Keith came to the Commission with a bag full of documents and a long history of fighting for justice.
He was sexually abused by Father Tim Ward when he was a boarder at a school run by the Salesian Brothers in Victoria. It was the mid-1960s and conditions for the boys in their dormitories were spartan. ‘All we had was a little one drawer and a locker. And we had to keep our whole life in that locker.’
It was explained to Keith that Father Ward was sick and that the younger boys had to help him up to his room. But Ward was not sick, he was ‘absolutely blind drunk’. He sexually abused Keith every night after school, when he was supposedly on gardening duty with him. There was no one else around at all.
Keith kept running away from the college, unsuccessfully.
‘By the time I got home they'd be – the priest would be sitting on the couch waiting for me because I would catch the train and the tram and ... by the time I got to my place, oh, Mum's there with the priest and I'm an insolent boy and “We'll take him back to the school again now”.’
Keith was also raped at a summer camp run by the Salesians before he started at the college.
‘I never saw anybody, I was held down on the bed and raped from behind … Trust me, I was a little bloke. A little bloke, you know?’
His abusers took off when they heard people coming. Keith was taken to hospital, bleeding from the rectum and hysterical. He was sent home with the explanation ‘Food poisoning and/or reaction to injection’.
Keith’s bowel was permanently damaged by the sexual abuse he suffered at the summer camp and the college.
Years later, in the early 2000s, he was running a business and doing pretty well. One day a story in the paper caught his eye. It turned out that Father Ward was alive and well and living in Polynesia.
‘It slammed me against the wall at the time to think this man was still alive. I assumed he was dead and gone. My image of him at school way back then was of an old man.’
Keith walked away from his business and his family and started his campaign to get Father Ward back to Australia.
‘There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t done something about it.’
His first port of call was to talk to a solicitor who told him, ‘All we can do is sue them’. Keith wasn't interested. He thought ‘all I need do is convince them, the Catholic Church, that Ward was an abuser. Not quite that simple’.
Keith ended up at a Centacare counter, asking to speak with a senior staff member. Centacare took down his statement about being sexually abused but baulked at the term ‘anal rape’. Keith refused to change it.
He later received a call from Father Greenwood, the head of the Salesians, who requested that Keith see a psychologist before he proceeded any further.
Keith was encouraged by this and did as he suggested.
He then went into mediation with Father Greenwood and Father O’Connor from the Salesians. He wasn’t allowed to have a support person even though the Salesians had their solicitor with them. The solicitor wasn’t introduced to Keith, who discovered who he was by accident.
‘I was originally greeted with, “We believe you completely. Another victim of Ward preceded you”, etc, etc.’
Then things became adversarial.
‘The whole thing, mediation, Towards Healing was a total screaming fight by the time we got to the last meetings.’
They told Keith they had no intention of bringing Ward back.
‘[Father Greenwood] told me that it was impossible for himself to speak with Ward about my abuse … as my abuse occurred before the other victims' abuse occurred … and Ward had been given confession based on that later abuse. And so Ward had been absolved of that earlier sin against me and therefore Greenwood, as his confessor, couldn't speak to him about his earlier abuse. Confessional crap only a Catholic would understand.’
Before his last session with Towards Healing, Keith found out by chance that Father Ward was actually back in Australia. He was living in the priests’ residence with Father O’Connor.
Keith had been lied to the entire time. He was furious. He now didn’t mind horse trading. The Salesians asked how much he wanted.
‘I said, "I want $666,000" … They wanted to know how I arrived at that number, of course, the first question they asked. So I just worked it out, I think, on six bucks for every time that I pooed me pants, you know?’
Keith’s long campaign against the Salesians has cost him his first marriage and his career. CASA, the Centre Against Sexual Assault, has been his only real support.
He is now on a disability pension. Father Ward has since died.
Keith raised strong concerns with the Commissioner about the Salesians’ expansion into developing countries where they can have unfettered access to children and where laws and procedures are lax.
He told the Commission, ‘You’re the guys at risk now … I mean that too. It washes off’.