Nine-year-old Matthias had ‘been getting an attitude’, and would be caned every day before assembly at his Catholic primary school in suburban Brisbane. It was the late 1970s, and although he used to be an altar boy, Matthias was deemed ‘too naughty’ to go to mass with the rest of the class.
Instead of attending church, he would be sent on his own to the presbytery. When he got there, Father McIver would take him to the front room and molest him, often raping him. There was another priest sharing the presbytery, and ‘he was aware what was going on’. These assaults would happen once or twice a week, whenever the class had mass.
Afterwards, Matthias would often walk home with blood running down his legs, rather than heading back to school – ‘It felt like from my bottom to the back of my neck was ripped open’. He thinks his mother knew about the abuse, as she saw the state he was in, but her only response was to tell him to clean himself up. ‘I’d lie there for days, I couldn’t walk ... She was aware. Because my father was doing the same thing, pretty much.’
At home, Matthias was being sexually abused by his father. Both of his parents were alcoholics and gamblers, and were physically violent towards the kids. Matthias often stepped in when his father was trying to molest one of his siblings, so he would cop the abuse instead.
He remembers his mother once saying to him that ‘"as long as he’s taking it out on you, he’s leaving me alone”. And I took that on as a role I suppose as a child, to protect my mum’.
The abuse by the priest continued until Matthias was in Year 6. In a way, Matthias thought he had somehow caused the abuse by ‘getting an attitude’ at school (although this was largely as a response to his experiences at home), and framed the abuse as a kind of punishment.
Matthias became increasingly rebellious and began getting into trouble with the law. Overall, the boys’ homes he was sent to were generally better than being with his family. While physical and psychological violence was common in these institutions, at least there was food, clothing and clean sheets.
Things got worse when he was sent to a youth detention centre. At first, ‘I looked at this as a safe haven. But the abuse was worse. I was made to do sexual acts, and at one stage I was made to put my penis on a table while the other boys stabbed it with a butter knife. I still bear the scars.’
One boy tried to rape Matthias. Although Matthias managed to fight the boy off, he was still made to masturbate him. Matthias was also forced to masturbate staff members in the showers.
Following his time in juvenile detention, Matthias developed a drug problem, and was in and out of adult prison for drug-related offences. While he was in jail he got a lot of tattoos, in order to look tough, as this helped protect him from further abuse. Back in the community, however, they make it harder for him to find employment.
Matthias has not yet told the Church or the government about the sexual abuse he experienced, nor reported it to police. He suspects Father McIver would be deceased now. Although Matthias is now talking with a lawyer about possible compensation options, he is angry that applications for a Queensland government redress scheme ended before he was able to make a submission.
‘I cannot believe it. How can you put a time on someone who has been abused to come forward and speak? If I was just after the money and this had not affected me, you'd think I would have just applied when the redress was open. But in actual fact I was one of those real cases where I was too afraid to speak and live through the memories again.’
It had taken Matthias a long time to realise that he had not been in any way responsible for the abuse he experienced. ‘And it took even longer for me to be able to tell my story. When I did want to tell what had happened to me, it was too late.' Being told he could not apply as the cut-off date for the scheme had passed was devastating: ‘I've never been so insulted and feel like I have been abused again’.
For many years, Matthias avoiding sexual relationships. When he did find a partner, he had to leave as soon as he found himself becoming emotionally vulnerable. Over the past decade, Matthias has being trying to turn his life around.
After his latest stint in prison, Matthias attended a year-long rehabilitation course. This program was run by a Christian organisation, which was hard for him due to his abuse by the priest. Through this course he made his first proper male friend, who supported him when he attended the Royal Commission.
Matthias told the Commission that he still experiences suicidal ideation every morning. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and lives with depression and anxiety. He was taking antidepressants for years, and is about to begin counselling again with a specialist support organisation.
‘It has taken me all this time to try and come to terms with what has happened to me as a child, and not be such an angry person – and try to deal with this so I can have some value to life before I die.’