Mathew ‘had a great childhood’ growing up in western Sydney. He came from a ‘very good family’, who were heavily involved in their Catholic Church community.
In the late 1960s, his older brother became friends with the now notorious paedophile priest Peter Myers, when they studied at the seminary together.
Myers ‘had nowhere to go’ and frequently visited the family home during holidays. Mathew’s mother remembers ‘he would just turn up any time and expect to be looked after, have a place to stay for however long he wanted to stay and be waited on hand and foot’.
He soon began sexually abusing four-year-old Mathew, who was possibly his first victim.
Mathew remembers, ‘It was just when Peter Myers is around, you're running for your life, you're moving, you're dodging, you're, you know, whatever you're trying to do to avoid that.
‘And obviously at a very young age, it was a matter of, “I don't know what this is about, I'm uncomfortable with it”. But he was very bold and perpetrated a lot of things in the middle of the living room with Mum and Dad.’
Mathew recalls being in his cotton pyjamas after a bath, sitting on Myers’ lap and watching television. ‘And he would have his hand down your pants in a flash. And so it was largely that. That he would try and walk in when you were bathing or in the bathroom or in your bedroom or getting dressed or things like that. My mother put it down to tormenting and would castigate him about that, “Leave the boys alone. Stop tormenting them”.’
The abuse continued until Mathew was in his early teens. He and Myers were alone in the house one day, and Myers ‘performed an oral sex act on me and I lost it. I just became unhinged after that and went off at him and then I was probably much more aggressively evading him’.
Myers ‘continued to try and, I don't know, he was very bold. He would try and offer me money’. Mathew still isn’t sure whether the cash was ‘some sort of a coercion either to shut up, or to be a party to these things’.
After the abuse stopped, Myers continued to visit the family (often bringing other boys with him). Mathew felt he was carrying a dark secret, but was conflicted about telling anyone about the abuse. ‘Because to expose him meant to expose me, and I wasn't up to that.’
He was also confused about his sexuality, ‘And that, I think, had a lot to do with dealing with guilt, “Well, why, why did this happen if I'm not homosexual?” I like girls but guys seem to like me.’
Despite these impacts, Mathew got on with his life. His loved school, and achieved academically, but ‘I would just hide, you know, in the middle of everything’. He was successful in his work, married and had children.
Mathew told his wife about the abuse early on, then his pastor, and finally his family. His parents were ‘absolutely accepting. I never had to explain myself, which was a great blessing’. When he began speaking about his experiences, he found the asthma he’d had since his childhood abated, and he’s concluded that it was anxiety related.
In the 1980s he heard about a police operation targeting paedophiles and decided to report the abuse. Many other victims came forward about Myers too, mostly from a school he’d later worked at. Numerous child sexual offence charges were laid against him.
The court process was daunting at times, ‘having your personal details read out in the sentencing, I just thought, "Right, here I am, Exhibit A". So that was a little bit confronting. But I don't think they were insensitive. I think the magistrate was very good’. Mathew was pleased with the way police handled the matter too.
Myers pleaded guilty to the charges related to Mathew. He was sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment, which Mathew saw as fitting. ‘I'm not happy that a man goes to jail, that [he’s] going to spend the rest of his life there. It is appropriate. I think it is just, but it doesn't give me personal happiness that someone else is going to suffer.’
Mathew received a significant financial settlement from the Church, and intends to seek criminal injuries compensation.
He has spoken to a number of counsellors over the years. In high school, his mother took him to see someone. He always thought it because he was mucking up at home, but years afterwards she told him: ‘I didn't take you to the counsellor because you were naughty, I took you to the counsellor because you kept saying, “I wish I was dead, I wish I was dead”’.
Later therapy helped Mathew realise that he may have blamed his parents for the abuse. ‘Because some of the grooming, some of the fondling, it was so, so blatant, it was right when everyone was there.’ Recognising he ‘probably took that out on my mum’, he apologised and told her, ‘Mum, the guy's an evil genius, he's very clever. He's very imposing, he's a very strong personality and he just got the better of us all’.
Mathew understands why many of Myers’ victims lost their belief in God, or abandoned religion altogether. However, ‘even when I was very young, I realised God's not into this, this guy is an impostor, this guy is a bad guy and this isn't God doing this to me’. In his 20s, Mathew left Catholicism for another Christian religion, and later became a minister.
He recommended that the Catholic Church make systemic changes, in line with the understanding he now has of the scriptures. For example, he believes that celibacy was intended to be a choice for clergy, and not compulsory. He thinks the Church will be unable to curtail clerical child sexual abuse unless this requirement is lifted.
‘I have doctrinal issues with Catholicism, but my personal offence is with Peter Myers. However, Peter Myers, I think, is a product of a system that's wrong, a system that has erred from scriptural truth and because it's erred from scriptural truth and it's valued its own good judgment and tradition, it's found itself in a situation where the system produces people who have opportunity and inclination to do these sort of acts.’