One Saturday in the late 1980s 17-year-old Tomas arrived at his Anglican church to donate materials for a fund-raiser. Tomas was greeted by the local Reverend, Sean Hughes, who offered him a drink. Tomas realised the drink he was given was alcoholic, but felt it would be impolite not to finish it. He noticed a powdery residue at the bottom of the glass when he had drained it.
Tomas lost consciousness. When he began to wake he became aware of Reverend Hughes touching him through his clothing and undressing him. Hughes then brutally raped Tomas, both anally and orally. Tomas blacked out completely and has only dim memories of struggling home on his bike, in extreme pain and shock.
Tomas told no one about the assault. He threw away his blood-stained underwear. He attended church as usual the next day with his family and had to listen to Hughes’ sermon from the pulpit.
A day or so later Tomas visited Hughes’ home after school and confronted the man. Tomas ‘punched him in the side of his head’.
The incident triggered an investigation by the Anglican Church. Tomas took a call from an Anglican official, Rupert Day, who asked that their discussions be confidential. They met in church and Tomas described the sexual abuse to him. Day asked for specific intimate details. He questioned Tomas about his masturbation habits and whether he had experienced an erection while he was with Reverend Hughes. Tomas strongly believes Rupert Day was taking sexual pleasure from hearing him recount his ordeal.
Day then told Tomas to seek forgiveness and absolution. He and Reverend Hughes knelt at the altar and were anointed with oil. Tomas was told that both he and Hughes had ‘sinned’.
Tomas tried to forget what had happened. It would be nearly 25 years before Tomas had the courage to confront the sexual abuse again. Prompted by public discussion of child sexual predators, Tomas contacted the local Anglican bishop. Some action followed. Tomas was spoken to by the Director of Professional Standards within the local Anglican diocese. Then a letter from the archbishop arrived telling him Reverend Hughes had been suspended while an investigation proceeded.
The inquiry that followed left Tomas feeling ‘gutted’. Hughes was pronounced guilty of ‘misconduct’ only. Tomas found this outcome shocking and ‘as though I had experienced the death of a thousand cuts’.
Tomas feels the whole inquiry process was a massive breach of trust. He was never told he was allowed to have a lawyer and support person present during interviews. He believes the inquiry personnel took the side of Reverend Hughes. One of the clergy who interviewed Tomas and listened to his account of the assault later appeared as Hughes’ support person and countersigned Hughes’ written denial of Tomas’ allegations.
Ultimately, Tomas received an apology and an ex-gratia payment.
A subsequent police investigation over an 18 month period failed to obtain a confession from Hughes. Charges were not laid.
The impact of the sexual assault on Tomas’ life has been profound. Tomas has never felt normal and continues to feel hatred for Sean Hughes. He has always felt the need to justify his sexuality. He must deal with intrusive thoughts on a daily basis. Tomas has lost his religious faith and still feels guilt over what happened to him as a boy. He has contemplated suicide on occasions.
As a result of the abuse Tomas has never been able to return to his old church. His father’s grave is within the church grounds; Tomas deeply regrets not being able to visit the site.
Tomas also regrets his silence for so many years, and is troubled at the thought that other youngsters may have suffered at the hands of Sean Hughes because he did not demand action earlier. He cannot shake off the shame he feels knowing ‘that I was physically taller and stronger than that pathetic shell of a man - yet I couldn’t defend myself’.
‘I do not know if I could have loved stronger and deeper as I do not know what it is like … an event that may have lasted as little as 15 minutes define[d] the rest of my life.’