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Warwick John's story

Warwick grew up in a Catholic family in Sydney in the 1950s and was sent to a Catholic school.

When he was 11 years old he was afraid to go on a school excursion to Canberra because it involved flying on a plane. Anxious the plane would crash he stayed at school instead. During this time he said confession with a young priest, Father Brian Madigan, who fondled his genitals for about 30 seconds.

The priest drove Warwick home that day and, in the presence of Warwick’s father, said to Warwick ‘We’ve got a little secret’. He then asked Warwick’s father if he wanted his son to be an altar boy. Much to Warwick’s relief his father said ‘No’. Warwick believes this saved him from much more extensive sexual abuse from Father Madigan.

Although Warwick didn’t tell his father what happened at the time, over 30 years later his father asked about ‘that priest’. Warwick then told him of the abuse. His father confirmed he always thought Father Madigan was a ‘poofter’.

Warwick acknowledges that the abuse he experienced was a crime and an abuse of trust. But he also considers what happened to him to be relatively ‘trivial’ and says it has meant he came out of it ‘relatively unscathed’. He also attributes his resilience to being brought up in a supportive family.

However, memories of other boys at the school have played on Warwick’s mind. He can’t substantiate it but he believes one boy in particular, Keith, who was an altar boy, might have been regularly abused by Father Madigan. Later in life Keith committed suicide the night before his wedding. Warwick has always wondered if there was a connection between the suicide and sexual abuse at the school. In fact, Keith was the primary reason Warwick came to the Commission. He wanted to speak on Keith’s behalf.

When Warwick was at school he also witnessed two boys fondling each other’s genitals. As an adult looking back, Warwick has wondered who was teaching these boys such behaviours.

Over 20 years after his own abuse, Warwick wrote a letter to the Vatican explaining what had happened. The letter that came back in response was poorly written and dismissive. Another 20 years on, Warwick was watching Cardinal Pell on 60 Minutes. This prompted him to contact a lawyer and seek compensation. As a result, and with little defence from the church, Warwick was paid $5,000.

At some point Warwick contacted a church office in the city where he was told there had been numerous complaints against Father Madigan. By then, however, the priest had been dead many years.

Warwick studied psychology and strongly believes that the vow of celibacy contributes significantly to the systemic sexual abuse of vulnerable people, including children, within the Catholic Church.

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