Matthew was raised by devout Catholic parents, but as a nine-year-old in the mid-1940s his own faith was destroyed the day he was sexually abused by the parish priest.
One of only a handful of Catholics in a small town in New South Wales, Matthew was recruited by Father Peter to train as an altar boy. After practice the priest would drive him back to the family home.
‘On one occasion, he pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. Without saying a word, he pulled out his penis and started masturbating himself then leant over and tried to do the same to me, but he didn’t have much success. He pulled my head into his lap, and I remember keeping my mouth tightly shut as he ejaculated on my face. Afterwards I wiped it off with my handkerchief and ran home.’
As a ‘little fellow’ Matthew had been raised to believe priests had a direct line of communication with God. He didn’t fully understand what Father Peter had done, but from then on he avoided being alone with him, and his mother allowed him to withdraw from Church activities.
‘My parents were wonderful and I think if I’d told them what Father Peter had done, they would have believed me, but it would have absolutely destroyed their faith and I couldn’t do that to them. They were good people.’
The abuse stole Matthew’s trust in the Church, and, no longer able to cope with the religious influences in his life, he left home at 15 and began what turned out to be a long and successful career that kept him physically active.
‘I’ve always exercised as well and still train every day. Somewhere along the line I decided I wasn’t going to let what that priest did to me ruin my life. But I go to bed with it every night.’
Almost 70 years later, Matthew’s two sisters and younger brother remain unaware of the abuse he suffered as a young boy. ‘We’re all very close. They’ve maintained a strong commitment to the Catholic Church, and I don’t want to spoil that for them. But for me that faith isn’t there and I’ve been an atheist for most of my life.’
The burden of keeping his abuse to himself was lightened when Matthew revealed the long kept secret to his second wife. She and a close friend remain the only people Matthew has ever told, until the last 12 months. With her support Matthew consulted solicitors and is seeking compensation from the Church. As part of the process he has obtained a psychiatrist’s report which states that he is suffering with a major depressive illness, largely controlled by his stringent exercise program.
Matthew believes abuse will continue within the Catholic system for as long as priests and Brothers are forbidden to marry.
‘People think it’s just one bad apple in the box here and there, but it’s not. What kind of people is the Church attracting with its rule of celibacy?’
‘Most people who’ve suffered it come out needing some sort of support. If it’s not there they often end up taking drugs and alcohol, or going to jail and having their marriages go down the drain.’