In the late 1960s when Neil was 10 years old his mother died suddenly. Neil’s father decided it was best to put his kids into a Catholic orphanage while he got over his grief. He felt that he could trust the orphanage because the priest who worked there, Father Eddington, was a family friend.
The orphanage was located in a New South Wales town not far from Neil’s home. It was run by an order of Catholic nuns with occasional assistance from Father Eddington and other visiting priests.
Eddington was a friendly man who liked to roughhouse with the boys. This seemed normal and fun to Neil at first. Then he noticed the deliberate way that Eddington’s hands sought out certain areas on the boys’ bodies.
‘We’d swing off his arms and such as little kids do. But he would pick up the other boys and grab them in inappropriate areas and just play with them. Throw them around and tickle us and all that sort of business.’
Gradually Eddington introduced other strange behaviours. He would lecture the boys, telling them that God said it was okay for a man to love another man. Sometimes he tried to get the boys drunk.
‘He used to replace the non-alcoholic altar wine with bottle shop wine … He would leave it there and just sort of turn his back. He’d know we were drinking it.’
Soon Father Edington targeted Neil for special attention that went beyond fondling to more extreme forms of sexual abuse.
‘He would start off with harmless games and it just progressed from there to touching and masturbation and away it goes. A number of times he tried to penetrate me but I just couldn’t, I had to move, I just refused to.’
To keep Neil and the other boys quiet, Father Eddington threatened them, saying that if they told anyone what he was doing they wouldn’t be allowed to come on any camping trips or excursions. The threat didn’t carry much weight with Neil. He reported Eddington to the nuns.
‘Their reaction was that we were just telling lies and we basically got flogged for it. I only told them twice, and each time I mentioned it we were flogged. Not just given six, we were flogged for about five or 10 minutes until we couldn’t cry anymore, just basically tortured I’d guess you’d call it.’
It was a simple, brutal lesson – ‘keep your mouth shut’ – and Neil, who was only 11 years old at the time, could easily have taken it to heart. But he didn’t. Instead he went over the nuns’ heads and reported Eddington to the bishop.
The bishop was gentler than the nuns but equally useless.
‘I told him once or twice, maybe three times, that this individual was affecting us, was touching us. He said, “Oh, I’ll have a word with him”. And that was the end of it. Never got back to us.’
The abuse continued unchanged until Neil left the home at age 12. After that he spent a few years at a boys’ home where he was well cared for, then moved to a boarding school to complete his education.
As a young man, Neil struggled to form relationships and felt confused about his sexuality. He kept his problems to himself and eventually moved in with a young woman named Megan and had a son with her.
By this stage, Neil hadn’t mentioned the abuse to anyone since his conversation with the bishop. He decided to open up to Megan one day. The consequences were disastrous.
‘She just packed up and left. She thought, “You’re going to do it too … You’ll abuse our child” as such. And she took him away and I haven’t seen him since. That was 37 years ago.’
From there Neil ‘fell off the track a bit’. The rage bubbled inside him; he spent hours planning ways to murder Father Eddington and get away with it. He hit the drugs, ran into trouble with the police and ended up in jail for three months. Jail was a turning point.
‘I got my three month’s taste and that was enough for me … In my 40s I started to clear my head and clear my body. And having a clearer mind and having a clearer body made me think clearer and to finally address the issues that were causing all these problems.’
Neil started counselling, which he found helpful. He decided to disclose the abuse to his family.
Neil’s brothers wouldn’t listen to him. Neil suspects that this is because they too were abused, and were not yet ready to face it.
His dad and sister were more supportive. His sister encouraged him to seek redress, which Neil did, ultimately receiving $35,000 from victims of crime compensation and $25,000 from the Catholic Church. At the time of his session with the Royal Commission Neil had engaged a lawyer and was pursuing further action against the Church.
Neil is no longer afraid to tell his story. He knows that his partner was wrong about him, all those years ago. He may have been abused, but he’s never been an abuser.
‘I believe it was choice. That’s your choice to do that and your choice not to do that. In my life I chose not to do that.’