Kenn's story

‘He was a very handsome, very charismatic man ... like, he never threatened me. He didn’t have to.’

In the mid-1960s, Kenn was in his early teens and attending a Catholic school in Sydney’s northern suburbs. There he met Father Milton Rance, a priest from the diocese who came to hear confession from the students.

When they were alone, Rance claimed to have been a doctor and asked to inspect Kenn’s genitals, ‘to make sure I was developing alright’.

‘He smelt of alcohol, tobacco, sweat; he was obviously excited … We arranged that I would go to the church … my local church, I think it was at the end of the week and I would meet him after mass.

‘And there was the beginnings, of what I remember of the beginnings, of an assault on the grounds of “an inspection”.

‘And there was digital penetration, and there was sort of generally touching of body parts and so on ... He gave me a drink, I was offered chips or something, and the next thing I remember, I just remember waking up in the room in a chair. I was naked except for shoes and socks. He was sitting there quite relaxed. And further arranged that I would meet him the following Sunday after mass.’

That Sunday, Rance again raped Kenn.

‘I had no idea what was happening. Except that he was a priest and I was a parishioner … a very obedient relationship …

‘I can’t remember any contact with my parents about this at all. I can’t remember speaking to anybody about it. I think one of the things, personally for me, was the secrecy. There was so many things bought into it. The secrecy, the specialness of it.’

The next weekend, after a trip to the beach, the priest drove Kenn to Kings Cross. ‘And all that was very novel, that all kind of bought into it as well because this is all very exciting and exotic. My parents would never, you know, I’d never go there with my parents or they’d never allow me to go there.’

They went to a nearby flat where two other men were waiting. Kenn remembered Rance said something like ‘They want to inspect you, too’.

‘And at that point I just sort of, the penny dropped maybe, I don’t know, I just got annoyed and said no. Not happening. And he seemed to get annoyed at that, went off and all of a sudden three of them came back. They held me down … thinking recently, it all seemed very rehearsed. It seemed not like an out-of-the-blue occurrence. They knew where to hold me, the needle went in very quickly, it was all over very quickly.’

Kenn has a hazy memory that after being raped by the three men he was driven back to the presbytery and given a bath by the priest’s housekeeper before walking home.

Several months later, Rance suddenly left the parish. A couple of years after that, he left the priesthood.

Kenn has been dealing with the impact of the sexual abuse ever since. In a statement to the Royal Commission he wrote, ‘I started experiencing psychiatric problems in my early 20s, including nightmares about priests, hallucinations about the devil etc. I had my first admission to a mental health unit around 1970s’.

There have been further admissions since then, ‘due to depression or psychoses, the abuse figured prominently in all my presentations. I remain in counselling. I have accepted the ongoing need to take antidepressant medication’.

In the mid-1980s Kenn said he had a ‘huge breakdown’. After splitting up with his wife, he decided to approach the Church.

Kenn eventually met with a senior priest, who told him that Rance was ‘a known paedophile and a violent drunk’. He also made a statement to police. Rance was questioned, but denied the allegations and the police didn’t take it any further.

During this time, Kenn was conducting his own investigation. He found out where Rance lived and went to see him. ‘I walked in and introduced myself and he sort of jumped back.

My intention wasn’t for the communication to close down and it wasn’t my intention to get thrown out of the pub or anything. I wanted to have as many meetings with him as I could.’

Kenn wrote, ‘I didn’t confront him with the abuse and he was not forthcoming on any aspect of it’. However, Rance did say that he was volunteering at a local children’s sports club. Kenn informed the club, but doesn’t know if any action was taken. The next time he returned to the town, Rance was dead.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s Kenn had been in contact with Towards Healing, but their responses were ‘very hit and miss, ad hoc’. He described one priest he dealt with as ‘kind of like a stand-over guy’.

‘He was somebody who said, “You’ll have to live with the mess, you’re never going to get an apology, we don’t have any other complainants about [Rance]” and so on.’

In the mid-2000s, as his mental health deteriorated, Kenn approached the Church’s Professional Standards Office (PSO). He was encouraged to make another statement to Towards Healing and found out there were almost a dozen other complaints against Rance.

‘What annoys me – one of the things that annoys me – is that they knew … that I’d been engaging with the Church for the last whatever years … They could have said, “Look, put yourself out of your misery, we know your complaint’s very credible, go and do it”.’

After more meetings with Towards Healing and a Church-appointed psychologist, Kenn was asked if he wanted money. ‘It wasn’t what I was after, really. I was wanting to be able to go and sit in church without wanting to scream. That’s all I wanted.

‘It might sound a bit simplistic but my faith got me into it and my faith has got me out of it. A lot of other things have got me out of it as well but for some reason I have faith so I persevere.’

The next time Kenn met with the Professional Standards Office, the Church provided him with a support person, ‘a person who stated at that meeting she was limited in what support she could offer me as she worked for the PSO. What use is it to have a person with such a conflict of interest supporting a victim?’

In an atmosphere he described as ‘adversarial’, Kenn was warned that he would never win a court case against the Church. He was offered a small sum in compensation but later received a larger settlement, less what had to be paid to Medicare for the Church’s psychologist.

‘And that’s another criticism of the process … I wasn’t expecting that or aware of it.’

Kenn had a number of recommendations for the Royal Commission. He believes Towards Healing should have an exit survey, so the experiences of survivors can help improve the process. Independent support people should be provided, along with more information about money being taken out of settlements for Medicare, and the Church should offer ongoing pastoral support – ‘a couple of phone calls, a letter’ – to make sure survivors are okay.

Kenn wrote, ‘My impression for most of my dealings with the Church was that they cared far more about themselves, their bottom line, reputations etc, than me as a victim. It was always about risk management, theirs not mine’.

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