‘It’s embarrassing. I find it terribly embarrassing and I feel probably I was weak, I should have been able to stand up to it and I never did. This goes to how I was brought up, in a devout Catholic family, prayers every night and mass every Sunday and it was instilled in you to have real trust in the priests and anyone to do with the church. And that left me totally and utterly confused when it happened.’
Seamus was helping out parish priest Father D’Angelo one day when someone tried to steal money from the church. Seamus chased the man away and was congratulated by D’Angelo for his swift action. ‘He just went on and on how good I was to catch this bloke. And when I was 16 or thereabouts, it was wonderful to have someone praise you that much.’
Shortly afterwards, D’Angelo trapped Seamus in the presbytery. The priest fondled his genitals and Seamus said he was so shocked, he didn’t know what to do. ‘I was sexually naive and very well protected within the family environment. I hadn’t been out in the world that would expose me to this sort of thing so I accepted it the first time and thought this is what priests do and this is part of growing up, but the second time it was wrong. I knew it was wrong and I had to put a stop to it.’
Seamus told the Commissioner that after he was abused the second time, he took active steps to avoid D’Angelo, including refusing to go to mass. This greatly upset his parents who saw D’Angelo as energetic and charismatic and often invited him to dinner in the family home. Faith was integral to their lives and Seamus’s avoidance of the priest and the Church changed his relationship with his parents forever. ‘I don’t think my mother ever forgave me.’
Throughout his 20s and 30s Seamus buried the abuse and ‘got on with life’. He married, had children and worked hard over four decades. A succession of events including the death of his mother, the break-up of his marriage and his retirement from work led him to feel increasingly ‘troubled’.
A few years ago, he went to see a psychologist and after nine months of counselling disclosed the sexual abuse. The psychologist encouraged Seamus to report it to New South Wales Police, which he did the next year. At the time of Seamus speaking to the Royal Commission, the matter was still progressing.
Seamus described his experience with the police as very positive. The officer with whom he spoke was ‘wonderful’ and made Seamus feel confident in continuing whenever he faltered. ‘He made a big difference to my ability to tell all the details, again it was embarrassment. I think I broke down a few times but he made me feel a lot better.’
Around this time, Seamus also told his siblings about the abuse. His sister was very supportive while his brother, who still maintained close links with the Church, expressed concerns about the abuse becoming public.
Seamus has lately considered seeking legal advice as the first step in applying for compensation, but finds the thought terrifying. ‘For a 62-year-old bloke to be scared. I’m not losing that.’
He said he’d always felt isolated by his experience of being abused. Throughout the years he’d steered clear of men, particularly in groups. He had travelled overseas often. ‘I go most of the time by myself and I love it because no one knows me. I’m free. I don’t have to explain anything. I can do whatever I want – that’s my release, but then I come back and it’s all there again.’
Media reports and news of the Royal Commission were catalysts for Seamus to more openly acknowledge the sexual abuse. However, he can’t shake the feelings of embarrassment and regret that he hadn’t been able to prevent the abuse or stop it earlier.
‘You judge yourself. I still allowed it to happen. I know that’s the wrong attitude, but I still have that thing there. It’s there – that bit won’t leave me …
‘It doesn’t matter how many times you go over it. I spend so much time trying to rationalise it – why me, why did it happen? Even though it happens to other people, you still feel alone. It’s happening to thousands of people but it’s still me.’