When he was 10, Mickey was one of four boys at a De La Salle school in Sydney who were taken on a trip to a country property in New South Wales where they were abused by his teacher, Brendan Hennessy.
Every night, the teacher, a former seminarian in his 20s, would sleep with one or two of the boys and do ‘whatever he wanted’ to them.
Although originally for a week, the trip – in the 1960s – was extended to two weeks when Hennessy called the boys’ mothers. The boys had no access to a phone or any means of contacting their families.
Mickey, whose brother later joined the priesthood, never told his parents. The abuse ‘ruined’ his relationship with them and he left home at 17.
He has not approached the other boys, of whom at least one has since died, and is considering whether he will approach the police. He may also revisit his settlement with the Catholic Church, which was hammered out after a ‘horrific’ two-year engagement in the Towards Healing process. He received some compensation after agreeing to a non-disclosure clause. Counselling that was ‘helpful’ for the past decade has now finished because Mickey has run out of money.
‘I didn’t work all 2004. I moved house, split up with [my wife] Rebekah, started counselling, had a heart attack.’ Lots of things happened, Mickey said.
‘It was like the opening of a Pandora’s box and everything was sort of blown around.’
When he began teaching at a Catholic school in the early 2000s, Mickey decided to report the abuse formally to the provincial of the De La Salle order. This was the first time he had told anyone but Rebekah, who accompanied him to his private session.
Mickey felt the Church responded poorly, its Towards Healing process lacking transparency and independence. He was told that he had a choice to either engage with the Church or go to the police, who would be uninterested due to the three decades that had passed since the abuse.
The Catholic Church, in his view, wanted to control the process and the damage.
‘It was horrible. It was a battle’, Mickey said. The counsellor he was referred to was related to a person involved in the Church investigation – ‘it just seemed so dodgy’. In a report to the Church, the counsellor partly blames Mickey and his outgoing personality for the abuse.
When he later had problems with the principal of the school that employed him, Mickey formally complained to the bishop of the school’s diocese but was appalled with the response. He felt the ‘bullying’ he received, while existing policies of the Catholic Education Office were ignored, reflected the ongoing culture of the Church that ‘it was boss’.
After ‘nasty, vicious, abusive, offensive’ treatment by the school, his entreaties to the bishop, who knew from previous correspondence of Mickey's childhood abuse, were met with ‘no interest whatsoever’. This, he said, was despite the foundation of the Church being its schools – ‘If they can’t control the school, they’ve got no empire’.
Mickey, now in his 60s, says he and Rebekah were ‘treated like a piece of shit’.
‘They just think that they are the Church, they have the divine right to do what they like, and you can go to hell.’
He is adamant that the culture and employment practices of the Catholic Church need reform.
‘So at a time when the Royal Commission exposes all these things about what’s going on in the Catholic Church, they are trying to claim greater power, greater authority and greater intrusion into individuals’ lives. But at the same time, guys like me who have been abused, go back to work with the organisation under which you were abused and they have no interest’, Mickey told the Royal Commission.
‘There’s no policy. There’s no interest. There’s no institutional response by the Catholic Church to child sexual abuse … It’s all right to say “Oh, historically, we’re sorry and here’s some dough”. But what are they doing beyond that? What about the people who work for the Catholic Church?
‘Why aren’t they [the Church] obliged to recognise child sexual abuse? There’s no authority that could make the Catholic Church actually recognise, on a long-term basis, that they are endemic … structurally inclined to do this another 10, 20, 30, 40 years. Unless it’s the Royal Commission, I don’t know who else can do it.’
Mickey says the Catholic Church and, by extension, the Catholic education system must recognise that victims of child sexual abuse have problems when persons in authority assert their power, as this can appear as a representation of their abuser.
Mickey wants an apology from the bishop of his diocese for the abuse and dreadful treatment he received when his workplace became ‘toxic’. He eventually resigned and is now ‘broke’.
All concessions and exceptions given to the Catholic Church as a religious organisation should be removed, Mickey believes, so that it is accountable for pastoral care responsibilities, like all other organisations.
‘I can’t see why they think it’s not going to happen again if they haven’t changed.’