‘In the second last year in primary school I was asked to be an altar boy which, at that time back in the early 60s, was a real privilege ... There was a young priest appointed as an assistant parish priest, Father Reg Balyn, so obviously I came into contact with him.’
Balyn started taking the altar boys on outings, sometimes swimming or shooting near their town in country New South Wales.
‘I’m not sure of the first … if the abuse started at one of those outings or whether it could’ve been in the church sacristy. You used to have to go and get changed in there, or put the altar robes over your normal clothes. So anyway, at some stage it started. The abuse was, I guess, at the lower end of the scale …
‘But his hand went down my trousers and he was fondling my genitals. He was behind me and holding me quite tightly … I could feel that he was aroused. And this went on for, it didn’t just last a few minutes, it was quite a while. But I couldn’t move, you know, he was quite a strong man.
‘I knew it was wrong, I didn’t want to, you know, participate in it in any way … I just wanted it to stop. That happened in the sacristy quite a few times.
‘On subsequent occasions it would happen, there could be four or five other boys standing around. That was one of the hardest things, that they were standing there watching while it was happening.
‘At the time I was sort of ashamed. Didn’t really want to talk about it or discuss it. I never told anybody at the time because it would’ve broken my mother’s heart, I think. She was a strict Catholic and the priest was, you know, up on a pedestal to be admired, and they couldn’t do anything wrong in her eyes.’
‘She’s still alive, my mother, but I’ve never told her.’
The sexual abuse stopped at the end of Year 6, when Kerr went away to boarding school, but it has always been in the back of his mind.
Kerr didn’t say much about his adult life. He tried to hold on to his faith, and became a husband and father. His wife, June, who came with him to the Royal Commission, said that she’d always wondered why he couldn’t bear to be touched. Kerr also had anger issues which, in his late 40s, became increasingly worse.
‘There was a lot of publicity about this sort of thing … It was in the papers, on television, it was everywhere. It used to upset me, you know, some of the Church responses. They got quite dismissive and, just trying to make out that it hadn’t happened. I know, just in one country town, that it happened not just to me, to a number of boys. And I thought, well, that’s one town, there must have been a lot of it going on.’
Kerr only ever spoke about the abuse to his brother many years before. However, as more survivors came forward, he decided to tell June and to also report Balyn to the Church. He didn’t go to the police because he knew the priest was dead.
After a meeting where he received sympathy but nothing else, Kerr went to his solicitors. A lawsuit wasn’t possible due to the statute of limitations, but they did help him get in touch with the Church’s Towards Healing process.
‘I didn’t find it a very rewarding experience. I thought they considered me a threat or something … I just thought the whole process, I suppose the word “ingenuous” would be a word that would describe the whole affair.’
When Kerr met with a representative of Towards Healing, he discovered that they were ‘well aware’ of Balyn. ‘He had offended after this, down in other parishes where he’d been moved to ... much more serious offences occurred, where he was moved on … I think that was the way the Church handled those sort of complaints in those days.’
After two years of trying to get some kind of response, Kerr was offered a settlement. A written apology, which he described as ‘just a piece of paper at the end of the day’; six sessions of counselling; and a charitable donation by the diocese, in the amount of their choice.
‘They said that was an exceptional thing for them to do, to donate to a charity.’
Kerr thinks it was ‘probably best’ he wasn’t told the amount of the Church’s donation. He also had to ‘chase them down’ to pay for the counselling. When Kerr spoke with the Commissioner, he was seeing a psychologist and paying for it himself.
Even though he doesn’t know how to gauge the impact of the abuse on his life, he knows that the impact is always there. He wonders if telling someone about it at the time would’ve made a difference.
‘I don’t know whether I would’ve been believed in that era. A small boy’s word against a priest … Obviously, that would’ve helped, I guess, but I don’t know what the consequences for me would’ve been. It was considered a big privilege to go to a boarding school in 1965 … Football and cricket and all the things that a boy my age wanted to do. I suppose all that would’ve been in jeopardy if I’d told.’
Kerr and June have recently heard about the idea of a national compensation scheme for abuse survivors. They believe such a thing is very important, but that it must be completely independent of the Church and other institutions. Otherwise, June said, ‘that’s like complaining to the boss about the boss. How can you ever get any satisfaction?’