Leonard John's story

In the mid 1970s, when Leonard was in his mid-teens, he was sexually assaulted by Reverend Gillem, the minister from his Presbyterian church in Sydney. It happened in a social setting, away from the church, and it took Leonard completely by surprise.

‘He undressed and followed me into my shower cubicle. He then insisted that I should wash his genitals with soap to get them really clean. I was very frightened, confused and shocked and did as he told me to. He also washed my genitals. I was horrified and disgusted. After the shower I felt physically ill.’

Gillem asked Leonard to meet him several times after that but Leonard always refused and his mother got angry at him for being rude. He couldn’t tell her why as he felt too ashamed.

‘I felt very confronted by having to listen to Reverend Gillem preach in church and having to shake his hand when leaving the church after the services he took. I still feel sick at the memory of this. He would grasp my hand for a long time. I also felt angry and confused because I thought I should be able to forgive him, but did not.’

Leonard kept the assault to himself until he was in his early 20s and started working as a volunteer youth coordinator for the Church. He became very worried about Gillem still having access to young people and he disclosed to two of his friends’ parents – one was the lead minister of the parish and the other was a minister who ran a counselling service in the parish.

At the time, Leonard thought he was the only person Gillem had abused.

Leonard said the ministers ‘sort of tried’ to help him work through what had happened, but at no time did they talk of contacting the police.

‘I was feeling guilty that I couldn’t bring myself to forgive him. Then I was told that I needed to forgive him for my own spiritual development.’

The two ministers spoke to Gillem. Gillem denied the allegation, but also promised nothing like it would happen again during his last few years of service, and he was moved away from working with young people. At around this time Leonard told his parents what had happened and they persuaded him not to go to the police because of the potential impact of a court case on his reputation – and theirs.

A few years later, Leonard told his old friend David about the abuse. David revealed Gillem had abused him too, in an almost identical manner. David also said he had been told Gillem had abused a boy in the mid 50s.

Not long after, a boy Leonard and David both knew died in a vehicle collision. Leonard said the boy’s sister suspected it was suicide and after talking to her he said he was almost certain the boy had also been sexually assaulted by Gillem – everything about his story was exactly the same. Gillem came out of retirement to conduct the funeral.

‘Gillem conducted his service and talked about how the boy was a very good friend of his and we all felt disgusted.’

Leonard went back to the Church in the mid-1980s and complained that nothing had been done. The more senior ministers he spoke to this time said they hadn’t ever heard of his case. Yet Leonard has documented evidence that the Church had his information, as well as information on a number of other victims.

‘I sort of assumed that it had been passed forward to them and that the Church had dealt with it … but I was wrong.’

Following these meetings, Gillem was directed to see a psychiatrist but at no time did anyone refer his actions to the police. He died about 10 years later.

‘I wish that there had been a police report made in 1979 or 1955, because if it had been made in 1955 it’s very unlikely I would have been abused. It’s had a major impact on my life. And if I had reported it or my parents or the Church, other people would not have been affected. And it is the possibility that one person suicided as a result of this.

‘I think the response by the Church was manifestly inadequate, but then so was my own. And I think that what I would like from this is that Churches … have a process of mandatory reporting which includes reports to the police or the legal system.

‘I’m not sure still that this Church or other Churches or other institutions are aware that if they know about a possible crime and [have a] strong suspicion, that they have an obligation to report it. I’m not even confident that it’s in their guidelines.

‘That’s what I really would like to come out of this Commission. That it is made very clear that institutions need to report crimes when they are aware of them. That finding out this kind of thing involves a responsibility for future victims as well as present victims … I think I would have been much better served by going through the court process, even as it was at the time … I mean, it may have damaged me, but other people would not have suffered.’

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