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Justin James's story

‘There’s the event which happened a long time ago, all of that, but it’s the way that the Church … dealt with me and dealt with me coming forward. To me, it’s as bad as the actual original abuse. It’s like re-abusing me again.’

Justin was born into a family who were ‘card-carrying members of the Catholic Church’. In the mid-60s he was sent to a Catholic primary school, where he struggled to adjust.

‘I got strapped basically every second day. That was all they did. It was just a constant physical abuse … I saw a Brother dangle a kid by his ankles out the window. They threw things at you, dusters, rulers.’

Justin coped by withdrawing into himself, and putting his energy into other things. At the age of 10, he joined a cadets group. The group leader lived in the same street and regularly invited him to his house, where he sexually assaulted him. Justin said he had no idea of anything sexual at the time and didn’t understand that anything was wrong.

The family moved to Melbourne and Justin was sent as a day boy to a private Catholic school – the same school his father had attended.

‘The first week I was fine and then, because I didn’t get into a group, I was bullied from that time right through till Form 3 … Without going into the long-winded story, it was bad.’

To avoid the bullies, Justin spent lunchtimes hanging around with his older brother, or one of the priests, Father Edwards.

‘He was very friendly to me … and I became quite close to him. He was sort of, you know, great. If I hang around with him, the boys leave me alone. And then one of the boarders … out of the blue he comes up to me in the play-yard and he goes “Watch out for Edwards, he’s a poofter” and then walks off.’

Justin felt he’d had a lucky escape and avoided Edwards after that.

He continued to serve as an altar boy at his local church and was a member of the choir. There was a young priest there, Stephen Hart, who Justin thought was ‘quite groovy’. He was 13 by this time.

‘Essentially, he groomed me. You know, friendly, very encouraging. “You’re wonderful. You’re great, fantastic” … So there was always constant praising.’

He invited Justin into the presbytery, a place Justin thought was a ‘no-go area’, and played records for him.

‘It was like going, “I’m really special”. I’m thinking it’s because of the work that I’m doing that I’m getting into this part of the church. Like, I’m getting closer to God almost.’

Hart continued to give Justin special treatment. One night they went for a long drive out to the seminary. The priest took him into a room and introduced him to three men he said were seminarians, who were only in their underwear.

Justin said he was shocked and knew straight away things were not right. The men all talked about how cute he was, then two other men came into the room and Justin started protesting that he wanted to leave. Hart let Justin out of the room but then took him to another part of the building, on the pretence of giving him a tour, and raped him.

‘I had God raping me – in my mind, that’s what I’m thinking … He said, “We’re not going until this is done”. So I’m just thinking “Well, this is the only way … then I can get home”. That’s it.’

Hart drove them back in silence. Justin was frightened he’d get in trouble with his parents, so he said nothing to them. He did not tell anybody for many years.

A few months after the rape, another priest at school punished Justin for something trivial with a severe caning. Afterwards he apologised for hurting Justin and rubbed his hands across his buttocks and fondled his genitals.

‘So now I’m thinking, “Hang on. There’s Hart. There’s Edwards. I can’t trust any of them”. That was it. So I stayed away from all the priests … I stopped going to church.’

The bullying continued and, with his father’s response that he should just stand up to them, Justin felt there was nobody he could turn to. He started shutting down, his grades tanked and he barely scraped through his final year.

In the early 2000s Justin walked out his door one morning and said goodbye to his wife, with the intention of ending his life. Thanks to his wife’s questioning, he went instead to his GP and, without disclosing the abuse, started treatment for his state of mind. One day he read a media article about a victim of child sexual abuse.

‘As I was reading it, if you took the name out and put my name in, that was me, because he was describing how he felt, what he was thinking, what he was feeling. And then at the end of the article it said “If you’ve suffered, if you’ve been a victim of clergy abuse, you’re going to need help”. And I thought “Yes”.’

Justin contacted a survivor support group and later reported Hart to the police, who he found extremely positive and helpful. Hart was investigated and convicted of sex offences against several children, including Justin.

Justin has fought the Church for a number of years now on various legal fronts and he said, putting aside the monetary cost, there is a huge personal cost. He’s an ordinary person, but he feels he must fight.

‘If I don’t say something, people are going to die. They’re killing people … You know, it’s really hard. And I know it’s hard for me, so it must be hard for others and I know they’re suffering. So that’s why I fought to try and bring it out.’

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