‘I’d never realised the impact it had on me', Peter told the Commissioner, ‘but it’s screwed my life up'.
Peter grew up in a loving family home in Western Australia in the 1970s. His parents were devout Catholics who dragged him along to Mass every week.
‘It was very boring', Peter recalled. ‘They were all Irish priests in those days. You couldn’t understand them. You went to church for an hour, you came home. You wouldn’t know the priest from a bar of soap.’
Then one day an educated, charismatic new priest named Father Reeves burst into this drab scene and brightened the community almost instantly.
‘Before you know it this priest is coming to our footy matches. He takes us all to footy. He made us all have sleepovers there [at the presbytery], a group of us kids’d go and have sleepovers there. He bought a donut machine and a milkshake machine.’
Because of his enthusiasm for books and history, 12-year-old Peter soon became one of Father Reeves's favourites. In his role as altar boy he toured the countryside helping Father Reeves to conduct Mass and funerals.
This went on for about a year before the first incident of sexual abuse. It happened while Father Reeves, Peter and two other altar boys were driving to a funeral.
‘I was sitting in the front and we were chatting away as we used to do, and next thing I know his hand’s on my thigh and he’s fondling my genitals. Only for a little while and that stopped. I almost dismissed it as not having happened.’
There were three more incidents after that, each a few months apart and each a little worse. One day Peter was looking through some books in Reeves’s study. Reeves came up behind him, pinned him against the bookcase and rubbed his erect penis against Peter’s bottom.
The next incident began in the same way, only this time Reeves forced Peter to masturbate him. The final incident also began in the same place, in the same way, but this time Father Reeves raped Peter.
As Peter recalled, Reeves had a chest problem at the time and wheezed loudly. ‘So my graphic memories, apart from the physical side of it, is him behind me, breathing.’
After the rape Father Reeves seemed to lose all interest in Peter. ‘He never wanted to talk to me after that. Perhaps he got to that stage, that’s what he needs to do: he gets to the final frontier and he’s fine, he goes to the next – I don’t know. But nothing happened after that.’
In the months and years that followed, Peter felt ashamed. He didn’t mention the abuse to anyone. He became angry and disrespectful towards his mother. He developed a desperate need for control.
‘I think that changed me a lot in that respect too. I became very focused to do what I want, and then absolutely controlling.’
Peter wanted to go to university, so he did. He wanted to start his own business, get married and have children while he was still young, and before the age of 30 he achieved all those goals.
Then it all collapsed. Some close family members fell ill. Peter couldn’t help them. He couldn’t control the situation. His mental health deteriorated and he ended up stealing from one of his own clients. This went on for years. Peter’s marriage ended in divorce. He kept stealing, unable to understand why he was doing it.
‘I could almost watch myself writing cheques out to me, and that wasn’t me. It was a very dissociative state, I think is probably the word. And it was horrible. I was waiting to get caught. I was hoping to get caught.’
Eventually he was caught. At the trial his lawyer urged the judge to take into account Peter’s poor mental health, but the judge said simply ‘I don’t care’ and sentenced Peter to several years in jail.
It was a tough time for Peter, and one that he bitterly regrets because it took him away from his children for many years. But it was also a time of positive change. Peter was watching TV in his cell one day when he saw Cardinal Pell commenting on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The Cardinal made a dismissive comment that enraged Peter. He decided he had to do something.
Peter told his partner about the abuse and then went on to tell his parents. He started sessions with a counsellor and she helped him to gain a better understanding of the psychological damage he suffered as a result of Father Reeves’s abuse. These insights made a huge difference to Peter’s wellbeing.
‘Over time I feel 10 kilos lighter, even though I’m 10 kilos heavier.’
Peter completed his sentence and now lives with his ‘wonderful, supportive partner’. He said that he holds no animosity towards Father Reeves. In jail Peter met many paedophiles. A few were ‘evil’ but most, he said, were just ‘sick people’. Peter believes that the real blame lies with the Church, and he’s planning to take legal action against them in the future.
‘I’d like, at the end of the day, the Church to actually put their hand up and say “Look, we screwed up, we covered up, we stuffed up and we’re sorry”.’