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Matthew Peter's story

His mother still vacuums the local Catholic church but Matthew has lost his faith. It took him 35 years to tell someone his full story of sexual abuse by a priest. ‘It was a real kick in the guts when I got to court and I found out that his superiors knew that he was a paedophile and did nothing to prevent it. Where they just moved him … from one parish to another.’

Matthew grew up in western Sydney in the 1960s and 70s. He was an altar boy and would attend mass three time a week with his family. One of the priests at the church, Father Graeme Maloney, took the whole family on holiday once with other parishioners. Matthew believes it was part of Maloney’s grooming process to gain his parents’ trust and take advantage of the fact his family couldn’t afford to go on holidays themselves.

Not long after that, when Matthew was around 10 years old, Maloney took Matthew and his sister and another boy from another parish away for a couple of days. As Matthew stated in a victim impact statement he provided to the Commissioner, ‘It is my feeling that he is a calculating manipulative evil person … He knew that suspicion would not be drawn upon him if he had to sleep in the same room with two young boys while my sister slept in the main bedroom on her own’.

One night, Matthew awoke in his bed to find Maloney sexually abusing him. It was both frightening and painful. Maloney told him not to tell anybody. Matthew pretended to be asleep while he saw Maloney abuse the other boy in the room.

The following morning Maloney threatened Matthew, saying no one would believe him if he told anyone. Maloney pointed out that he took his parents’ confessions. Who are they going to believe? Him or Matthew? For many years Matthew would feel he would never be believed.

Matthew told no one. He stopped being an altar boy. A couple of times he was close to telling someone about the abuse but circumstances would occur that reinforced that he wouldn’t be believed and also that he’d be ridiculed by other kids if he did disclose.

‘The sexual assault made me angry, sad and unworthy …

‘My parents could never understand why I had stopped going to church, why my grades at school started slipping … Why I left school at 15, why I was binge drinking at 15 and why I had to go through 12 jobs in my first year out of school. Why my friends were not as friendly and of good character compared to my older siblings. Why I was the smartest of my siblings but the least motivated.’

At 18, Matthew told his girlfriend, whom he met in a church club, he had been abused by Maloney. She was the first person he told and she said he should report it. Matthew also spoke to a friend who told him to report to a particular priest. But this priest was about to leave the clergy because he had been having a relationship with a woman. This same priest had been hearing Matthew’s confessions about having a girlfriend of his own. At that point, Matthew decided there was no one he could tell within the Church.

Matthew has had trouble with intimacy and showing affection all his adult life. Now in his 50s, he has never had a long term relationship. Some of the 48 jobs he’s had since he left school have ended badly. ‘I am always looking for praise from my bosses and I do not handle criticism well. I either start to get emotional … or I get [verbally] aggressive.’

For many years Matthew smoked 10 bongs a day and abused alcohol but was still able to function at work. When a random drug testing procedure was announced at his workplace 11 years ago, he decided to go into rehab and clean up. He has been drug free ever since.

‘It was the announcement of this Commission that gave me a now or never moment to seek justice’, Matthew told the Commissioner. With the support of Broken Rites he gave a statement to the police, who were professional and understanding.

‘To say that I got justice - yes. What I really wanted was for him to be convicted and for him to be named and shamed. And I got that. But what I didn’t like was the way that the process worked. Like the judge … gave him four years to start with … The judge went out of his way, in my opinion, to tell him “Oh no, no, that’s not what you’re going to get” … and then he took two years off because of [Maloney’s] bad health. And then he said “I’m going to reduce that to six months”.’

Eventually, on appeal, Maloney was sentenced to three months jail. Matthew saw that Maloney was able to go ‘doctor shopping’ but the Department of Public Prosecutions never took him to a doctor to make a counter claim. In general he felt the system was overly sympathetic towards the perpetrator. And the procedure overall took too long.

But Matthew said he feels fortunate. ‘There are a lot of other people going through this that haven’t had the same outcomes that I’ve got.’

Years ago, when Matthew went to rehab, ‘I made a point … to always find a positive out of everything … instead of dwelling on the negatives and, with help with my counselling and that, I’ve been able to do that’.

‘I think the biggest thing for me … I can look people in the eye and say … what he did. And that can’t be taken away from me.’

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