‘What you hear from churches often is, “We regret not believing, we should have done more and the victims are our first concern”. And it’s just deceitful … You work out that they’re really only interested in money.’
Normie was groomed from the age of 10 and as a 13 and 14-year-old suffered sexual abuse by group leaders of the Church of England Boys Society (CEBS) he had joined in Adelaide. He was also ‘handed on’ to a senior leader of CEBS, Don Bachman, who assaulted him as well.
Normie was silent about this for almost 30 years. In the early 1990s he was listening to a celebrity telling their own childhood abuse story. ‘And I’m sitting there and I just collapsed and wept and wailed, really, not weep – wailed’, Normie told the Commissioner. ‘And of course [my daughter] just – she didn’t know what was going on.’
The disclosure of the abuse to his wife and children rocked Normie’s family. He felt re-traumatised, and is acutely aware of the strains on his family life in subsequent years. ‘There was a big shift in the relationship because [my children], in effect, were parents to me, looking after me, and I think that cost them a great deal. And also, I couldn’t be touched, and that made for a distant relationship with my wife.’
Normie approached the Anglican Church to report the abuse. A meeting was arranged with Archdeacon Fairweather, who was handling serious complaints at that time. The meeting started badly when Fairweather announced he’d known and worked with Don Bachman for many years and vouched for his good character.
‘Then he says, “Young people often misinterpret normal contact as something else. Are sure that’s not the problem?”’
‘How do you misinterpret a cock up your arse?’
‘And then he says, “Well, it was such a long time ago, even if it did happen what’s the point of bringing it up now? You just need to forget and move on”.’
Fairweather told Normie he was wasting his time if he was looking for money and reminded him of the statute of limitations.
‘Then he says, “Be very careful who you talk to about this, we have the best lawyers and we have no hesitation in pursuing you”. I have found in talking to other people who had been to see him this was absolutely standard, to make a threat at the end.’
Normie regrets bowing to those threats. He kept quiet for years. He accessed some counselling through a rape crisis centre and a private practice, which helped him cope.
As a worker with a sports organisation, Normie pushed for mandatory police background checks of all volunteers wanting to work with children, years ahead of the legislation which eventually came. And within the Anglican Church, a relative of Normie kept reminding the hierarchy that the child sexual abuse problem wasn’t going to go away. The Church remained uninterested.
In the early 2000s Normie participated in a television current affairs report on the growing abuse scandal within the Anglican Church. The day after the report aired scores of people came forward with their own stories of abuse. ‘So they were blown, you know?’
Under pressure, the Church paid for an independent inquiry. It didn’t have the powers of a Royal Commission, ‘so they were dependent on the good will of the Church, and they couldn’t get documents and they were lied to repeatedly. They’re smart people, they could see through the lies, but they didn’t have any evidence’.
At this time the Church also began a mediation and redress process similar to the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing. But Normie was excluded from the mediation process. He hadn’t sought compensation from the Anglicans until this time. ‘I had worked out that – well, I probably knew it all along – they really weren’t interested. The only thing they valued was their money, so the only way to get satisfaction out of them is to take some of that away.’
He eventually joined a civil class action. Normie claims the Church used legal delaying tactics to increase the lawyers’ costs. They remained unrepentant. After years of wrangling, the Church leadership changed and some progress was made. Normie received a cash payment, but it was given as a ‘pastoral gift’. There was no apology and no admission of liability. Normie considers the issues unresolved.
He’s hoping for serious reform following the Royal Commission. He believes church and state are too entwined, as churches now take money to deliver services on behalf of the state. ‘It’s difficult to know which is the dog and which is the tail.’
He believes good governance needs to be imposed by government, just as workplace safety was imposed through legislation. There need to be clear lines of responsibility through the Church, and leaders need to be accountable, so that penalties apply when they don’t do their job, just as they do for company directors.
‘And I think child abuse will continue in institutions, it will. Bank robbers go to banks; paedophiles go to where they get access to children. But institutions need to harden up.
‘If the Royal Commission is successful … fewer people [will be] incarcerated because there would be many fewer victims whose lives are reduced to crime. There would be fewer and fewer people destroying their lives with drugs and suicide …
‘And the underscore here – there are many, many more children growing up to be productive citizens, not knowing how lucky they are. Multitudes of parents not understanding the change in their child, suffering guilt. Partners, siblings and kids not living with a person suffering defects that come with being [abused] – and if that’s all you could do, that would be great for me.’