Raphael's story

Father Jim McMahon was posted to many Victorian parishes throughout his decades as a Catholic priest. His grooming of children and families was well-planned and often consistent.

McMahon targeted and befriended parishioners with children of primary school age and ensured he was regularly invited into their homes. This gave him substantial opportunity to bring children and adults under his control, and ensured children would be unable to report his abuse to their parents.

Raphael told the Commissioner he was first abused by McMahon at the age of eight, although he believes that abuse was the wrong word to describe the priest’s crimes. ‘It’s called sodomy and rape. That’s what it was. It wasn’t child abuse.’

The sexual assaults on Raphael continued until he was 16. On one occasion, McMahon picked Raphael up from a railway station, ostensibly as a way of helping out. While driving, McMahon forced Raphael’s hand onto his penis and Raphael screamed and opened the passenger door to jump out. McMahon pulled the car over and dragged the boy to the boot, opening it to reveal a cache of weapons.

‘He absolutely loved his guns there. So in the boot he always had a .22, a .303 and what must have been a 460 shell or something like this … [He said], “Okay, you tell anyone about this, that’s it” … He was just a mad bastard, this bloke. Very smart man, but just an absolute mad bastard.’

Raphael had no doubt that McMahon, if pushed, would use one of the guns, and he didn’t tell his parents about the assaults because of the position the priest had come to occupy in their lives. Although he had no idea about sex, Raphael knew the abuse was wrong and at some point realised it wasn’t a result of anything he did or didn’t do. ‘I had to get that around my head there. It wasn’t my fault and it took me a while to realise that.’

In the 1990s, when he was in his early 30s, Raphael and a childhood friend who’d also been abused, reported McMahon to Victoria Police. An instigating factor was that the children of both men were of the age they’d been at the time of the assaults.

As news of the impending court case became public more people came forward to make statements about being abused by McMahon. In court proceedings and later it was discovered that McMahon’s offending behaviour had been known by Church authorities since a complaint in the early 1940s.

‘They knew what he was up to there,’ Raphael told the Commissioner. ‘Now this is the thing that just absolutely pisses me off. It should never have happened to me. It should never, ever have happened to me. And I’m just so pissed off it did happen to me. I’m still pissed off. It doesn’t bloody go away. I don’t care what they say, it never goes away.’

After initially denying all charges, McMahon quickly pleaded guilty and was jailed for offences against Raphael and a number of others. Further charges followed and the jail term was extended. McMahon died in the 2000s and was buried with much ceremony.

‘He should have died in jail. When he did die he had a priest’s funeral. He was still a priest. This is after he’s been in jail, the whole works … He was never laicised, this bloke and that’s what really pissed me off. So much for the Melbourne diocese’s concern about his victims.’

In the mid-1990s, Raphael started civil proceedings against the Catholic Church but was told that the Church couldn’t be sued because it wasn’t a legal entity. ‘During this conversation with [the Monsignor] he said, “We have more resources than you and we’ll defend the Church till the end”. Then he says, “Are you trying to destroy the Church?” And I went back to him and I said, “You blokes are going to do a fantastic job yourselves”.’

Raphael told the Commissioner that he’d starting using marijuana at an early age and continued to use it daily. ‘If I don’t smoke in the night time, I dream. I still have bloody nightmares. Marijuana makes me not dream and that’s why I smoke the stuff. I don’t dream and that’s what I love, not dreaming.’

He avoided intimate contact because it brought flashbacks of the abuse, and wasn’t sure when he’d last kissed his wife. ‘Hugging, you’ll never – people can’t get close to me and they never get close to me.’ Raphael’s employment had always been as a sole trader and he hated working with anyone else. ‘I don’t trust a lot of people, put it that way. I mean, even like work-wise there, if I want to do something I’ll get it done myself.’

Although McMahon is now dead, Raphael still wants justice through the court system. He wants those who knew about McMahon’s crimes and moved him through parishes brought to account.

‘I [was] raped 10 times. I want a proper … court to say … this is what happened to me …

‘From my point of view I’m going on the money side of things because I don’t really care about money, but the only thing I’ve realised the Catholic Church cares about is money. So the only thing I can do to counteract that is to try to bloody sue these bastards. But nothing is going to bloody pay for what they did to me.’

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