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Theo's story

During an interview to enter the seminary in the 1980s, Theo disclosed to the archbishop that he’d been sexually abused as a 12-year-old by his then parish priest, Father Maher. He recounted that the abuse had continued through secondary school and stopped only when Theo left town at the age of 18.

‘The archbishop roared laughing, and said, “So you’re one of Maher’s boys are you?” I think he found it funny that “one of Maher’s boys” would want to be a priest.’

Theo told the Commissioner that as an altar boy he travelled with Father Maher to outlying communities every Sunday to conduct mass. The abuse started with fondling and kissing and progressed to rape. ‘It happened in the car first, then it was in the presbytery and on camps, basically wherever he could.’ Theo became more withdrawn and isolated from friends and family, which prevented him from talking to anyone about the abuse.

Theo thought Father Maher’s inappropriate behaviour had been known for decades. In the late 1960s an archbishop visited the parish. ‘He must have made an assessment of his own, because Maher came to me and said the archbishop had told him that if I said so, he’d have to leave town. He told me if he did leave, all his good work with the elderly would stop. I see now that I was being manipulated.’

Theo left the seminary after a few years, and married and had children. When he was in his 30s he reported the abuse to police. Attempts to retrieve documents and information were thwarted by the Catholic Church’s liaison staff. ‘They said they wouldn’t hand over any priest to the police.’ Soon after the investigation was initiated, Father Maher died and the case was closed.

Theo considered suing the Church but thought the process would be too daunting.

Before his death, Father Maher wrote to Theo in response to being informed about the investigation. He admitted the abuse and asked for Theo’s forgiveness.

‘He said, “I’ve placed myself in God’s hands and will accept whatever punishment He thinks I deserve”. Then he wrote an outline of all the good work he’d done … and attached a letter from a student to demonstrate his inspiring efforts with young people.’

Theo said that to prevent child sexual abuse, it was important to recognise the dynamics of communities and social events, and the way narcissistic people like Father Maher operated.

‘The police should have been informed as soon as it was known what he did. It should also be a criminal offence to knowingly fail to report behaviour like his. He took something very personal from me: my trust. For children and for the sake of truth, the message needs to be clear that you don’t have to keep people’s secrets. That’s the only way things will change.’

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