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Ross John's story

‘I would just like them to acknowledge that what the Father has done to me was totally damaging and it has a lifelong effect on me and it’s still affecting me right now. And I want an acknowledgement from them that they stuffed [my case] up and I need some actions on the bishop.’

In the early 1980s, Ross came to Australia. He was 10 years old and because his family were devout Catholics, he was offered a full scholarship to a regional boarding school. Through his studies he became interested in a religious life and was introduced to a seminarian, Mr Thompson, who had also migrated recently to Australia from the same country as Ross.

Thompson was much older and a respected member of both the religious and the broader community, and so, culturally, Ross respected him too. Thompson showed an interest in Ross and by the time Ross was 17 years old, he was exerting considerable influence over Ross’s life.

Ross stayed with Thompson at a Catholic house, where Thompson began providing Ross with medical treatment and massage. Ross believed the treatments, that included touching his genitals and penis, were to assist him to become a priest.

‘I was just too frightened. I mean, I couldn’t object … He was … asking questions like, “Do you masturbate?” … It was a religious setting and you know, the … condemnation of lying [so] I fully admitted to it and he [said], “Oh, don’t worry about that, I can help you with that”, so that’s how it started.

‘When I finished school … he got into my life. He planned it out basically, my path for me. That I would go to university, do my philosophy, theology and everything that I need to do for the priesthood. Instead of sending me straight to the priesthood, he kept me with him … I was seeing myself as a disciple of him.’

Thompson encouraged Ross to move interstate with him so they could both continue their theological studies. During this time, Thompson was ordained as a priest.

Thompson, now a Father, pushed the abuse beyond fondling and Ross initially thought it was because he was being disciplined for something he had done wrong. But when Thompson forced him into intercourse, Ross fled.

‘That’s when I thought, “I’ve got to get away from this guy”.’

Ross left the city, his studies and attempted to rebuild his life, but Thompson ‘chased’ him. He contacted Ross’s parents and pressured them to force Ross back to the city and the seminary. His parents began to openly interfere in Ross’s life.

‘My parents really wanted me to be a priest but I didn’t know why … Somehow I just rejected it and then because they were pushing me and pushing me, I had a breakdown.’

The impacts of the grooming and sexual abuse have been extensive.

‘A complete lack of confidence – even now I’m still doubting whether I’ve been abused or not … I never thought it was anything [like] sexual violation … I didn’t come to that realisation … until [the late 2000s].’

Ross contacted the Catholic Church’s redress scheme Towards Healing to seek an apology and compensation. It began a long and drawn out process that Ross found retraumatising and isolating, and forced him to thoughts of suicide.

The Towards Healing contact told Ross he needed to report the abuse to police. He did so but when they went to interview Thompson he was overseas. Eventually, Ross was told there was ‘no chance’ of a criminal conviction. Ross went back to Towards Healing. Almost a year after that, they offered a small amount of money in compensation but no apology.

Ross was distressed with his treatment and went to the bishop. Sometime later, he finally received an apology from the bishop and a slightly higher compensation offer but Ross has refused the money.

‘I’m a theologian and a philosopher and I’m still keen on serving the Church and I understood the Towards Healing process to be compassion … Compassion is to put victims first and to understand and respond to the ongoing needs of the victim and that [money] doesn’t reflect anything … I’ve been asking the Church to really seek to understand what my ongoing needs are … I am still being abused by the Church now.’

He has been seeing a psychiatrist for a number of years but has little support elsewhere.

‘All my family, my siblings, have turned against me. I have no friends … I have been pretty much on my own … For the last five years all I’ve been struggling to do is to stay alive. When it comes to it there are so many things that just push me to say “Look, might as well end it all”. I’ve been really struggling … I … stay alive for my … kids and that’s what kept me going.’

Despite all the damage the Catholic Church has caused Ross, he hasn’t lost his faith.

‘I’m still a practicing Catholic. I’m still trying to be in the Church, love the Church. The hard thing is to be with the Church in the midst of these leaders … What is hard for me to live with, is the fact that they are still reminding me every day that they don’t see me as somebody courageous. They see me as a little shit. They don’t see me as somebody courageous – just a troublemaker. But what … I need [is] to be reinstated in my Church … as a person.’

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