Just when he felt like he was starting to recover from the impact of the abuse, Oskar entered into a legal process with the Catholic Church which made him feel traumatised all over again. ‘I really did feel’, he told the Commissioner, ‘like I was done over twice’.
The abuse occurred when Oskar was in his early teens and living in northern Queensland with his mother. The perpetrator, Father Neil Callow, was a chaplain at Oskar’s Christian Brothers school and also supervised the altar boys at Oskar’s church. As an altar boy himself, Oskar often had to spend time alone with Father Callow in the church, and it was in that context that the priest sexually assaulted him.
After suffering Callow’s attacks for about two years, Oskar escaped by giving up his altar boy duties and avoiding all contact with the priest. He didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until a few years later when he mentioned it to a friend. A few years after that he married and told his wife.
Other than these disclosures, Oskar rarely spoke about the abuse. To block out the bad memories, he became a workaholic and an obsessive overachiever. On the surface it was a successful strategy. In time, however, the legacy of the abuse began to manifest in his behaviour.
He became hyper sensitive to the misbehaviour of people in authority. Whenever he saw an injustice in the workplace, against himself or others, he would fight against it ‘to the hilt’. As a result he lost several jobs.
Eventually he put two and two together, traced his behaviour back to the sexual abuse and realised that his past was catching up with him. The major turning point came one day in the early 1990s when he and his wife started planning to have children.
‘She said, “How would you feel if it were one of our kids that it happened to?” And I thought, “I’ve got to do something”.’
Oskar approached the Catholic Church and they set up a meeting with a priest named Father Heywood. He was sympathetic, Oskar said, but provided little practical support.
‘All that was offered was one counselling session and no encouragement to report it, no process to go through with it. And that put me off.’
Oskar dropped the matter completely and tried to get on with his life. But with his trauma still untreated his mental health deteriorated. In an effort to cope he shut himself off from his wife and kids, causing strain in those relationships. ‘I wasn’t very emotional. Tried to avoid emotions.’
With the help of counselling he managed to open up, drawing strength from his wife and his faith.
‘I had a terrible crisis when I was in Year 12, I thought, “God’s gone”. It’s amazing that I came back to Christianity, and I’m so glad I did. Because that’s been a big sustaining thing, and my wife’s support over the years.’
He found the strength to approach the Church again. This time he went through a lawyer, which is a move he now regrets. The lawyer led him to believe that he could sue the Church for damages and so Oskar spent months compiling documents to help his case, only to be told at the last minute that he had wasted his time.
‘They misled me totally – the solicitors had to a large extent, because it’s their bread and butter. And I believed that there’d be compensation for damages or pain and suffering. It was only when I sat down on that day … he [the barrister] said, “Oh by the way before I even ask you any specifics, in Australia forget about damages, forget about pain and suffering. You’re just going to get compensation from the Church”.’
In the end Oskar got a compensation payment of $85,000. The lawyers took $35,000 of that in fees. Oskar would now like to see a new system put in place to lessen the chances of victims being ripped off by their lawyers. ‘I’d love it’, he said, ‘if we had an authority that could champion the legal redress for people who have been abused’.