Being raped by a notorious paedophile priest when he was 11 had ‘massive’ physical, emotional and financial ramifications for Stirling for 40 years.
‘It’s affected me in a broad number of ways’, Stirling said. These include a recent ‘full breakdown’ requiring numerous periods of hospitalisation and finding himself with nothing but the support of his loving family and a disability pension. Stirling also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder related to his employment in the Australian defence forces.
He was among the youngest in a large family that was part of a charismatic Catholic movement in Melbourne, and Stirling did not realise, until he asked his brother to accompany him to his private session at the Royal Commission, that probably all of his brothers had been interfered with during their time in the Catholic school system in Victoria in the 1960s and 1970s.
He believes his late parents, although not formally aware that the priest, Basil Davis, sexually abused him numerous times in his residence across the road from the school, may have suspected something had happened to him.
The sexual abuse began with rape in the mid-1970s when Stirling was lured to the presbytery on a Saturday to further discuss his perceived talent for communicating with God. This occurred after Stirling’s parents had been groomed by the priest – a popular, young, piano-playing, local karate sensei with a ‘beautiful dog’ that drew children to him.
‘What he was essentially doing all this time was hiding a monster’, said Stirling.
During the first rape – in which ‘I figured I’d better do what I’m told’ and get into the parish priest’s single bed with him – Stirling ‘froze’ and went ‘blank’.
‘He said it was our special secret and if I shared it with anyone or told a soul, God would punish me and people would call me a liar and not forgive me. I would go to Hell’, Stirling wrote in documents before the Royal Commission.
Later he worried that what had happened with the priest was normal sex, which hurt, and which he didn’t like.
Basil Davis continued the abuse on at least eight occasions throughout the course of that one year.
Davis even had Stirling pulled out of a Latin class when the teacher, a Brother, normally would not allow toilet breaks. Stirling believes that the Brother was complicit, as were other Brothers who allowed his absence from other classes at the special request of Basil Davis, who was merely a chaplain at the school with no other role.
‘I come from a pretty stoic sort of lot … I didn’t tell anyone about it. My parents were pretty ardent Catholics … I felt so embarrassed and I wasn’t sure anyone would believe me or what impact it would have.’
But it had an indelible impact. There were ‘elements of missing time’, and Stirling ‘blocked it out’ to the point that when he first disclosed ‘some basic outlines’ to a sister in his 20s he still ‘couldn’t comprehend that he [Davis] went “all the way”’.
When he joined the defence forces and had a medical examination, evidence of blunt force trauma that had caused physical anal damage was discovered. The injuries needed corrective surgery. Later Stirling experienced flashbacks, drank heavily, almost lost his job, smoked marijuana and indulged in high-risk behaviour including volunteering for special duties.
‘It’s ravaged my body’, he said, and caused ‘massive … hardships … for me all my life’ including him repeatedly passing up offered leadership roles in his employment. ‘My best friend was alcohol – and denial.’
He told how two of his suicide attempts were thwarted by either ‘ineptitude or my guardian angel’.
‘I’m just glad I’m here now and I’ve got my family and my kids and my wife. I’m lucky enough that I wasn’t very good at doing what I was doing, or didn’t really want to do what I was doing.’
His brother, Ewan, was ‘saddened’ that child sexual abuse ‘was on such a scale that we need a Royal Commission’. He volunteered that it was the ‘something revolutionary’ that needed to happen, something ‘that drives change’ on such a ‘universal’ issue.
When Stirling heard Davis had been mentioned in the media in relation to the rape of a teenage girl, he felt guilt that it may not have occurred had he spoken up sooner.
He went to police and Davis, already in jail on child sex convictions, was additionally charged in relation to his sexual abuse of Stirling. However, Davis died of natural causes in jail before Stirling’s case could proceed.
Stirling doesn’t see child sexual abuse as ‘just a Catholic Church issue. I look at it as individuals that come together and support each other at times, and work in a very clever and calculating way to support each other’.
His original motivation in disclosing the abuse to police was ‘about confronting Basil Davis, have him charged and having a day in court’.
But now ‘for the first time in my life’ and with ‘justice … hard to get now because the perpetrator is dead’, Stirling wants compensation from the Catholic order and this is now in train. He also wants an acknowledgement, not only that the abuse occurred, but an acknowledgement by the ‘others that were complicit’.