Yared knew from the age of nine that he wanted to become a priest.
When he and his family came from a developing country in the 2000s to live in Brisbane, he became very involved with the local Catholic church, and spent a lot of time with the priests.
One of those he met through the church was Father Michael, also an immigrant. Yared told Michael of his ambition to become a priest, and one day Michael invited him to come at stay with him at another parish in a nearby town. Yared was just 16.
‘He said “Well, if you’re going to be a priest, why don’t you come to my place and see how a priest lives? And if you like it, continue.” I asked my parents first and they said, “Yes, you can go”. And I went there and that’s how I came to be there at that time’, Yared told the Commissioner.
Michael bought the bus tickets for the four-day trip, but when Yared arrived on a Monday, Michael told him he hadn’t been expected till the following day, Tuesday, and that there was no spare room at the presbytery. As a result, they would need to share a room.
‘When we went into his room there was only one bed and I was confused where I was going to sleep and he said, “You’re going to sleep in my bed” and I said “So why am I going to sleep with you?” And he didn’t say anything’, Yared recalled.
‘When I went to bed, he went to his computer to do some work and about 9pm he came into the bed to sleep and that’s when everything started.’
That night, and on the two nights that followed, Michael got into bed with Yared and tried to remove his pants and sexually abuse him. On the Tuesday and Wednesday nights Yared had his own room.
On the Wednesday Yared woke to find his pants had been removed and Michael was in bed with him, naked apart from the robe. Yared shouted at Michael to get out, and after he’d gone Yared locked the door.
Yared caught the bus home the next day. ‘I got there by 10am and coming in [while] I was on the bus I was confused, didn’t know what had happened. When I got home I just went to my room and thought about what had happened.’
The following day Yared received a visit from another priest, Father Andrew, from his home parish. Andrew said he knew something had happened between Yared and Michael, and insisted Yared tell him what that was.
He was ‘very shocked’, Yared said.
‘I asked him not to tell anybody, because I knew if he told my parents I will be in trouble. Big trouble. I asked not to tell anybody and he promised me he’s not going to tell anybody unless I want him to do so … but he’s going to try his best to see where he can fix it.’
Andrew later got in touch with Yared to ask permission to organise a meeting between the two of them and Michael. Yared agreed, but Michael didn’t show up. Andrew never contacted Yared about the abuse again.
Two years later Yared had begun to work towards becoming a priest. The program required him to spend time in Melbourne and attend meetings to examine his sense of vocation.
‘To see if the priesthood is right for me and see how a priest lives, how life is and if I like it I can continue, if I don’t like it I can say I’m done’, Yared explained.
The meetings re-awoke Yared’s confusion, anger and unhappiness about what had happened with Michael. The priests insisted he had to share what was troubling him, so he did.
‘So when I came to tell them, they stop me from doing anything, my studying theology and all those, they stop me from doing it. They say you have to go home to your parents and then we will deal with it when you are home. So that’s what happened’, Yared said.
Yared’s understanding was that he was being sent home to seek spiritual advice, and in due course he would resume his studies for the priesthood. Months passed.
Much later, after many efforts to find out what was happening, Yared received a call from Father Benton, the spiritual advisor he’d seen on his return to Brisbane. He told Yared that it had been decided he was unsuitable for the priesthood.
‘He said to me – he asked me not to think it’s because of the sexual abuse, he said there are other issues that made me not to continue in the priesthood … I said, “Can you tell me why then?” But he never told me why I couldn’t continue into the priesthood journey.’
Shortly afterwards Yared was contacted by Towards Healing, the Catholic Church’s response to child sexual abuse. He’d been referred by Benton. Through that process he was put in touch with a counsellor, and he has since reported his abuse to the police.
Unbeknownst to Yared, his abuser Michael had returned to his home country in 2012. He has since been suspended from the priesthood. Yared is still in Brisbane, studying to be a nurse. Though his dream of becoming a priest has come to an end, he still goes to church.