‘I’m gay, and being gay back then in a Catholic school it was just like, I mean there wasn’t a word. I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t know until I was at university really what the word meant. But I knew that I was different, I knew I didn’t fit in. I struggled with all of that.’
Reynold grew up in a middle-class family in Queensland. His mother was a Catholic who took the family ‘to mass every Sunday but she wasn’t rabid about it’. Although the family weren’t very wealthy, his parents sent Reynold and his siblings to a private Catholic college run by the Augustinian Brothers in order to get a good education. But upon arriving at the school, Reynold discovered ‘I was just miserable. I hated school, I hated it … I was a bit of a non-conformist ... I was just the kid that was a bit alone, a bit quiet’.
When he was nine years old, in the 1960s, Reynold was sexually abused by one of the Brothers. This, coupled with the physical abuse he witnessed on a daily basis, meant his education suffered badly. And because of the Brothers’ tendency to administer corporal punishment, he felt he couldn’t disclose what had happened.
‘There was a real culture of violence there, which was the layers on top of that with the other priests, which made it impossible to talk about to anybody.’
As soon as Reynold turned 15 he was able to leave the college, and ‘at a great expense to my parents’ was sent to a different school where he flourished. Years later he came out to his parents and was happy to find their reaction loving and supportive. It wasn’t until he turned 40, after a number of close friends passed away from AIDS-related illnesses, that his psychological health began to deteriorate. After a particularly close friend died, Reynold sought help from a grief counsellor where he revealed the abuse he had experienced as a child. The counsellor quickly realised that Reynold’s experience was outside her abilities and referred him to a psychiatrist, who was able to help him understand why he was targeted by the perpetrator.
‘It helped me what he said, because he said “Maybe he saw that you didn’t fit in and he saw that you were different and that’s why he went for you”.’
Although Reynold benefitted from psychiatric treatment, he still suffered emotionally and experienced a period of chronic depression. During one particularly bad night, he was feeling ‘so desperate’ that he ‘didn’t want to go on really’. He had previously been made aware of Centacare, a counselling service associated with the Catholic Church. ‘I just knew that they had counselling so I picked up the phone book … and there was nothing under abuse or sexual abuse or counselling back then, nothing. It was like pages and pages of the Catholic Church but nothing about where to go for help.’
Unable to find a number for a counselling service, Reynold called a local Catholic seminary. ‘It was about 11 o’clock at night and I obviously woke this guy up. And his response was not great. Like I was distraught and he said “Look, this is not a counselling service”. He said “I don’t know why you rang here”. And he was a priest. He said “You’ll have to ring during office hours tomorrow”.
The priest hung up on Reynold, but Reynold was then able to get in contact with Lifeline who talked to him until they were confident he was not going to take his own life. The following day, Reynold contacted Centacare and made an appointment to speak with a counsellor.
‘We sat down, I told her everything that happened, everything. And I was a real mess as you can imagine. And she just sat there listening, and wrote a few things down. And the first thing she said was “Are you employed full-time?” And I looked at her and said “Why are you asking me that?” And she said “Oh this isn’t a free service. This is the counselling that’s under the umbrella of the Church but it’s not funded by them, and you’ll be charged for the counselling based on what your income is”.’
Distressed by this treatment, Reynold left Centacare in tears. He later told a friend, who called Centacare to complain. The matter was referred to a senior cleric who called Reynold, told him there would be no charge for counselling, and sent a cab to collect him so they could speak in person.
‘He was quite friendly to start with, and then same thing. I sat there, he said “Do you want to tell me why you came in” and I told him everything.’ After Reynold detailed his childhood sexual abuse, the priest tried to pressure him into disclosing the identity of the perpetrator. Reynold refused because ‘I just can’t take on that roping someone else into a whole lot of pain and stuff’.
‘And then he said to me “You know sometimes when we get older and we look back at things, they didn’t really happen the way we think they happened. And we can think they were a lot worse than they really were”. And I was just sitting there, it was like I couldn’t move. I was just so dumbstruck that he was trying to diminish the whole thing and make me question myself.
‘And then we got onto the gay stuff … Then we got into this whole discussion about the validity of homosexuality. It was just bizarre. I just sat there and it was like he was trying to attack me over that … I said “This is just making the whole thing worse than it is”. And then he said to me the most bizarre thing “Are you thinking of going to the press with this?” And that’s when I just lost it. I just looked at him and I said “You are just [an] evil, evil man. And this whole Church is just evil the way you’ve dealt with this”. I said “I’m getting out of here” and I just stormed out. And that was the last contact I ever had with them.
‘All those years later, that day was probably the most crushing experience apart from what happened. I think in some ways more so because it was like I was reaching out for help and he was just mowing me down.
‘These people, they say they’ve changed but I watched Archbishop Pell on TV the other week. And he was saying the words but I just watched him, thinking “You’re just a businessman really. You’re only in business and you’re in trouble. You’re caught with your hand in the till and you’re just saying what needs to be said”. And that’s kind of what I felt about [the priest from Centacare]. He was in damage control, he was their media person. He was just trying to make sure I wasn’t going to go public with this.’
In reference to his experience as a child, Reynold has never sought a civil response from the Augustinians nor reported his abuser to the police. He continues to experience depression and trust issues, including an aversion to older men, which causes him considerable conflict as he himself ages.
‘This has just damaged me in so many ways … I don’t think money’s going to help me. I would like to see laws changed, that I think [the Catholic Church] should be taxed like everybody else … and then that money could be set aside for these sorts of things. The only comment I would make is that I think they should be paying for all this counselling and accommodation, all this sort of stuff.’