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Wesley Peter's story

‘We used to lay in bed at night and you could always hear the boys cry, different boys cry. And what was going on, the priest was coming in and touching everyone. He had the free range of the whole place. And he was fondling everyone and doing things to all the kids ...

‘Lots of times it happened to me.’

The nuns told Wesley it was all a dream, but he knew the elderly priest was really coming into the room at the Sisters of Mercy orphanage and sexually abusing him and other kids.

This abuse happened from when he was seven years old, continuing every few nights for several years. He knew how to tell which of the other boys were being molested too, ‘because they all used to wet the bed. The nuns used to go really mad at us for wetting the bed, even though we were only little’.

He remembers the priest’s dark shadow standing over them. ‘Even though I’m 64 now I’ve still got to sleep with lights on.’

Wesley had been placed in the Queensland home when he was a toddler, and stayed there until his early teens. Discipline was harsh, including excessive physical punishments for minor misdemeanours.

This same priest would also watch the boys in the bath, then touch them inappropriately under the pretext of drying them afterwards. The Sisters saw this happening, but did not intervene.

One of the older boys, Gary, was in his mid-teens and a notorious bully. He would take younger boys into the priest’s residence, where he and the priest would sexually abuse them together. This happened to Wesley in the 1960s, when he was in about Grade 4, and included being raped by both of them. He was also made to watch other kids, including girls, being abused in this way too.

Wesley told the nuns about this abuse as well. As punishment he had to stand up in front of the other children while he was berated for lying, and made to say that he was not telling the truth.

‘I stood there and I had to tell all these kids. And the kids knew I wasn’t lying.’

Following this experience Wesley ‘had enough’ and ran away from the orphanage. During this time he disclosed the abuse to police, but they told him it was not their problem and the nuns should deal with it.

When he returned to the home the soles of his feet were flogged ‘so that we wouldn’t run away again ... I could not walk for about a week’.

Wesley was 11 when another man started coming to the orphanage and taking some of the children out to the movies, and Gary would accompany them. During these trips the man and Gary abused Wesley in the car and cinema, and also took him back to the man’s house and raped him.

‘I was raped that many times, no-one cared about it. I was told I was making it up. And all I wanted to do was just die.’

After leaving the home Wesley stayed with his mother for some time, but found it hard to get on with anyone. He was moody and ‘always in trouble’, and hitchhiked to another town and lived on the streets for a while.

Eventually he decided that the people who had abused him would be ruining him all over again if he continued to let his life slide further downwards. Despite being functionally illiterate due to the lack of education in the orphanage, he found work in the building industry. He married a devoutly Catholic woman, and they had kids.

When he disclosed the abuse to his wife ‘she didn’t believe anything I said. It broke us up’. He remarried and his second wife knows about his experiences and is very supportive. ‘The first thing I did was explain what happened ... She’s been really good ever since.’

Around 10 years ago Wesley reported the sexual abuse to a police taskforce, and this time action was taken. Both the priest and Gary are believed to be deceased. The man who abused Wesley at the movies denied the allegations. Wesley is unsure as to the exact outcomes of the police investigations.

After making this report he engaged a legal firm to represent him in a Church redress scheme. As part of this process he was sent for an assessment by a psychiatrist working for the Church. ‘They sent a letter back saying it was all in my head, nothing happened, I’d made it all up.’

This response made Wesley wary of other mental health professionals. ‘I refused to go to any more ... I told my wife that if he didn’t believe me no-one else would believe me so what’s the sense?’

At times he struggles to keep going and has now spoken to his GP, who has offered to refer him to any additional support he needs. ‘All these memories come back. I’ve actually tried to commit suicide.’

Ultimately Wesley was awarded a relatively small amount of compensation by the Church, which he donated to charity. Throughout the process he made it clear he didn’t care about money but very much wanted an apology, and it’s a source of great distress that the Church refused to provide one.

‘They said they will never ever give me an apology for what happened to me ... It would make things better. And it would prove that I was not lying.’

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