We, at the time, had no idea of sexuality or as to what was appropriate behaviour, nonetheless we felt uncomfortable about what had happened’.

From then on the boys kept watch to see when Father Simmons was coming up the driveway, ‘at which time we would run out the back door telling our Mother we were going to friends’.

After a few of these escapes, Simmons stopped visiting. By this time Jonathan’s mother had spotted what the boys were up to and questioned them about it. They told her the truth but she didn’t believe it.

‘My mother told us we must be wrong or confused as a Father of the Church would never do such a thing.’

Sometime later Father Simmons took the boys for scripture classes at their public school. After one session he took Luke with him into an ante room within the school. Jonathan recalled:

‘I waited for him. After a period of time he came out and we both went home. I remember that he was quiet and we did not talk all the way home. The next class my brother refused to attend. However, I did attend. This time after the class I was asked by Father Simmons to see him in the ante room.’

Father Simmons forced Jonathan to perform oral sex. From then on Jonathan and his brother refused to go to scripture classes and managed to avoid all contact with the priest.

In the years that followed, both boys struggled to cope with the impacts of the abuse. Both were confused about their sexuality, engaged in risky behaviours and suffered mental breakdowns.

Jonathan self-medicated with alcohol, attempted suicide at 18 and was admitted to the psych ward for several weeks. He told the Commissioner ‘I’m bipolar, plus I have acute panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder’.

Luke suffered from severe mental illness. Jonathan said ‘He spent his entire life in and out of mental health hospitals. On his 21st birthday, whilst most others would be celebrating their introduction to adulthood, my brother was receiving electric shock treatment’.

Luke died recently after a long battle with cancer. Jonathan told the Commission:

‘I cannot in my heart hold Father Simmons totally responsible for the demise of my brother, however I do with complete knowledge understand he robbed Luke of his innocence and tipped him into a life of self-torture and the onset of mental illness.’

During his brother’s struggle with cancer, Jonathan suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised. While in care he told his story to Sister Anne, a nun who was working at the hospital. It was the first time as an adult that he had disclosed the abuse to anyone.

With Sister Anne’s help, Jonathan engaged with the Church’s Towards Healing process. He received an apology from the Church and money to pay for Luke’s funeral expenses, but was disappointed with the lack of follow-up.

‘It should be re-named “Towards Nowhere” … I was never contacted by the Professional Standards Office to see how it was going or anything. In fact I had no contact with them whatsoever.’

By contrast, Jonathan has been impressed with a new restorative process that the Church representatives have been discussing with him. He said the process is focused on engaging with ‘people that are suing the Church, but not just handing them money, handing them real help, which I think is really promising’.

Jonathan told the Commissioner that he was never confirmed in the Catholic Church because he always avoided the sacrament classes which were run by Father Simmons. He is now looking forward to making his confirmation through the new restorative process.

‘Because even though this happened to me I still have strong faith. I was brought up in a very Catholic family … and I think, just because there are these evil people, I don’t think that’s a true representation of the Church. I mean, they’re at fault for allowing this to happen but I can’t say “Well, look this happened to me, there’s no God, I don’t believe”, because that’s just not who I am.’

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