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Kelsey's story

When Kelsey pedalled home on his bicycle to tell his parents he had just been molested by Father Michael Culloch they were sceptical.

Both were teachers in the Catholic school system.

Kelsey was aged 13, in Year 9 and attending a Catholic boarding school as a day student during the 1980s. Father Culloch was the Salesian priest in charge of overseeing Kelsey’s homework that day.

As his mother explained years later, she was ‘a bit in half-disbelief, half-shock’ and ‘couldn’t quite comprehend what was going on’, Kelsey told the Royal Commission.

Decades on, a jury believed a group of former Salesian-educated boys who testified about Father Culloch’s sexual abuse. The priest was eventually jailed for more than a decade.

‘We all sort of knew who the creeps were in the school as far as the Brothers and Fathers go … so we sort of knew that these priests were a bit dodgy,’ Kelsey explained. ‘So being in his [Culloch’s] office after school hours when everyone had left the premises you feel a bit vulnerable.’

After several attempts to explain to his parents about Father Culloch - who ‘acted as if he was the cool Father’ by offering boys cigarettes and goodies from his drawer, including money - ‘I sort of knew where it was headed’ that day.

The priest suggested Kelsey sit in his chair at the computer then leaned over to peruse Kelsey’s homework.

‘At the same time he was leaning over he was obviously rubbing up and down’, Kelsey said. He described how Father Culloch had then ‘grabbed’ his penis just as he tried to stand and escape.

Kelsey fled the room, and left for home.

After telling his parents ‘the school had then rung my parents and said that I was basically the devil child. I’d been making stuff up’.

After a meeting that may have included Father Culloch and two other priests, ‘they basically expelled me’, Kelsey said. ‘That was it.’

There was no other investigation and Father Culloch continued there for years.

Afterwards, at his next non-Catholic school, Kelsey quickly became involved with the wrong crowd and took drugs. Before long he was sent interstate to another boarding school but dropped out in Year 10. For some years he couch-surfed and abused marijuana and speed.

‘Whether that would have happened if Father Culloch hadn’t been involved, well, of course not', Kelsey mused. ‘I would have stayed of course at [the school]. My marks had proven at that stage I was very, very good at my work. I was a good student. I didn’t have any trouble.’

By 21, Kelsey ‘was going that way’ of some molested children who abuse drugs and wind up in jail. A friend overdosed and two friends who’d also attended his school suicided.

Kelsey decided to finish his schooling by correspondence and he later attained a university degree. He lived overseas for a long while, partly estranged from his family who he, as an ‘angry teen’, felt had not supported him. Nowadays he can understand the situation.

‘Hindsight’s a wonderful thing', he said explaining that when Father Culloch was first convicted in the 1990s ‘my Mum actually came down to visit me and broke down into tears and said, “Look, I understand now that you were telling the truth”. It was a bit of an emotional time’.

Later, in 2010, Kelsey rang talk-back radio for the first time after hearing George Pell speaking. ‘I was in my car, raging, so I rang and I got through!’

‘I basically said it was laughable that the Catholic schooling system can completely deny this [child sexual abuse] is happening.'

After he finished, a police officer came on the line. Kelsey later gave a statement and joined what became several prosecutions against Father Culloch.

Kelsey was contacted by Towards Healing but when hints were thrown at restitution of about $1,500 he said: ‘I’m not interested in any money at all. It’s beyond that.’

He has suffered depression throughout his life and been treated successfully with Zoloft and cognitive behavioural therapy. He is not in need of counselling at present.

Recently he joined a class action against his former school.

He was angered during the criminal justice process as the prosecution spent several years lurching between group and individual trials which ultimately ended with an acquittal for Father Culloch on the case relating to Kelsey.

During one of the hearings, he noted the priest sporting ‘a smartass grin and I just wanted to smack it off his head, I’ll tell you’.

He was also angered by the selective nature of the court process which allowed Father Culloch’s previous conviction to be hidden from the jury, despite its importance as a trigger for action by Kelsey’s mother. Some of Kelsey’s poor behaviour was aired in court by the Culloch’s defence team ‘to make out that I was a horrible child at school and I was just doing this as a revenge tactic’.

‘So really, the police were good, the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] were good. It was just the court process … that’s when it just became all messy’, Kelsey said.

‘It’s hard … Just stuff – that I personally thought that I dealt with but obviously I haven’t – [being] brought up in court. It’s unnerving. Sitting in front of 12 complete strangers having to talk about this stuff is not [good].’

Compared to others he knows who have been involved in the criminal justice system who ‘are in a real bad way’, Kelsey ‘would like to think that I’m an exception to the case’.

A former altar boy who is now an atheist, Kelsey feels that with a supportive wife, children, living near the beach and running his own company, ‘I am very blessed’.

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