‘I think the school’s policy was to send parents to this priest for counselling. See, I was sent to him for counselling, so somehow my mother worked out that he would be the best counsellor. Which was ironic, wasn’t it?’
Lyall grew up with Catholic parents and was an only child. His father came from a strong Irish-Catholic background and was ‘locked in the 50s’, while his mother, though strict, was a more independent thinker. She’d always told Lyall to tell the truth, so in 1968 he did and told her he was gay.
‘My mother when I told her said, “You can have electric shock therapy” – I was about 16 or 17 – “or go to the church”. So I thought the church would be easier. And then he blackmailed me, you know, “If we sleep together, I’ll go and tell your mother you’re straight”. That was the deal.
'Then he took me in for Easter, which was most unusual; my mother wasn’t that trusting of priests. He said, “I’ll take your son over for Easter and straighten him out”, which was more sex in his mother’s house.’
Father Joyner was a popular parish priest in Melbourne - ‘a showman’ who was ‘very clever with words’. He gave Lyall alcohol and cigarettes, and ‘used a lot of charm’ when alone with him. He came to the family home for dinner and ‘seduced’ Lyall’s parents. ‘I saw him as some sort of nurturer’, Lyall said. ‘He was probably only 10 years older than me.’
Joyner sexually assaulted Lyall over the four days of Easter ‘between two services – the nine and 11’. The priest used the same tactic on two other boys that Lyall was aware of: blackmailing them and then reassuring their parents their sons weren’t gay. Lyall one day asked Joyner what God would think about what he was doing, and the priest replied, ‘God understands true love’.
Lyall began to struggle academically, and lost his religion. He began drinking heavily at 17 and told the Commissioner that he still drinks too much. At 19, he was driving one day when he thought about killing himself. ‘You can’t honestly say that was a result of the abuse. It might be’, he said.
Lyall disclosed the abuse to his mother when he was 23, saying ‘You know that priest, Mum? I slept with him’. His mother believed him and stopped going to church for six months.
As an adult, Lyall found out he was adopted. He said that although he’d had issues with his adoptive parents, he remained grateful to them for taking him out of the orphanage and giving him a good life. He’d tried hard to be a good son and nursed his father for 10 years before his death. However, his parents could never accept that he was gay and wouldn’t allow him to be involved in the family business. They were friendly towards his long-term partner, David, but didn’t acknowledge the relationship.
David came with Lyall to the Royal Commission. He said he thought the falling numbers of priests within the Catholic Church was at least partly a reflection of the influence of the gay liberation movement over past decades.
‘Before gay liberation we were a despised race’, David said. ‘And the only way you could have respectability and power and to be a single man was to become a priest. So it was a path to power, influence and comfort, rather than just being a poor lonely gay.
' If you’re a man over 25, you suddenly became suspicious; whereas if you are a priest you weren’t. Because why did the vocations suddenly fall away? … Suddenly it became half-respectable to be gay. You didn’t have to join a religious order to remain single and not be suspicious.
‘When I grew up the word [gay] was never mentioned. There was no such thing. You were a deviant and you were mentally ill, so it had come a long way from the 50s by the 70s, and I don’t know exactly when the priest numbers fell away, but it seemed to correlate with the two. That’s just my theory.’
In 2014, Lyall reported the abuse to Victoria Police. He was told that his age at the time it occurred raised ‘consent issues’, but police officers took his statement and referred him to the Royal Commission.
The things that helped Lyall to lead a fulfilling life were the presence of David, his university study, and the respect he had had for his parents, particularly his mother who ‘had a fabulous mind’.
‘It really affected her this thing with me, cause she got dementia and her dying words were, “Must apologise for that phase of your life. We didn’t understand it”. And so she only knew David as a friend – she never really enjoyed life with us. I had separate lives, as lots of gays do in those days.’
Lyall also said that ‘I have lost my religion, but then I understand that. I get angry at the Church now. Yeah. It sounds awful but I reckon a lot of people suffer that.’