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Rod's story

In the 1990s, Rod was living overseas when he heard that an allegation of sexual abuse had been made against the man who had been his parish priest in the 1960s in regional South Australia. That priest had sexually abused him over a period of eight years while Rod was serving as an altar boy.

Rod told the Commissioner that he was eight years old when Father Sheehan began abusing him.

‘It started out as psychological torture, and then it became sexual.’

The priest was an integral part of the community for decades, and although he’d died years before, the allegations created enormous upheaval in the parish. Despite his status, people demanded that the priest’s headstone be removed.

Rod’s father rang him about the rumour and asked if he too had been abused by Sheehan. ‘I told him that I had. Dad said, “Why didn’t you tell me? You should have let me know”.’

For Rod the power of the priest and the Church, and the fear of God were so great that he didn’t think anyone would believe him. He found his father’s late support and belief reassuring.

In the 2000s a confluence of events, including his mother’s death and the end of a long-term relationship, led Rod to seek advice from Broken Rites. He found them understanding and their advice helpful. He also started to engage with the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process, but found their response poor.

‘I thought it would be an independent review, but it wasn’t’, Rod said. ‘I had an interview with a nun and had to fill out numerous questionnaires. The whole thing didn’t seem right. It didn’t seem a good idea that they could conduct an inquiry into themselves.’

After becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Towards Healing, Rod took civil action against the Church. He described the lawyer he engaged as professional and compassionate, and doubted that he’d have been able to persist with the process without legal help. ‘Once we started the civil claim, it became very protracted. I got the feeling they were trying to wear me down. There were more questionnaires, plus assessments and meetings. They wanted to know my income from day one of my working life, which was back in the 70s. I earned $110 or $120 a week, but I don’t really know how that was relevant.’

Seven years after he started the civil action, the Church settled for $80,000, including $30,000 for legal fees.

‘There was no apology or recognition that the abuse had occurred. They wanted me to sign a confidentiality agreement, but I said I wouldn’t sign anything that stopped me from talking. For a long time my fear had been greater than my desire to confront the abuse, and I didn’t want to be silenced anymore.’

In the early 2010s, a priest contacted Rod to ask what he thought about Father Sheehan’s headstone being reinstalled in the cemetery. ‘I said, “Don’t even think about it”.’

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