Stevie grew up in Melbourne in the 1950s, the youngest of several children. Both his parents were Irish Catholics, and the authority of the Church was an accepted part of their lives.
‘At that time … the pull of the power of the Catholic priest and the Church was still quite profound in their thinking’, he said.
Stevie attended a Christian Brothers high school that he recalled with no fondness. ‘I have absolutely nothing positive to say about my education … They were bastards.’
One day when Stevie was in his mid-teens, a local priest, Father Tobin, came to the school to give a talk about ‘growing up’. All the boys were impressed by the way he used swear words in his speech in front of the Brothers. Afterwards, Stevie asked Father Tobin if he could meet with him for guidance about a problem.
Tobin’s abuse began at their very first meeting. He plied Stevie with beer and talked in graphic detail about the way gay men have sex. ‘That was the start’, Stevie recalled. ‘It carried on from there.’
Tobin then ‘inveigled’ himself into Stevie’s family, and was welcomed by his parents. With their permission, he took Stevie on visits and outings which became opportunities for further abuse. This continued until the end of high school.
Stevie is now in his 60s, and has had a rollercoaster life. ‘I’ve made and lost two fortunes’, he told the Commissioner. He has built and lost businesses, bought and sold properties, been jailed, had a gambling problem, health issues, multiple unhappy marriages and several kids. He’s in no doubt that the chaos and instability in his work and relationships can be traced back to the abuse he experienced as a teenager.
‘It’s like you’re 10 metres from the crest of Everest, and then a voice in the back of your head says, “You [must] not be successful”. And you do everything possible, not consciously – you just make stupid decisions – to destroy it. I can’t explain it.’
Stevie takes medication for anxiety and depression and also suffers from sleep disorders and reflux. He was happy and outgoing as a kid – these days he has no friends and his present marriage is ‘just about dead’.
‘I’m all over the place’, he said.
Stevie first disclosed the abuse to his father, in the early 2000s. Five years later he decided to report it to the police. ‘I had this road to Damascus – okay, I’m going to get this crap out of my system.’
Stevie found the police ‘terrific’. They arranged for him to make a ‘pretext’ call to Tobin, which was recorded. Stevie phoned the priest in the morning, but he was too drunk to talk. ‘He said, “My brain’s fried”.’ Stevie called again the next day, and this time Tobin wanted to apologise. ‘If I’ve done anything wrong to you I’m very sorry. But please, please, don’t do anything to stop me being a priest’, Stevie recalled him saying.
The police were ready to press charges, particularly as not long afterwards another victim came forward. But Stevie decided against it. He’d recently spent time in court as a result of issues in his working life, and wasn’t ready to go back. ‘I just didn’t want to see the inside of a courtroom again. But if you asked me now, I would.’
Stevie has been seeing a counsellor and making plans to get his life back on track. He intends to visit the police again and get them to follow up on their prosecution of Tobin.
‘When I played football, it was “See ball, get ball” … When I make my mind up to achieve something, I generally do it. And what I want to do here is I want to make that guy … I want his name in lights for what he did to me and probably a lot more other people. I want to finally put this to bed, finally get rid of it … I want to finally say, “Well, that was then, this is now”.’
Stevie’s first 15 years were ‘cool’. Thirty ‘not so cool’ years followed. ‘The next 30 are going to be really good’, he said.