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Marjorie and Ethan's story

Ethan was an angry teenager. He thinks this anger was instigated by an incident that occurred when he was seven years old, at a celebration at a friend’s house after his first communion.

During the party a man who looked very upset passed Ethan in the corridor of the house, and Ethan’s ‘gut feeling warned me to stay clear of him’. As they passed each other, the man ‘picked me up and repeatedly slammed me up against the wall … The injustice of that violent action had put a destructive spirit of … murder of bad people inside of me’.

Ethan’s mother Marjorie, attended her own private session at the Royal Commission. She told the Commissioner that Ethan ‘had been diagnosed with ADHD when he was five years old’ and often reacted badly when the weather was inclement, as it was on the day of the party.

Marjorie recalled the incident, and believed it was Ethan’s behaviour that may have prompted the stranger to inappropriately attack him and another boy. Immediately after the assault, the family left the party, but took no action against the man.

Ethan’s family lived in regional New South Wales in the 1980s, and moved around a lot. When he was 11, Ethan was attending a local Catholic school and ‘had a hard time assimilating with these rural kids’.

‘I was accepted by one friend … [He] seemed to be doing the naughty things all the time, whether it was smoking, swearing, stealing, fighting or discussing sex, but I found him to be the most welcoming, and considerate child in the whole school.’

One day, ‘news had reached my ears in the playground that [my friend and another boy] were sucking each other’s dick in the toilet blocks. I didn’t want to know about it’. Ethan thinks that when the principal heard about the incident, she was mistakenly told that he was one of the boys involved.

Ethan and his friend were ordered to go and see Father Peter Wilson, an assistant priest at the nearby presbytery. They saw Wilson in his office, separately. On the first visit, Wilson asked Ethan, ‘Do you know what a penis is … Do you know what a cock is?’ Ethan replied, ‘Yes, of course’ and then asked if he could go because his school bus would be leaving soon.

When the boys were walking to the bus stop, Ethan’s friend made a joke about the ‘poof priest’ and Ethan commented, ‘Nah. He’s not. I don’t think so’.

The two boys were told to go and see Wilson a second time, and Ethan realised it must be about the incident in the toilet block, so he wanted to clear his name.

When he entered Wilson’s office, ‘I was ordered to pull my pants down … Wilson got down on his knees and took my penis in his hands and looked around it. I assumed it was an inappropriate investigation’, and he managed to leave the office.

Once he was outside, Ethan discovered that his father had come to pick him up from school that day and he told him what had happened. He’s not exactly sure what occurred between his father and Wilson.

Marjorie only learned from Ethan’s father what happened several years after the event. He told her, ‘I barged in. I had words with him and jobbed him one … Father Wilson said, “No one’s going to believe Ethan, but they’ll believe me when I report to the police that you assaulted me”’.

Although she didn’t know about the sexual assault at the time, Marjorie noticed that ‘there was a marked change in Ethan. He had become sullen and withdrawn and dejected and would have outbursts of anger. He was not sleeping well and no longer seemed to enjoy life. I feared he was suffering from clinical depression. I had no idea of the molestation’.

When Marjorie suggested that she take their son to see a paediatrician, her husband ‘became very agitated and said that there was nothing wrong with Ethan’. This was when he told Marjorie about the sexual abuse. Suddenly, things that had been occurring in their community started to make sense.

‘Father Wilson had discredited our family … People were telling us things were being said about our family … One priest … had told a friend of mine that she should have nothing to do with me … Another time, a [nun] had visited all our neighbours … to tell them to have nothing to do with [us].’

When confronted by Marjorie and her husband, both the priest and the nun denied the accusations. The nun phoned Marjorie’s friend ‘and berated her for telling me what she had done’.

Marjorie tried to enrol Ethan in a Catholic college for Years 11 and 12, and the enrolment was rejected. A letter had been sent to the college advising them that ‘it would not be in the interest of … the college, to have Ethan there, because he had a problem’.

Marjorie said one of her relatives, Gordon, who was a priest, ‘reported several instances of priests’ misconduct at a priests’ meeting and they just laughed at him and said, “Tell us something new”. One priest who was at the meeting said that Gordon got into a furious temper and told them that they were all going to Hell …’

When Ethan was 13, Marjorie took him and his siblings to stay with Gordon for a few months. ‘Gordon found Ethan hard going and Ethan showed absolute contempt and disrespect for [him] … Gordon could not help him because he knew he had an aversion to him because he was a priest.’

At the time, Ethan was convinced that Gordon ‘thought I was a homosexual, probably because of the rumours he had heard … and he took every opportunity to beat me furiously for my disrespectful behaviour’.

Despite the lack of communication, during the months the children stayed with Gordon, Ethan’s ‘attitude had improved. Must have been something Gordon was doing right’. Ethan now believes that the priest had his best interests at heart, and was trying to help him.

When his application for Years 11 and 12 was rejected, Ethan started an apprenticeship in Sydney. He was walking along the street one day when he was about 18, when a woman handed him a pamphlet. As he walked away from her she called out, ‘Jesus loves you’. This sent Ethan into a rage and he yelled at her, ‘Tell Jesus to shove it up his arse’.

The next day, Ethan experienced an epiphany, which led to his ‘belief system [being] adjusted to truth and grace and I have not considered myself any religion, but I show respect to all of them. God has taken the evil and violence from my life’.

Ethan tried to channel his anger into sport, and for many years he was a champion in his chosen sport. He did very well for a while, and earned a good living from it.

While Ethan believes that his anger is now mostly under control, his mother told the Commissioner that the family is ‘sometimes walking on eggshells … His rages, he doesn’t know how bad they are … I have to keep Ethan with me. He gets into trouble if he leaves me. He ends up in jail.’ Ethan is now living with Marjorie.

Ethan has avoided going to see a counsellor to address the sexual abuse and his anger issues, and Marjorie believes that this is because, ‘he doesn’t like authority of any sort’.

Ethan has also always rejected the idea of reporting Father Wilson to the police, although he can see there would be merit in doing so.

‘There’s been a whole generation that’s been affected by these molesting priests. Whether they’re just doing it for fun, not just priests, but anybody that’s got responsibility for children … Basically, the purity of children needs to be protected … As long as you can make it a safer world, that’s basically the important thing.’

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