Vince was born into a strict Catholic family in the mid-1950s. At age seven he became an altar boy at the church where his uncle Josef worked as caretaker. Over the next six years, Vince was sexually abused by Uncle Josef on multiple occasions, always within the grounds of the church.
‘He more or less threatened me with the basis that if I ever mentioned it to anyone I’d be in major trouble with my mother. Not the reverse. Not him being in trouble with my mother, but me. I’d be the one held responsible’.
This was reinforced when Vince reached out to a priest during confession and disclosed what Josef was doing to him. ‘And basically the priest said, “Okay, I’ll forgive you for your sins. Go and do your penance and don’t do it again”.’ At the time, Vince interpreted this to mean, ‘It is part my fault’.
The abuse came to an end when Vince was in his early teens. He speculates that this was mostly because his uncle got married and ‘moved on’, but also because Vince was getting older and more savvy, and, sensing this, his uncle felt threatened.
Vince kept the abuse to himself for more than 40 years. During this time he built a successful career, married and had several children. But the impact was always with him. Career-wise he had trouble ‘taking command’ and breaking into positions of senior responsibility. He struggled with conflict, often bottling up his feelings and then lashing out inappropriately. He also struggled to connect with his kids.
‘I couldn’t be over-affectionate to them because I was scared I’d do something similar or it would be deemed that I’d done something wrong.’
In the early 2000s he experienced difficulties in his marriage and decided to open up to his wife. She was supportive and together they sought psychological help. A few years later Vince spoke to a family friend who was also a Catholic priest. The friend gave him some information about the Church’s Towards Healing redress process for victims of child sexual abuse.
Vince was initially impressed with the process. He said, ‘From reading the actual documentation etc, it all seemed so simple, clean and potentially short.’ He soon discovered that his first impressions were wrong on every count.
According to the Church’s own processes, they were supposed to start by contacting Uncle Josef and putting the allegations to him. Only then, if Uncle Josef denied it, would the matter go before a panel to be assessed. But the Church didn’t do that.
‘They made me sit for virtually five to six months without any contact. Then when I contacted them to find out what’s going on, where’s it at, the detail that I got was, “Oh, we haven’t been able to determine whether he was even employed by us, don’t know whether he’s alive or dead”. Yet I had already told them, yes he’s still alive and he lives in the outer suburbs. And he was in the telephone book.’
Vince said things went even more ‘haywire’ after that. The Church put his matter into the wrong stream. Instead of contacting Uncle Josef, they arranged for Vince to appear before the assessors, where he had to describe the intimate details of the abuse to a panel of strangers. He said it was ‘like sticking a knife in me and twisting it’.
The matter stretched out over years. During this time the Church review board investigated the way Towards Healing had dealt with Vince’s case. They found that Towards Healing were wrong to have made him sit through the assessor process and should have contacted Uncle Josef. Unfortunately for Vince, by the time the review came down and the matter could have got onto the right track, Uncle Josef was dead.
After that, Vince and his wife decided they’d had enough of the Church’s internal processes. They continued their negotiations through a lawyer and eventually obtained about $25,000 in compensation. With legal fees and medical expenses taken out, they barely broke even.
Vince said that he came to the Royal Commission because he wanted to tell his story to an authority outside the Church.
‘Because up until now it’s all been presented to the Church, and the opportunity got lost to actually do it legally when things went pear shaped … To me it’s a form of closure. It is, because it’s the final time that I’ve actually been able to speak to a group that is actually going to be ending up presenting a major document that will actually deal with the matter and present it to the world to say, “Okay, this is where it all went wrong”.’