‘I was grappling with my own issues with Father Bavetta and my own internal conflict between this reverence that I had for him – which really amounts to Stockholm Syndrome in some ways as my psychiatrist has said – and acknowledging the fact that what he did was wrong.’
It took a long time and many years of support for Marco to overcome this internal conflict. Only recently has he been able to look back and see that Father Bavetta’s apparent kindness towards him was part of a calculated grooming process.
It began in the 1980s when Marco was 14 and serving as an altar boy at his local Catholic church. In a written statement he described his teenage self as a shy, polite boy who craved love and attention and ‘enjoyed the comfort the church gave me and the closeness of the Holy Spirit when I was participating in church services’.
Father Bavetta was a new arrival to the parish. He quickly began spending time with Marco, helping him with his homework and taking him away on holidays with other boys. He elevated Marco’s position at the church, entrusting him with responsibilities that were normally reserved for adults. Marco felt proud and empowered.
He was 15 at the time of the first assault. One summer’s day he was visiting the presbytery when Father Bavetta suggested they both strip down to their underwear to cope with the heat. The priest then hugged Marco and got him to lie down in the bed while he took his ‘siesta’. On the bed the hugging continued and caused Marco to get an erection. There was no other touching.
‘I vividly remember that afterwards I had the biggest pain in my groin and was in tears in pain, shock and embarrassment as I walked home.’
Some months later the abuse escalated. ‘By now, he used his power of persuasion to force me to completely undress for him and, feeling under his control, I would reluctantly succumb.’ Father Bavetta then kissed and fondled Marco.
From then on Marco became ‘sullen and withdrawn’ at school. Several of his teachers tried to ask him what was going on but Marco could never reveal his ‘terrible, repulsive secret’.
His relationship with Father Bavetta became increasingly complex and confusing. In his statement Macro described how the priest manipulated him by playing him off against a fellow altar boy named Shane, whom Marco suspects was also abused.
‘He took turns in making each of us feel important, and giving each of us special privileges. … This made me jealous, and in my naivety, I thought that he “loved” Shane more than me.’
There was a third assault when Marco was 16 and a fourth when he was 18. This last incident was interrupted when Shane walked in. ‘I remember the shock horror look on Shane’s face, his rage and his jealousy, as he gasped and slammed the bedroom door behind him as he left.’
Despite what he’d seen, Shane remained a ‘fierce protector’ of Father Bavetta and threatened to harm Marco if he ever reported the priest. Marco, meanwhile, began to distance himself from the Church. He was so disgusted with Bavetta’s sermon one Sunday that he got up and left and did not attend another mass for many, many years.
But he still felt a strong sympathy for the priest. In the mid-1990s Bavetta was accused of sexually assaulting a man named Frank who was another of Marco’s peers. Marco felt angry at Frank for bringing the case. He made excuses for Bavetta’s behaviour, such as, ‘It’s not his fault that the Catholic Church won’t allow him to marry’ and ‘Everyone needs some love in their life, even Catholic priests’.
A few years later Marco suffered a mental breakdown and commenced a program of medication and psychiatric care. He kept the abuse secret, however, and continued to see Father Bavetta.
‘I felt that if I stopped seeing him, he would get suspicious that I was reporting him to the police or the Catholic Church. Due to my perception of fear, I didn’t want to get into a position where he or Shane would dispute me, or for things to become public; to embarrass my family or myself.’
Finally in the late 2000s he cut off all contact with the priest. Since then he has disclosed the abuse to his psychiatrist and come to accept that he was the victim of a crime that had a profound effect on his physical and mental health.
‘Psychologically I have obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues and recurring suicidal thoughts … My personality has also changed where I have now become a loner, lack social skills within group environments.’
Marco’s physical problems include type 2 diabetes, headaches, nausea and insomnia. He said, ‘I believe many of these conditions are manifestations of dealing with these sexual assaults and the long term use of antidepressants’.
He’s also suffered significant financial harm in the form of lost wages. At the time of his session with the Royal Commission, Marco had raised these issues with the Catholic Church and was continuing negotiations.
‘It’s still hanging over my shoulders, and I just want it over and done with. In fact my psychologist in his last report … said “A lot of Marco’s psychological issues and the fact that he can’t move on with his life is due to the fact that these outstanding issues are still outstanding, and whilst they’re still outstanding he can’t concentrate on getting himself better”.’