Tim has lost his faith, which is ‘desperately painful’ for him. In the 1990s, he reported to senior Catholic clergy that he had been sexually abused, for several years, by a priest who was still performing full duties. The Church took very little action, and the priest continued in his post.
For the last 20 years Tim has been trying to get an adequate response from the Church. He has had meetings with two archbishops.
In a recent email to one of them, the day after a meeting with him, Tim wrote, ‘I have always wished that the archbishop of the day would stand with me, would support me, would walk with me. Instead, on this issue, you have abandoned me, betrayed me. You have hidden behind the veil of your financial and legal advisors’.
Tim grew up in a working class family, living in the suburbs, in the 1950s. His father had been a forced labourer during the war and became an aggressive alcoholic. His mother was devoutly Catholic and used to take Tim and his siblings to mass on Sundays.
Tim met Father John Perez, then a curate, when he was nine years old. ‘He was a very funny, even charismatic type of person who’d crack jokes and tease you … The kids naturally gravitated towards him. And I did too, there’s no doubt about that.’
Perez groomed him for two years. Tim’s mother trusted Perez completely as he was part of the clergy. Perez visited their home and helped with homework. Tim joined his youth group. He would go over to Perez’s place to garden and wash his car. He remembers being plied with alcohol and cigarettes. He was part of group games where he and other boys would get naked.
Finally, Tim had his first sleepover with Perez, and was sexually abused. He was 11 years old. The abuse continued, at first infrequently and then more and more regularly, right through his teenage years.
‘I hated it … I can remember sometimes after it happened, that I’d walk home … hating myself for what happened. And I really blamed myself. And that’s the hardest thing.’
The abuse continued even after Perez moved to another parish. By the time it stopped, he’d become a father figure. He bought Tim a car, and helped him and his wife, Sarah, get their first home. He pushed Tim to study and enter a profession.
Tim stayed active within the Church but experienced rage, anger, mood swings and stress. ‘I am absolutely convinced that my relationship with Sarah … that’s what got me through.’
In his early 30s, Tim had to take a few months of stress leave. In his early 40s, he had a total breakdown and had to leave his profession altogether. That was when he disclosed the sexual abuse to Sarah and to his counsellor, who was associated with the Church. He did, however, get another job in a different field.
‘I approached the Church many, many times seeking a spiritual response, as opposed to any other response … Nothing was ever followed up. It was totally abandoned.’
After going on a Catholic retreat, where a sympathetic priest encouraged Tim to report the abuse to the Church, Tim decided to confront Perez directly. But he was dismissive. Tim gave him an article about a treatment program, ‘because at that stage I was still very much enmeshed with him … I wanted him to get some treatment’.
After that, Perez tried many times to contact Tim, wanting them to get together. He believes the priest was worried that he’d become a whistleblower.
Tim hoped that the Church would be able to help him with this problem. He now realises he was seeking a ‘spiritual shelter’. He met with a senior member of the Church, Gregory Bellamy, and reported the abuse.
‘Bellamy took minimal notes, was very unprofessional and slack … This was very upsetting and re-traumatised me … even more because I was looking to the Church for proper help and real support.’
To protect Perez, Tim told Bellamy he didn’t want the police to be involved. ‘But I did … very much say that I didn’t want him to walk away, that I wanted him to be confronted. And that’s very clear in the file notes. It’s actually recorded … by Bellamy. And also … that I wanted him to be properly assessed, to be then, thoroughly treated … and properly monitored ...
‘Anyway, very little action was taken. Virtually none. [Perez] was given a bit of minimal counselling from the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau and he was also doing spiritual direction, as we found out later … from another paedophile, Father John Sturt … Now I don’t know if the Church knew that [Sturt] was a … paedophile at the time, but they should have because he had already been convicted … And then they say, “Well … the choice of the spiritual director is up to the person seeking spiritual direction”. For me, it’s such a gutless answer.’
As a result, Perez continued as parish priest for another two years before he was charged by police relating to indecent assault on Tim as well other charges. However, he only received a good behaviour bond with no conviction recorded. He’d resigned as parish priest by then but the Church had not pressured him to do so.
The Church later claimed, publicly, that they chose not to stand down Perez because ‘the complainant [Tim] insisted that this not take place’. They even claimed that Tim didn’t want any steps taken at all in relation to Perez. This made Tim very angry. ‘That’s a total lie. They’re shifting the blame to me for them not doing anything.’
In the late 90s Tim was awarded $35,000 compensation from the Church and required to sign a deed of release. ‘At the time I wasn’t interested in that [the money] at all … What I went through, I wanted people to know. I wanted them to tell the truth. To me, it’s … really just a very tiny amount.’
Tim and Sarah, who is a secondary victim, also received Church-funded counselling. However, they are annoyed that the Church only pays part of the cost – the ‘gap’ – and the rest is from taxpayer funds.
Tim met with two archbishops. After telling them his story he felt no action was taken. ‘They give you the rhetoric and they say they’ll pray for you but then they never follow anything up.’ By then, Perez had retired to Catholic housing. It was revealed later that he continued to abuse children.
About 10 years ago Tim applied for Total Permanent Disability due to many major breakdowns leaving him unable to work. Four years later the claim was finally accepted, acknowledging long-term sexual abuse as the cause.
Around this time Tim decided to re-open the case as he felt the minimal charges of indecent assault were insufficient compared to the true story. A brief of evidence was prepared and many more charges were placed upon Perez. He was arrested and pleaded not guilty, but died before the committal hearing.
In recent years Tim met with the archbishop to discuss why Perez was allowed to remain as parish priest after the first report of abuse in the 90s, and about how the archdiocese publicly deflected the responsibility onto Tim for this decision. In an email Tim sent to the Royal Commission, he describes the meeting, ‘I provided the historical facts and documentation associated with the issue. [The archbishop] immediately became very defensive, even aggressive towards me, telling me not to trawl over the old details. He … threatened to cut short the meeting. But I was persistent …
‘Only towards the end of the meeting, did [he] reluctantly agree that it was the wrong decision … and that Perez should never have remained in his parish – and that today it would never happen. He also agreed that Sturt should never have been Perez’s spiritual advisor.’ However, Tim noted that the archbishop continued to deflect any personal responsibility.
He describes the Church as ‘professionally incompetent’ and that they have failed in their ‘core business’.
‘I feel like that they’re all coated with Teflon. That everything that they say … it slips off them and they’re not accountable.’