Mark was born in Queensland, into a staunchly Catholic family. Two of Mark’s aunts were nuns, and family members were allowed to stay at the Church’s beach house. It was here that Mark was abused when he was 12 years old.
Father Bill McGrath was the family’s local priest for two years. He befriended a group of boys at Mark’s school. ‘Now I look back I would consider that to be grooming … He wasn’t interested in older boys … he was interested right at our age group.'
On the day the abuse occurred, Father McGrath had taken some boys to stay at the house. The priest was watching them shower, which felt ‘a bit weird … it just didn’t feel quite right’. McGrath then offered to give each of the boys a massage. ‘He gave me a massage and you know, took my clothes off and masturbated me and I ejaculated, and I can remember thinking, I felt so ashamed and so kind of … I just remember feeling sick.’
Mark doesn’t remember many events of his childhood in great detail, ‘but on that day I can remember very specific details. I can tell you what colour my underpants were. I can tell you what I had on. I can tell you where I was lying. I can see the whole scene … I can still see it like it was yesterday. And I know what other boys were there, and I’m sure that the same probably happened to them’.
For a long time after the abuse Mark ‘blamed myself. That I had somehow seduced him. That I had brought this on myself and I should be ashamed’.
Mark told the Commissioner ‘I think this is why I never talked about [it] … I’m a gay man and I didn’t feel comfortable talking about what happened to me because I was kind of embarrassed’.
The abuse had a big impact on Mark. ‘I was quite a quiet person … Afterwards I was just wild … Doing stuff like drinking and just really misbehaving, must have been 13, 14, 15 … But when I look back at that time I think I had no one to kind of talk to about what had happened and I felt very confused, and I gotta think that a lot of people do when you know, you’re kind of sexually awakening and someone’s done something to you and you respond and you think, “I feel dirty” or … I don’t know, I just felt very confused about it … it was just a horrible kind of period.’
In his 30s Mark sought help from a psychiatrist, after years of thinking he had somehow ‘asked for it’. However, ‘when I think about it and the whole kind of event from the start to the end there was nothing in that, that was about me in any way encouraging … I was literally frozen … feeling almost like I can’t move. You know I felt almost like I couldn’t breathe’.
Mark said he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during his five years of therapy, but ‘I don’t think I’d be in the same form I am now, with the same voice and the same sense of who I am without the support’.
After initially going off the rails, Mark made a conscious decision to make something of himself. ‘The way I managed that was I just withdrew really from, kind of, all sorts of things and just sort of focussed … I thought “I need to get out of here” … and that was kind of my motivation … and I got out of there.’ He did well at school and gained a place at university, allowing him to leave his home town.
Mark thinks the abuse was a contributing factor in him choosing social work as a career. ‘It was just something I needed to do.’ Hearing stories at work reminded him of his own abuse that he’d tended to put ‘out of my mind and I really would just pretend it didn’t happen’.
His work made him ask ‘Why don’t I take it seriously? Why don’t I believe that I can have a voice … Why don’t I actually stand up and say … because I think he offended against those boys but probably others as well’.
In the mid-1980s, Mark reflected on his own trauma history and realised ‘Actually, that’s not okay what happened there’.
Mark never told his parents about the abuse. His father has passed away, but he thinks he will tell his mother. He believes she will be heartbroken, because, ‘she is very protective of her chickens’. However, if he had told her when it happened, she would have said to him, ‘That’s wicked. You know you can’t say things like that’.
Mark discovered by chance that a priest, who had been in his home town at the time of his abuse, was facing charges in another state. This priest was Bill McGrath. Mark contacted the police officers involved to tell them his story. However, he is now hesitant about providing a statement. ‘I don’t know if I want my private business to be public business.’ The police officers told Mark that other survivors are similarly reluctant.
‘I think at some level I have struggled … I’ve never been diagnosed with depression … but there’s always been … I’ve always thought about certain things that are, you know, traumatic. And you don’t ever get away from that.'