Even as a small boy, Kev was not afraid to speak out about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a Catholic priest, Father Forsythe. Kev reported the priest’s behaviour to his mother, the parish nuns, the bishop and others, but none of it did him any good.
The abuse took place in a small New South Wales town in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kev’s family arrived in the town when he was seven. At his new school, Kev felt like ‘a square peg in a round hole’. At home he endured the trauma of watching his alcoholic father beating his mother. He needed a safe place, and so he ended up at the church.
‘The church was sort of like a haven where I felt safe’, he told the Commissioner. ‘Father Forsythe was an adult male in my life that wasn’t abusive, at least in the early times. He wasn’t abusive like my parents were.’
At Forsythe’s suggestion Kev became an altar boy. This was a great source of pride for him and gave a huge boost to his self-esteem. But this, on top of his volatile home life, left him vulnerable to Forsythe's gradual grooming process.
‘I remember him in the room, consoling me, hugging me and saying it would be all all right. “What’s been going on at home?” You know, “You can come here, you can tell me about it”. Things like that.
'And in that room he was fondling me. That’s the word I know now to be what he was doing. He was touching me. I didn’t see anything being wrong, to start with. It was like someone cared for me, someone cared about me.’
The abuse continued for the next few years, gradually escalating to the point where Forsythe was exposing himself to Kev and getting Kev to touch him. At around age nine, Kev realised that the priest’s behaviour was wrong. This was when he started to speak out.
He reported Forsythe’s behaviour to a woman who sewed robes for the altar boys. He told a visiting bishop that Forsythe had been touching him. Several times he heard the bishop telling Forsythe that ‘this can’t keep going’.
Unfortunately it did keep going. By the time Kev was 13 he had reported the abuse to half a dozen or so people – and nothing had changed.
The only person who seemed to take Kev’s reports seriously was Forsythe himself. ‘He was angry at me. He said, “This is between us. You’ll be punished for this. And this is your punishment: you’re no longer on the altar anymore”.’
Kev was removed from his post as an altar boy. Sometime later, at about age 14, he stopped going to church altogether and this brought the abuse to an end. By this stage he was feeling angry and resentful. He quit school and started work. At age 15 he started using alcohol to ‘block stuff out’. Alcoholism dominated his life for the next 30 years.
Unlike the little boy he once was, the adult Kev didn’t talk about the abuse. Worse than that, as he got older he found that he couldn’t talk about it even when he wanted to.
‘It’s like I’m talking about a problem but no one can understand what I’m talking about. I can’t understand sometimes how my head – I can’t decipher the information. I don’t know how to put it into words. How do you put an emotion into words?’
This unnamed, uncontrollable emotion infected Kev’s mind until he couldn’t bear it anymore.
‘I have severe trouble getting out of bed. I don’t like to be around people. Smells trigger me, suicide seems like a real good thing. I’ve tried it twice. I took a shitload of tablets once, on top of alcohol … They ended up taking me to hospital and I woke up in intensive care. I just went, “Shit. Didn’t work”.’
That was 10 years ago. Kev hasn’t attempted to take his life since then but the idea still crosses his mind. ‘It’s the one card that I can pull out any time. It’s just like, I’m so over it. I’m just so over it. So over living with this bullshit in my head.’
In the past few years Kev has had several breakthroughs. He became a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and managed to get his drinking under control. Then a friend from AA put him onto a counsellor whom he spoke to about the abuse. ‘He said the three words that I’ve been looking for all my life: “I believe you”.’
The counsellor then referred him to a psychiatrist who was also helpful. ‘He said that I’ve got post-traumatic stress as a direct result of sexual abuse. That was the second time that someone had actually heard me.’
Now with these milestones behind him, Kev is hoping to go back to what he started as a little boy and try once more to report the abuse. He assumes that Father Forsythe is dead so he’s looking into the possibility of making an official claim against the Catholic Church, hoping that this time someone will listen.