Timothy is a whistleblower who trained as a priest and later spent six years teaching in a Catholic school. Eventually he resigned from the school because of the Church’s failure to take action against a priest who sexually abused a child in the parish.
Timothy said that he first arrived at the school in the early 1980s. The parish priest at that time was a man named Father Manning. Two years after Timothy’s arrival, there was some trouble involving Manning and a local woman, and Manning was shipped off to another town almost overnight.
Timothy then sought a meeting with one of the leaders of the diocese and pleaded with him to replace the priest with someone ‘who was pastorally oriented, who would really nurture the community’.
Sometime later, Timothy bought a copy of the Catholic newspaper that listed the new postings for priests. ‘And I nearly died when I saw that I was getting Tobin.’ From his contacts within Father Tobin’s previous parish, Timothy knew of the priest’s reputation. ‘That he was devious and he misappropriated mammoth sums of money. That he had strange behaviour in handling children.’
Over the next few years all of Timothy’s worst fears about Tobin were realised. The final straw was when he sexually abused a young girl in the confessional. Timothy reported the priest to Michael Horvath, one of the leaders of the diocese.
‘I brought this to their notice and the action was that Michael Horvath went over and spoke to him and said, “There’s concerns about the way you’re handling children in the confessional”. And all he [Tobin] wanted to do was find out who the child was and he was going to sue them.’
The Church took no further action so Timothy took matters into his own hands and arranged for the girl and her parents to talk to the police. But on the morning before they were set to go, the parents saw a story in the paper about another girl who had been abused. The story detailed how the girl had been discredited in the witness box and the offender had been let off. ‘And they rung me in a panic, they rung me on a private number at home and said, “No, we’re not going ahead”.’
Despite the setback, Timothy continued to push for action. He told the Commissioner he was outraged by the Church’s behaviour but not shocked, because his time as a trainee priest had given him insight into Church culture, which included an attitude that priests were ‘above the law’ .
‘They are sacred, they are protected, and we can’t do anything wrong. And they begin to believe their own bullshit about this, that we’re sacred, we are the ultimate power base and we don’t have to answer to anyone … They see the Church’s image as far more important to defend than anybody that’s outside the hierarchy.’
Timothy also observed that the Church had a practice of deliberately shifting troublesome priests to parishes that had low socio-economic status so there would be less chance of the parishioners complaining.
He worked for months trying to change the system from within but still nothing was done. In the end Timothy did what he had to do and resigned. In the aftermath, his life changed completely.
‘I was under the strict advice from the Catholic Education Office and they told me I couldn’t say why I resigned, otherwise I’d be sued. And so therefore … I refused to speak to anyone because my thoughts then were “All they’re going to do is sensationalise this and I’ll be worse off”. My wife and I lost everything and my family was dislocated by the decisions we made, and I have never been employed in education anywhere else in Australia since. I have an asterisk against my name, that I cannot be controlled.’
Then, more than 20 years after his resignation, Timothy decided that ‘the climate had changed drastically’ and it was now the right time for him to tell his story. The day before it was due to come out in the media, he got a call from a senior member of the clergy.
‘And he was irate. And he said to me, “What possessed you to speak to the media?” And I said, “I’ve been trying to get something done for 20-odd years and nobody wants to do anything, they all just want to sweep it under the carpet” … And I said, “Look, I’m not talking to you” and I hung up. And I’ve had no more contact with them since.’
Nowadays Timothy continues to push for change within the Church. He said that life for him and his family has improved since the story came out. ‘All of a sudden my wife has relief of the fact that she can now openly speak. People don’t say, “How come Timothy left school teaching?” they say, “I can’t believe what you and your husband have been through”.’