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William Peter's story

‘I can honestly say I don’t think there’s a day where you don’t think about it in some form or another.’

In the early 1960s, parish priest Father Blayney started taking William and his brother for outings to the beach, which was some distance from their home in regional Victoria. For the return journey, Blayney always made sure William didn’t change out of his swimming costume and while driving would fondle William’s genitals.

‘I always had to sit next to him in the front seat. On the way home from the beach I was dressed only in a T-shirt and my bathers … I remember him asking me if it felt good. I was only 11 or 12 years old at the time. I can’t remember how many times this happened but I know it happened several times.’

At 14, William was part of a Young Christian Workers (YCW) group associated with his local Catholic community. Staff of the group organised sports and other activities and one of the workers, Norman Cleal, sexually abused William several times while giving him a massage. ‘He touched me around my penis, my bladder and around my bottom’, William told the Commissioner. ‘I remember him pushing with his fingers and asking if it hurt.’

After the second time this happened, Cleal was driving William home and asked if he liked ‘the rub down’. William replied that he ‘wasn’t like that’, and Cleal then stopped his car and made William walk the remaining six or seven kilometres home. After that, Cleal left him alone.

William didn’t tell anyone about what had occurred with either Blayney or Cleal. His first disclosure came in the early 2000s, after the extent of Blayney’s sexual abuse against children in the area became known. William told his wife as well as a work colleague and at the same time had an informal discussion with a police officer. He decided not to proceed with criminal charges or sue the Church as he was worried that his mother, then in poor health, would be badly affected if he did.

William asked his brother if he’d been molested by Blayney and believed him when he said he hadn’t. When their mother asked a similar question of William, he lied and said nothing had happened to him. ‘I was ashamed of myself and did not have the courage to tell my mother. I have suffered for years with the guilt of lying to my mother.’

At around this time, William participated in the Towards Healing process, meeting with a psychologist nominated by the Catholic Church, and then with the bishop. During the meeting with the bishop, William was told that he couldn’t have the $55,000 compensation requested because it would reduce the pool of funds available for others’ claims, including those victims who were yet to come forward.

‘I think if a bishop could swear, he would have said pee-off to me, because that was basically his message.’

William refused an initial offer of $20,000 but eventually settled for $27,500. The amount related only to Blayney’s abuse because the bishop refused to concede any association between the Catholic Church and the YCW group.

Recently, William contacted a lawyer and at the time of speaking with the Royal Commission he was aware of a class action being initiated on behalf of those who’d been abused by Blayney. William was also in discussion with the lawyer about getting an acknowledgement and redress for the abuse perpetrated by Cleal.

‘I think back on it and I think it’s reasonable that compensation should be paid,’ William told the Commissioner. ‘And the reason why I think that is because I look back over my life and I look at a life of denial, of not accepting reality, of drinking too much, of all those sorts of things. I’m sort of getting a bit lost for words, but ultimately it cost me money because I’m not a fool, but yet I would ignore bills, I wouldn’t confront issues, it just all went into the too-hard basket.’

William told the Commissioner that he had a loving wife and family and still maintained his faith in God. ‘But he’s my God. He’s not the God that the Catholic Church would describe.’ He said he had respect for some Catholic priests but couldn’t ‘handle some of the holier- than-thou attitudes of some of the laity attached to the Catholic Church’.

As well as the effects on his mental health and financial status, William described physical health problems he related to the abuse, including severe cardiac problems.

‘As a victim I can tell you the memories, sense of guilt, shame and anger live with you every day. It destroys your faith in people, your will to achieve, to love, and one’s ability to cope with normal everyday living. It has and is an enormous struggle to stay on top of life.’

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