‘Our house was like the Vatican. Any Irish priest coming over, there was always a bed for them, there was always a meal for them. My parents were good people.’
Tim was born in the early 1960s and grew up in a staunchly Catholic household in New South Wales. In the mid-70s the local priest asked Tim’s parents if they would take a trainee priest into their home for a few months.
Soon a young seminarian named James Caldow arrived. Almost immediately he was considered a part of the family, with Tim’s parents relying on him to babysit from time to time. Caldow used these opportunities to sexually abuse Tim.
Tim was about 13 years old at the time. He didn’t understand what was going on and felt that it was somehow his fault. Feeling too ashamed and embarrassed to tell anyone explicitly what was going on, he looked for ways to hint at it.
One night, when the family was at the dinner table, Tim’s older brother Harry mentioned that he’d run into Caldow at an event in the city.
‘Harry said, “I saw James Caldow the other night and he told me, ‘What would you say if I told you I loved you?’” This is the 70s. And Harry said, “I’d knock your head in”. And Mum and Dad laughed at that. And I just said, “He says that to me all the time”. And there was just silence. Everyone just looked.’
In the aftermath, Tim’s mother confronted Caldow. Around the same time, Tim’s anger turned outwards and gave him the strength to stand up to the priest himself.
‘You do blame yourself. I was defending people in the playground but I couldn’t defend myself against this guy – at that time he was a solid guy – until that final day when I said, “Nup. Stop”.’
The combined effect of Tim’s stand and his mother’s intervention was the end of the abuse. After that, no action was taken against Caldow and nobody discussed the matter again. Tim was left feeling drained and unmotivated. He stopped caring about school and ended up with a ‘laughable’ Year 12 result. ‘Because I just gave up.’
And yet, Tim went on to surprise himself by enjoying a successful career in a challenging industry while also maintaining several close, healthy relationships. He’d done so well, in fact, that he decided to speak to a counsellor.
‘Is there something wrong with me that I’m not going to a doctor, saying “This happened to me, I need medication?” … Is there something wrong with me that I don’t suffer post-traumatic stress?’
In the early 2000s Tim reported Caldow to the local bishop, who said that ‘this guy was a bastard and that I should go to the police about it. And I nearly did then’.
He refrained because his brother, who was a pursuing a prominent career at the time, asked him not to. ‘His exact words were, “Be very careful what you do, Tim. You don’t know where this kind of thing leads to”.’
Tim has always regretted taking his brother’s advice. Fortunately, he got another chance about a decade later when a detective rang out of the blue. She asked him to provide information about a priest named Gibbons, who had been accused of child sexual abuse.
Tim hadn’t been abused by Gibbons but he knew of others who had. He spoke with the detective and gave her the information she needed. Then, just before she hung up, the detective told Tim to contact her if there was anything else he wanted to talk about.
Two weeks later Tim told her the story of what James Caldow had done to him. The police launched an investigation which included extensive surveillance of Caldow.
‘They said he’s an odd one because all he does every morning is goes to a library and reads in the library, hops on the train and comes home. Very lonely person.’
The police also got Tim to make contact with Caldow while wearing a hidden recording device. He did so several times over the phone and once in person. It was a challenging task made much easier by the care he received from the police.
‘My support from the New South Wales Police and the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) was quite strong. And that has to be recognised. That’s what got me through all this.’
In the end Caldow was convicted and given a good behaviour bond. Tim felt bad for the police who had worked so hard and wanted a tougher sentence, but he had no qualms himself. ‘We got a conviction. I got a recognition. That was my biggest one: recognition.’
Tim no longer identifies as Catholic but said, ‘I’ve still got a very strong faith. Very strong faith. They can’t take that away from me’. His faith is part of the reason why he’s been able to maintain such a compassionate attitude towards his abuser.
‘I would love to have been able to have the opportunity to forgive him. If he had asked me, “Hey, I’m really sorry for what I’ve done”, I would have forgiven him.’