‘As a young kid you blame yourself … I’ve got young children myself now, and it’s not right. It’s a thing that should never happen.’
Sean watched a broadcast of one of the Royal Commission’s public hearings into allegations of child sexual abuse and found it ‘sort of stirred me up … motivated me to do something’.
Sean grew up in the late 1950s in a well-connected and ‘very strong Catholic family’ in regional Victoria, attending the local Catholic primary school. In the last years of primary school Sean, along with three other boys, became an altar server.
‘During altar boy sessions you’re at the presbytery, you used to have these altar boy robes you’d put on before mass … and … he was forever … fondling our bottoms … It wasn’t only me … I saw him many times. He was never shy about tickling someone, just put his hands down your pants and stuff like that. He was just a dirty, creepy bastard. He knew what he was doing – he didn’t care if any of your parents were half-looking.’
The priest also coached the football team and supervised other individual sports at the school, which meant Sean also had contact with him there. One day after training some distance from the school, the priest suggested that he and Sean have a swim before returning.
‘In the water [he began] … caressing me and I could feel his erection behind me and I hit him and took off … If I wasn’t strong enough to force myself away from him I shudder to think what could have happened.’
Sean had no one to tell.
‘In them days your parents would have them blokes out for dinner and whatever and they’re respected and I couldn’t say nothing … I felt as if I couldn’t tell me parents.’
Sean was able to limit the contact he had with the priest when he moved on to high school.
‘When I got a bit older, I decided I don’t want to be an altar boy because I didn’t want to go back into that … I was past his use by date by then … he [would have been] preying on the other young kids.’
Sean believes that his issues with alcohol stem from the sexual abuse and betrayal of trust he experienced. He has engaged in reckless behaviour and has issues with authority and with intimacy, especially in relation to his own children.
‘I’m probably not the most loving … hugging your children and all that … It’s like there’s always been a handbrake there for some reason … I couldn’t really open up to my children.’
‘I’ve been in charge of children and drinking and driving … I just had no self-esteem – no respect for yourself.’
Forty years after the events, Sean received counselling because his marriage was in trouble. He told the counsellor about his abuse, the first time he had talked about it in any detail. He then told his wife about his experiences.
‘I got it off my chest and I could feel open to speak to someone else about it … By leaving it just … within your own system I don’t think really worked ... I’ve held it in my own head for that long.’
Sean knows that one of the other altar boys has died.
‘I don’t know what happened … I think it was an OD … I’ve always wondered, what has he been carrying in his conscience too?’
While Sean was receiving counselling he also tried to tell his father about the abuse. ‘He just didn’t want to hear about it and [said] “Don’t speak about it again”.’ Sean has lost his religious faith as a direct result of the abuse and the culture of the Church that allowed the abuse to continue.
‘I’m just peeved off that you got bishops up there that just hunt them [abusers] from one parish to another and knowing quite obviously what was going on. That’s what I’m more disappointed about than anything … I’ve just lost me respect I used to have for the churches.’
By speaking with the Commissioner, Sean believes he is helping others as much as himself.
‘I just feel … by doing this it’s going to try and give me some sort of release … I’m quite free to talk about it now … And it wasn’t just me. It was thousands and thousands of poor kids.’