Father Brian Aloysius Dalgety groomed Lennon’s devout Catholic family who lived in a rural area of Victoria during the 1980s and 1990s.
The priest, who had been moved on from a previous parish, followed the practice of his predecessor in the small Victorian town by dropping in for dinner frequently, his keen interest in the very subjects that Lennon and his parents were interested in always apparent.
Looking back, Lennon said it was ‘almost textbook. There was a real patience there as well and a deviousness … in the way the family was rounded up’.
His parents, Vince, a former altar boy from a strict Catholic heritage and Aleah, who converted to Catholicism after their marriage because it was ‘warm and fuzzy’, agreed.
‘We bear the deep scars, resentment and bitterness, having to ponder the fact a predator groomed us and entered into our inner family sanctum where we thought our children were safe and secure’. Vince said during a private session at the Royal Commission that he and his wife attended, separately from their son.
Lennon was a bookworm and loved movies. So Dalgety invited Lennon to see his book collection at the presbytery. Lennon was about 15.
‘Obligated and indebted’ due to the priest’s interest in what mattered to him, he felt he could not say no, according to documents before the Royal Commission.
There followed many occasions when Lennon stayed the night at the presbytery, ostensibly to see the book collection or for a video night – to which no one else had been invited. He was always dropped off ‘after tea’ by a parent. They thought ‘the opportunity for Lennon to experience what he loved to do with the security of our parish priest to be comforting’, Vince said.
But touching and masturbation ensued, always initiated by Dalgety and always rebuffed by Lennon. Despite Lennon’s outright fear and his many attempts to say he felt uncomfortable, or it didn’t feel right or he didn’t want to get into bed with the priest, Dalgety ignored his protests and continued to do what he wanted, whether it was climbing on top of him or taking a photo.
The boy had trouble getting the much bigger priest off him. As he struggled, he was told ‘that in God’s eyes it was okay’, documents before the Royal Commission revealed. The abuse was a ‘power and control’ situation, Lennon felt.
Unable to tell his devout parents, Lennon drifted through jobs after school and was never able to be himself, always turning any situation into a joke, while on the inside he was ‘sad’.
His parents think of him as ‘strong character’ but Lennon said that, once the abuse began, ‘I became guarded and emotionally introverted … I didn’t want people close to me’.
About a decade after it ended and Dalgety had been moved again to another parish, a news item about child sexual abuse was broadcast when Lennon came for a family dinner.
Aleah: ‘I happened to turn and look at it [on the television]. And I just said, “That happened to you, didn’t it Lennon, with Father Dalgety?”’
When Lennon did not give a straight answer, Aleah visited him the following afternoon and found him not yet dressed.
‘I said, “Lennon, I’m so sorry”. I said, “I don’t know where that came from”. And he looked at me and he said, “No, Mum, you were right”.’
After a period of counselling, Lennon approached the police but the initial police response was fairly tepid. He learned later this was because the police simply did not know what to do with such allegations at the time. He tried a second time and fortunately a sympathetic police officer took charge.
Around this time Lennon also had his first consensual sexual experience which sent him ‘into a tailspin for about six months’. ‘Everything was going crazy and wild. It wasn’t the fact that it was having an experience … it was the horrible emotional stuff that came up as a result of this stuff. It’s taken a long time since to get that under control.’
Aleah also reported Lennon’s abuse to the local bishop who did not sympathise or apologise, but simply referred her to the Towards Healing process. During that, Lennon says, his family was simply ‘ground down’ to accept a $40,000 lump sum and the authorities lied to him. He feels cheated by the unfair system and is considering further legal action.
Dalgety, whom the Church falsely and repeatedly denied had ever been mentioned in relation to child sexual abuse, was eventually convicted after a guilty plea in the 2000s.
No one from the Church supported the family during the court case – in which Lennon’s parents and siblings all heard for the first time the detail of Dalgety’s molestations.
‘We had our family, that’s what we had’, Vince said of support for Lennon and the secondary victims of Dalgety’s abuse – Lennon’s immediate family and their families now through the generations.
Said Lennon, ‘It became quite apparent that they [Church officials] were lying. They’re full of rubbish and were continuing to try and pull the wool over our eyes, even then when faced with a smoking gun’.
That included unearthed Church files that indicated Dalgety had always been a problem around children from the time he was ordained in the 1970s.
Dalgety served 12 months in jail for offences against Lennon and another boy. Not included in the charges was another victim the family knew, from contact with his mother, who had killed herself.
The impact of the abuse has been far-reaching for Lennon.
‘Sex was – and still can be to me – quite revolting.’ And relationships are ‘always difficult … sometimes I feel like I’m on a freight train from hell’.
‘The people that chose to be your friends and your significant others – they take on a lot.’
Both Vince and Aleah retain a strong Christian faith, ‘just not the [man-made institution of the] Catholic faith’, Aleah said, thanks to the cover-up of Dalgety’s abuse.
‘I’ve broken all ties with the Catholic Church’, Vince told the Commissioner, to the point of not entering the church building, where Dalgety served, for the funeral of a relative.
The bishops ‘think they’re above it all’, he said – one in particular who continually moved Dalgety around parishes, including overseas, and ‘caused us untold grief which will haunt me for the rest of my life’.
Vince related how that bishop, ‘knowing Brian Dalgety to be an abuser, sent him into our midst to continue offending. This same bishop confirmed our children by putting his hand on their heads while his other hand took away their innocence by assigning this priest into our parish and our family’.
That bishop ‘caused all that’ while with ‘one stroke of the pen he could have stopped the lot’.