Philip James's story

Philip grew up in a Brisbane suburb, one of a large Catholic family. He experienced several episodes of sexual abuse, as a child, a teenager, and then again in his early 20s.

The impacts of these assaults played out in his adult life, but it wasn’t until he had therapy in his late 40s that he connected the issues he was facing with the sexual abuse he’d experienced. Until then, none of the psychologists he’d seen had asked him about abuse.

‘He was the first one who said, “Look, has there been abuse in your life?” I said, “Yeah, no big deal”. He said, “Yeah, big deal”… That’s when I started really falling apart.’

The combination of pressures at work and the insights he was uncovering with the psychologist led to a breakdown. ‘I just spiralled totally out of control.’

Philip had a job in education, and because his breakdown meant he couldn’t work, he eventually accepted a payout in exchange for his resignation. He also received a payment through Towards Healing, compensation for being sexually abused by a Jesuit priest.

‘That’s where I think “Shut up, Philip, you should be happy with what you got”’, he said.

But, as he explained, he needed more support.

‘For every year, basically, all those payments that we’ve been given – which have been good compared to what other people get – we’ve basically been living on them while I’ve taken time to get on top of things and get better. And I’m sort of pretty well there now, in regards to the psychological health. But the reality is I can’t get a job again. I’m finding it impossible to get a job.’

An opportunity arose for which he needed to complete a university course – another financial challenge. He decided to turn to the Jesuits for help, and that led to a meeting between him, his wife and the provincial, Father Carlyle.

‘He was really, really good. Really lovely. We left that meeting feeling for the first time that someone had actually listened to us and heard us and really had compassion.’

Father Carlyle asked Philip to calculate how much he needed to complete his study. Philip worked out the figure and, after some time, was told the Jesuits would give him a portion of it, approximately two thirds. Philip didn’t understand why his careful accounting had been ignored.

‘I thought, why did you do that?’

The money ran out before Philip’s studies were completed. He needed more. He approached Father Carlyle again. ‘He said no, sorry, there’s nothing. There’s no more.’ Philip put his case to another Jesuit official, a meeting that went ‘horribly’.

‘It was just this mentality, which I’ve come across so many times – the minute you mention money, it’s just filthy money – everything else goes out the door … I’m doing everything I possibly can to get back on track again, in the only way that’s available to me at this time. I want to contribute … and the only thing stopping me is the money …

‘I say, “Please. I’ve got nowhere else to turn. I don’t know what else to do”.’

To his surprise, the Jesuits agreed to another payout, making it clear it would be the last.

‘[The official’s] argument was, “Why do you think we should be doing this for you? How would you consider this is the just thing to do?” … I’m always feeling like I’m the beggar, I’m the bad person. “We’re being really good doing this for you, it’s a gift.”’

Philip meets with a counsellor weekly, but in general has become very isolated. ‘I’ve cut myself off from everybody. Literally, if my wife – if I was not married to that particular woman, I would not be here. Even now I don’t want to be alive. I know that sounds really stupid.’

He feels abandoned by the Church. ‘If this is supposed to be about “towards healing”, and justice and everything else, they’re doing a bloody awful job. The whole pastoral crap – it doesn’t ring true at all.’ Instead, he feels, they just want to get rid of him – and that’s not going to happen.

‘This is not over for me until I can support myself again. That’s how I see it,’ he said.

‘If anything’s going to undo me it’s financial worries. That’s the thing that sends me on an almost suicidal spin …

‘It does just come down to money. I know everyone says money’s not important. For me it is. I’ve done the healing work myself. I’ve done therapy, I’ve done all that kind of stuff, but I cannot do the financial thing. I can’t. And I’ve tried … And that’s what undoes me. And then I can’t study, and then I go into this spiral of depression and then I think I just want to die. If I have to go through that again … I just don’t think I’ll be able to cope.’

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