When Wyn was four, his family was living north of Melbourne, near a college run by a Catholic order. ‘My grandmother worked there and I just used to go to work with her.
‘Mum and Dad were up woop woop somewhere, so I was staying with Nana and it was just, I went to work with her. There was probably times I didn’t have to, like Grandpa was at home or whatever, but I just seemed to be pretty much glued to her.’
His grandmother assisted a priest at the college, Father Maurice Esten. When she was busy, which Wyn said was often, Esten would take him for a walk around the grounds.
Esten soon started taking Wyn to a room in one of the college buildings, upstairs where students weren’t allowed. ‘He’d just take me in, put me down on the bed. And it seemed to be pretty quick business, we weren’t in there all day, it was pretty quick.
‘He’d always stand on the right-hand side and basically just pull the shorts down, my undies … and he’d have his penis out. And on occasions I remember him ejaculating and that. But he didn’t ever put his penis near my backside. And he never seemed to touch the front of me at all, like the genitals.’
Over the course of about a year, Wyn said he was sexually abused by the priest ‘at least a dozen times’.
He felt the first impacts when he was still very young. ‘I’ve always had nightmares of him standing there at the bed, and always on that side. The only thing with the nightmare is, he doesn’t really do a lot. He’s just standing there and he’s almost touching me.
‘As a kid, Mum has said – and it was a bit of a joke in the family – like I’d yell out or carry on in my sleep, or say “Help” or something. But they thought I was just having a normal nightmare of the bogeyman or whatever …
‘I’ve never liked being hugged or kissed or touched on the face by anyone at all. Like even now, I would never give Mum a kiss for Christmas or her birthday or anything like that ... Some people like to get their hug and kiss in or whatever, but I certainly don’t like it. I’m not comfortable, really, at all.’
Wyn said it wasn’t until his teens that he started to ‘comprehend’ exactly what Esten had done to him. But while there was no further abuse, the priest wouldn’t leave him alone.
‘The contact just kept continuing, like presents and letters and things ... my grandparents absolutely thought he was wonderful … When he came to the house to visit, he was treated like royalty. And you had to hug him.
‘My grandmother said to me, when I was young, that it’s like an honour for a man of the cloth to show an interest. But in her mind, “to show an interest” wasn’t his interest.’
Even when the order knew Esten was abusing children and moved him overseas, he continued to contact Wyn. ‘He sent photos. Every photo seemed to be a young boy with his shirt off with him, you know what I mean? And at that stage he wasn’t meant to be having contact with kids.’
In the 90s the priest was arrested back in Australia and charged with child sexual abuse. But there was no respite for Wyn. ‘Nana had to go to court for Esten for one of his trials as a character witness. So when that started happening, then I really thought, “I’ll just leave it and not say anything”.
'Her and my grandfather were really wound up about it that, you know; these boys were after money and that it was against the order.’
It wasn’t until the mid-2000s, when Wyn felt that the nightmares were getting worse, that he went to a psychologist. ‘Until I spoke to her I’d never even said the whole lot of what happened out loud.’
Shortly after he told his mother. ‘I didn’t sort of go into too much detail straightaway, I just said something happened up at the college. But she said to me straightaway, “Was it Father Esten?”’
After receiving some counselling Wyn decided to engage with the Church’s Towards Healing program. He gave a statement, then met with two men he believed were retired priests.
‘After talking to them, I thought, “I wouldn’t have a hope going to the police”. Like, they were very focussed on the fact that I couldn’t remember whether Father Esten was circumcised or not. And they were looking at each other saying, “You can’t remember at all?” Like no, I don’t remember …
‘They were pretty dismissive. They seemed to cut me off, and it’s like they were playing a bit of a game ... I think they said that there was a lack of evidence. And I mean, my age … that’s what put me off going to the police all along – like, I know what happened when I was a kid.’
When he spoke to the Commissioner, Wyn learnt that the men were in fact ‘assessors’, retired police officers hired by the Church to investigate claims of abuse.
Esten has been convicted several times and was back in prison when Wyn came to the Royal Commission. But while Wyn pays for regular counselling and medication for depression, neither the order nor the Church have never offered him any kind of compensation.
‘I know there’s the Towards Healing but it’d be great … for someone like, in my position, to be able to approach somebody that’s independent, to talk to and deal with. And that’d be much better than the Towards Healing process.’
Wyn lives alone with his dogs, on a farm with ‘horses and sheep and chooks and things’. When he finished speaking with the Commissioner, he was looking forward to going home to his animals.