When Nigel was a young teenager, an Anglican bishop visited him at his home. He took Nigel out the back, away from his mother, and questioned him about the sexual abuse Nigel had recently experienced. The abuser was a priest within the Church. ‘[The bishop] apologised, to a certain degree, on the day when I gave him knowledge of what had happened, and I remember him saying … “Don’t blame the Church. It’s not the Church’s fault.” … I just think, well, it is the Church.’
In the late 1980s, when Nigel was 11 years old, he and his family were living on a property in country New South Wales. That year, two family members died within a few months of each other. The family had never before had anything to do with a church but Nigel’s mother went to the local Anglican Church to arrange both of the funerals. This brought Nigel into contact with Father Chris Wilson, who conducted the funeral services – and began a grooming process.
Nigel provided a police report to the Commissioner. In it, the sexual abuse was described. When Nigel was about 13 years old, he would go to Wilson’s house to do odd jobs, for which Wilson, then in his mid-40s, would pay Nigel small amounts of money. Wilson began telling Nigel that Wilson ‘deserved’ a cuddle for having taken Nigel out for lunch, and he would hold Nigel on his lap, touching his legs. The abuse progressed to Wilson masturbating Nigel and performing oral sex on him. The abuse then escalated to attempted anal penetration. Wilson paid Nigel small amounts of money, such as $10, after abusing him. The abuse occurred for up to one year and Wilson told Nigel not to tell anyone.
Nigel didn’t tell anyone. But not long afterwards, his elder brother, James, was in conversation with Wilson, when Wilson disclosed he had had sex with minors in Indonesia. James believes he said this to him under the assumption that James was gay and would be interested. Straight away, James asked Nigel if anything had happened to him. Nigel then disclosed the abuse.
Their mother informed the Church and the police. She spoke to the parents of other boys that Nigel had witnessed being touched by Wilson. However, ‘they all thought Mum was probably being a lunatic because they were part of the Church. And a lot of people in the Church thought we were just making it up’. It was around this time that Nigel was visited at his home by the Anglican bishop, who asked about Father Chris Wilson. Nigel distinctly remembers the bishop saying they ‘have never been able to pin him down’. Looking back, Nigel can see clearly that the Church already knew Wilson was a paedophile but had done nothing.
Wilson was criminally charged and Nigel gave evidence in court. He recalls a ‘grilling’ in the witness stand that lasted an hour, ‘making me feel like I made it up’. He found the court process quite frightening. Ultimately, Father Chris Wilson was imprisoned for 18 months for four counts of child sexual abuse, a sentence Nigel feels was too short. Outside the courtroom, Nigel’s family were subjected to verbal slurs from some parishioners.
A couple of years later, Nigel was awarded about $13,000 government compensation. Nothing came from the Church. No one from the Church contacted Nigel and his family afterwards. Nigel told the Commissioner his family fought the abuse but the Church did nothing.
Overall, Nigel feels ‘level-headed’ and that the abuse as a child has not really affected his adult life. He believes all the things that have happened, including his family tragedies, have made him stronger. However, the lack of action from the Church has always bothered him. Father Wilson had been moved from one diocese to another, including Newcastle, prior to coming to his town and Nigel believes this was a Church cover-up. Although Wilson can never again act as a priest, he has not been de-frocked. Nigel feels this is ‘a bit of a licence to do what you want’.
Recently, Nigel has been in contact with the Anglican Church via someone the Church has employed to oversee the de-frocking of priests. Nigel appreciates this process has begun now, but asks ‘Why wasn’t it done back in 1988?’ He wants answers regarding Wilson’s history and the Church’s response. He’s also considering making a claim against the Church. Although the money doesn’t mean all that much to him, it would at least be an official acknowledgement.
‘It’s more widespread than just me personally. It’s more than just [Wilson] abusing … a boy … It’s bigger than that … Newcastle, Canberra, did his thing down there, came to [here] … And that’s just one person, not the whole Church.’