I’ve been living under a rock the last many years in terms of current affairs, but last night something kept me in the lounge room when my father turned on the television to watch the seven o’clock ABC news. The very first report was about the royal commission into institutional child sex abuse which was conducted between 2013 and 2017 (an article of the news report can be read here). I had never paid much attention to it, but for some reason it had been on my mind all week as I’ve been trying to understand the things I wrote about in my previous post, ‘An invisible scar’. There must have been something in the air. It was wonderful to hear some positive news for once: Malcolm Turnbull apologised to the survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of institutions, and announced the government are implementing many changes to prevent it from happening again, some of which are listed at prolegin.com.
I guess what interests me are the royal commission’s findings that 58.6% of their participants were abused by religious institutions, most of which were Catholic (61.8%). The primary school I went to was Catholic, and really the tragedy of the whole thing is that while everyone was busy treating me as the criminal, their church was full of sleazy paedophiles who got off scot-free. When this dawned on me during the early hours of the morning this week, I suddenly felt a kind of anger that was like nothing I had ever felt before. I had been Jesus on the cross, bearing the weight of other people’s sins. As a child I was intrigued with sex and liked to play “naughty” games such as “doctor” with friends, but I don’t believe this ever went beyond the normal realm of childhood play. Even if it did, it was handled very poorly by the school. For me, the royal commission inquiry has put everything into perspective. And while I do not remember being sexually abused myself, I suspect a number of children around me had been. I wonder whether my friend who accused me of assaulting her was trying to tell people something but just didn’t know how. Therapists who I have seen believe that I was the scapegoat, and that it was easier for my friend to blame me than the real perpetrator. I also wonder whether my friend’s mother had her own experience of sexual abuse which shaped her reaction.
I left this school in 1999. After doing some research this week, I found out this was the same year the parish priest resigned as he was crumbling from the weight of having to carry the dirty secrets of his colleagues. The following is an except from a document that this priest submitted to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry:
“When I was in the parish of Belgrave a victim came and made explicit allegations against a priest. Immediately I had a call from that priest asking if he could come and talk with me. We had an open and frank conversation and at the end he said, “I want you to hear my Confession”.
We were simply sitting in chairs in my lounge and I was surprised and taken aback by this unexpected request, and without any delay he launched into the confessional formula with his specific content.
When he left, I was feeling used as I really don’t believe he came to talk. I don’t believe he came in genuine remorse for absolution. I believe he cunningly took me out of the public forum by binding me through the absolute confidentiality of the Confessional seal of secrecy. I believe this was his clever strategy to minimise his exposure as a criminal sexual abuser of the child who had entrusted his abuse to me.
My only consolation was this priest ultimately was convicted without me being involved in any way.”
This is why the government needs to adopt the royal commission’s recommendation of mandatory reporting from priests. It seems many religions still think they’re above the law. Without changing the religious exception to mandatory reporting, the whole inquiry seems spineless.
The ripple effects of the abuse that went on go well beyond the immediate victims, and I wish I had of took part in the royal commission inquiry myself. I am still, however, glad to loosen the nails of shame that have bound me all these years, and return the responsibility to where it rightfully belongs.