Timothy John's story

Timothy’s family was Catholic – ‘pillars of the church sort of thing’ – and growing up in a Melbourne suburb he attended the local Catholic primary school. It was the feeder school for a nearby Catholic high school, where Timothy became a Year 7 student in the early 1970s.

He was young for his year, just recently turned 11, and pre-pubescent. He was a ‘cheeky trouble’ kind of kid, and the class clown. He realised later these were exactly the attributes his class teacher, Brother Peter Grayson, was attracted to. ‘They’re the kids Grayson generally attacked’, Timothy told the Commissioner.

Grayson’s sexual abuse of Timothy began just a few weeks into the first term. He told Timothy to stay back after school for detention. That afternoon all the other students left and Timothy remained alone with Grayson in the classroom. Grayson came and sat beside Timothy, put his hands on Timothy’s genitals and fondled them.

‘When he started doing this I started crying and cried the whole time he was fondling me. While he was fondling me he would be talking to me about my behaviour, how my work would have to improve and about the money my parents had spent on my education’, Timothy recalled in a written statement.

Timothy estimates he was sexually assaulted by Grayson some 300 times throughout that year and the early part of the next. The abuse came to an end when Grayson suddenly vanished from the school. He’d been sent to a retreat, the students were told.

Timothy was abused by Grayson during class and while he was on detention. Grayson also organised to give Timothy extra tuition on Saturday mornings and abused him then. The assaults escalated over time: at first he didn’t insert his hands inside Timothy’s shorts and then he did, progressing to masturbation and digital penetration. He would talk to Timothy at the same time, psychologically abusing him. And he was physically intimidating as well, walking around with a leather strap and striking at the desks. ‘There was always a threat’ – and it sometimes translated into actual blows: ‘I often went home with really sore hands, among other things’, Timothy said.

‘I felt utterly helpless and degraded.’

Timothy wasn’t the only student Grayson abused. Timothy saw him molest other children during class and at detention. As well, Grayson would come into the changing rooms after the boys had played sport: ‘He’d come and dry us off, and he’d rub you up, and he’d stick his finger in your arse, and all that sort of stuff – that would happen on a regular basis.’ He is certain other teachers knew what Grayson was doing. The sports master’s office, for instance, was right next to the changing rooms. ‘He knew what [was] going on. Absolutely.’

In his early 30s, Timothy reported Grayson to police. He had a successful working life by then, was married and had children approaching school age. It was concern for them that impelled him to come forward, he explained: ‘I can’t protect them when I’m not with them, and they’re going to school, and I know what happened to me at school, so …’ He disclosed to his wife the same day.

Grayson eventually faced charges for offences against Timothy and several of his classmates. Other victims decided not to come forward, or agreed to and then changed their minds. Timothy was disappointed but not surprised.

‘There’s a critical thing here you need to understand … It needs to be documented’, he told the Commissioner. ‘The success in getting Grayson charged relied on one thing: a memory more than 20 or 30 years old, where you had to name the date and time for it to be successful. So to really try and remember vividly, when you’ve been molested 300 times over a three year period, the exact dates it happened to you on … A lot of them felt “I couldn’t pick the date; I don’t know when it happened”.’

As well, he said, some people he knew had been abused by Grayson denied it. ‘Sometimes people just had to digest it and look in the mirror and say, “Yeah, it did happen to me” – and it sometimes took two years, five years or six years …’ He also believes the Catholic community does not always support people speaking out.

‘There’s still a really strong view by the Church – when I say Church I’m talking about the people of the Church – that you’re doing something wrong coming forward, and you’re doing something wrong mentioning it, and it was different time, it was a different this, and you know, you should let it go – so there’s very much a stigma attached’, he explained.

He himself felt empowered by the process of disclosure, and by pursuing Grayson through the courts. ‘I felt invincible when I came forward. I was confident. And the punches in the head on the way, to get where we wanted to go, increased my resolve. They didn’t deter it.’

Grayson was eventually convicted and sentenced to jail. For Timothy, the next step was to seek redress from the Church, with the help of a solicitor. This took him into the Towards Healing process. ‘We always felt it was devised to minimise the impact of the financial losses possibly to the Catholic Church as opposed to any sort of healing process’, he said. He was offered counselling, but when he rejected the Church’s initial settlement offer he found that counselling was no longer on the table.

‘If you rejected that first offer, that’s when they really got quite nasty, I felt … The whole attitude was you either take this or you get nothing.’ At the mediation meeting with Church representatives, ‘there was absolutely no real compassion at all. We were a problem. It was a problem they wanted to go away, it wasn’t a problem they wanted to deal with. And that was pretty clear’.

Timothy did eventually accept a payout. But he remains angry about his experiences dealing with the Church.

‘I think there was a veil of secrecy. I think a lot of people knew; I think they carry that guilt with them today, a lot of those people. I think a lot deny it, that they knew, and they damn well did. I think it’s really unfortunate that the Church has put the dollar before the people’, he said.

‘There was a duty of care and they failed miserably in it. And I think the care wasn’t for us, the care was for their own.’


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