In the 1950s, when Michael was five years old, his family left England and moved to Tasmania where they soon bonded with their local Catholic community. Many of the children, including Michael, served as altar boys. For some years Michael thrived under the guidance of the parish priest, of whom he has fond memories.
When a new priest, Father Tomes, came to the parish, Michael had no reason to distrust him.
‘He was good for some time, but one Sunday afternoon he asked me to come and do some Bible readings. He took me into a room and started asking me different questions about sex. He asked me to remove the bottom half of my clothing, and he started interfering with me, trying to masturbate me, which didn’t happen because it wasn’t possible for me, pre-puberty I suppose. I wasn’t able to get an erection.’
At 12 years of age, Michael didn’t understand much about sex and what was happening.
‘When he let me out from the meetings, he’d always say, “Let’s just keep this between ourselves. Don’t tell anyone, because they won’t believe you anyway”.’
Those words weren’t far from the truth. Father Tomes took advantage of the family’s trust in the Church, and found excuses to spend time alone with Michael where he would continue his efforts to arouse him.
‘It happened about four or five times, and I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and told my father what had happened. His reaction was disbelief, and the same with my mother. I don’t think she could ever really come to terms with it, they both had Tomes on a pedestal.’
Despite his reservations about questioning the Church, Michael’s father reported the abuse to the vicar-general.
‘His reaction was to tell my father, “Don’t go to the police, don’t go to the newspaper”. So it was virtually swept under the carpet.’
Reflecting back, Michael believes the ripple effect of the abuse not only cast a shadow over his childhood, but profoundly impacted the outcome of his education, and in turn, his employment prospects.
‘I never got a proper education because after being molested I found it impossible to concentrate on my school work, and that held me back. We had to do homework every day, and if you didn’t do it you were belted. I got the strap every day, two on each hand. That went on for a year or so.’
Michael has endured a constant battle with his childhood demons and came close to suicide recently. ‘I put a hose in the car and started up the engine, but I just couldn’t leave my kids behind so I stepped out of the car.’
Motivated by extensive media coverage of child abuse globally, Michael’s ultimate wish is that no other child experiences his suffering.
‘I’d just be happy to know the Catholic Church was weeding out all these parasites and was accepting people that could be trustworthy rather than to fulfil their own ends as paedophiles, within the Church itself. I think they should be scrutinised very carefully.’