Simon has devoted his life to the service of God. Even as a small child he had a strong religious sense and one of his earliest memories is of walking into a little wooden church and being taken over by a sense of mystery.
His family migrated to Australia in the early 1950s when Simon was young and, with poor language skills and few local friends, he felt as though he didn’t belong. That feeling continued through his school years and when he was 15 he left home and started junior-level training to become a Brother in a Catholic order.
While he loved being part of the community, he found the atmosphere very intense and after a few years he took leave. But he wasn’t yet ready to step away from religious life. A friend wrote a letter on his behalf to the leader of a different Catholic order and one day Leon Delaney turned up at his door. Over the next few weeks, Delaney met Simon often.
‘I was fairly shy. I didn’t have very much confidence. I really didn’t know what to do …
‘One day he said to me, “Would you like to join us?” and I thought that’s the answer … He had already begun to groom me. Building my confidence in him, building my trust in him.’
At 17, Simon joined Delaney’s order to restart his religious training. The novices lived together in the same house as Delaney. Delaney would come to Simon’s bedroom, rub his stomach and then fondle his genitals.
‘Now, I can say he’s taking advantage of me. Then, I don’t think I understood what the hell was going on. Before taking vows we’d had sessions on sexuality and so on, but it was the mechanics. It had nothing to do with relating to people, or relationships of any kind, to really understand what was going on. And here’s this guy who’s … revered and he’s doing things and you feel, well, it has to be okay. So that sort of thing went on for years.
‘He was almost ravenous. Because it wasn’t just me whose door he was knocking on. From me he would go to somebody else, or somebody else. And I know there were times when I felt uncomfortable with him. He would try to push things further. He would try tongue kissing and I just thought “No, I don’t want this. I’m not comfortable with this”, and my teeth were always clenched.
‘He would get me naked … and I remember he got onto the bed and was lying on top of me and just sort of saying to me “Do whatever you feel like”. And mentally I’m saying to myself, “What the hell do you want? I don’t know what you’re on about” …
‘Gradually I began to get uncomfortable without fully understanding what was going on … I found him invading my space as a person. He said to me once, “I know you better than you know yourself”. And mentally I just said “No fucking way. There’s part of me that belongs to me and you don’t know that part and I’m not going to let you into that part”.
‘And I think I had to then begin to almost lead a double life ... and gradually I tried to distance myself from him, because there was a real dependency that had been built up over a number of years …
‘I found myself saying I’m here because God wants me to be here, not because of him. And my vocation’s got nothing to do with him, it’s God and me.’
Simon avoided Delaney, but continued to work in various positions within the order, including as a teacher, which he very much enjoyed. The Brothers were discouraged from talking to outsiders and Simon said he learnt to keep his mouth shut. He told nobody about the abuse.
In the early 1990s, there were some accusations of sexual abuse within the order and an inquiry was held. Simon was then in his late 40s, and it was the first time he was able to put the sexual abuse in a context.
‘I remember one of the guys was talking to me on the phone about his experiences with Delaney and I thought, “That’s exactly what was said to me. That’s exactly what was done to me”. And that was the first time.’
Simon made a statement to police about Delaney. A number of Brothers from the order were jailed as perpetrators and Simon went on official leave. He later received some money from victims of crime compensation.
He said he didn’t want to join another religious order because ‘I wasn’t prepared to let anybody else play around with my life’.
The Church then sent him to live within a parish with no specific duties, but as there was no resident priest he became closely involved with the local community. He has been there for 20 years and during that time, only once did a bishop ask after his wellbeing. His faith in God is unwavering, but over the years he has lost his trust in the Church hierarchy.
‘When I hear from the Catholic bishops their bleatings of sorrow etc, I just think it’s a load of bullshit. I don’t think they mean a word of it. All they want is for it all to go away.’
There are aspects of life within his old religious order that Simon still misses terribly. However, he feels he has become the face of the Church within his current parish, and he now thinks of that as his community. He said the parishioners there are welcoming and accepting and, in many respects, ‘they probably saved me’.