In country Victoria, Mike attended a Catholic primary school where, in the mid 60s, the Church’s authority went unquestioned. Priests regularly took children from the classroom with no questions asked about they were doing or where they were going, and it was under these circumstances that Mike was sexually abused as a 10-year-old by Father Gibson. The abuse continued for more than a year until Mike’s family moved to Melbourne.
Mike said he was conditioned not to tell anyone about the abuse, and the first time he disclosed it was in the late 1980s when he rang a talkback radio host who’d been discussing the topic on his program.
Then in 2007, as reports of child sexual abuse by clergy were increasingly in the media, Mike responded to a newspaper advertisement placed by a solicitor acting on behalf of claimants. The solicitor commenced civil proceedings on Mike’s behalf. Although the Church tried to steer the case into their Towards Healing process, it continued independently to mediation.
By this time, it was well known that Gibson had sexually abused many children. However, the bishop that Mike had a meeting with tried to minimise specific instances of abuse by Gibson, and abuse by clergy in general.
‘He kept trying to trivialise it, saying they were one-offs and it wasn’t that bad. Just trying to take the edge off it, like it wasn’t any big deal.’
The bishop reiterated that it was only possible to take action against the diocese and not the Catholic Church as a whole, a situation that angered Mike. The Church’s initial offer of $17,000 in compensation was refused and the amount was increased to $55,000. Mike accepted this and signed a deed of release.
Mike told the Commissioner that he’d also asked for an apology and acknowledgement by the Church that the abuse had occurred. Church representatives were initially reluctant to provide these but when they did, Mike felt a sense of validation. ‘I wanted them to own up to it.’
While he was going through mediation Mike told his elderly father about the abuse, but was disappointed by the response. ‘He didn’t react really. Didn’t get any kind of reaction. I think it’s just the way it was, the way they were in those days. You kept things to yourself. Moved on.’
Mike has never married, and said that he lost an important relationship as a result of his heavy drinking. He hadn’t told his partner about the sexual abuse, but he drew a connection between his high alcohol intake, his frequent depressive episodes, and the abuse.
However, he was proud he’d been in continuous employment throughout his adult life. ‘I always worked, you know that? I always held down jobs. I think if I had not worked, God knows where I’d be. Probably just a spiralling vortex into the ground. I didn’t like Fridays. I liked Mondays when you go back to work. On weekends we just drink.’
After 30 years of living with the impact of the abuse, Mike is now in a better space. ‘I’m pretty okay with everything these days. I was a mess for a long time but I’ve changed since I’ve come out and dealt with it a bit.’
This contrasted with his past, he said. ‘You don’t like yourself. I didn’t like me, this bloke. You get down on yourself and drink. Drink and smoke enough marijuana to send you mad. It’s no good to smoke that much. I drank for years and years, and now I don’t drink much at all … You’ve just got to make the best with what you have got, not what you haven’t got.’