Clergy sexual abuse survivors feel they have been heard in a report deeming Ballarat’s Catholic Church culture of cover-up a catastrophic institutional failure.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was scathing in its findings of the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat’s responses to abuse allegations.
Survivor Paul Levey, who features in the redacted report released on Wednesday, said there was a sense of vindication in having Australia’s most powerful legal body reinforce survivors’ stories.
Mr Levey lived at the presbytery in Mortlake after his parents separated in 1982, where he was subjected to daily sexual abuse at the hands of notorious paedophile Gerald Ridsdale.
“It has really put everything in black and white, what we all thought and what we all knew," he said of the report.
“Because it was pretty bad what the (church) hierarchy did with it, covering it up.
“We’ve been saying it since the start and now we have that behind us, that’s a good thing, a really good thing.”
Mr Levey hoped the royal commission’s strong stance and scathing language would have an impact and push the church to do all it could to ensure the abuse never happened again.
“Now that it’s (out there) like this, they’ve got to do something about it,” he said.
“Hopefully they start looking after survivors properly and knowing that it is a significant thing and it is not going to go away that easy.”
After so many years of silence, Mr Levey said being heard and believed through the royal commission had a powerful effect on survivors.
“For some of us we were told to leave it alone, to be quiet, to move on and forget about it,” he said.
“This has allowed us to not let it bottle up inside, to get it out.
“People will look at it now and say yes it was the church’s fault, yes it was the institutions’ fault.”
Meanwhile, Ballarat survivors Gary Sculley, Tony Wardley and Paul Auchettl have said they are still waiting for the church to fully acknowledge its involvement in the abuse and the impacts.
“I think it is time to acknowledge that there has been a lot of damage done and to correct that we need to be able to come together and acknowledge the power of shame, the effects of abuse and how it lies in the families,” Mr Auchettl said.
“It was the mums that absorbed all the pain, the sisters, then in the future the wives and the daughters.
“This is where the real pain of sexual abuse lies, in those that absorb it at home.”
Survivor Andrew Collins echoed these sentiments.
“You've got all these people who have been abused and that ripple effect goes on throughout the community,” he said.
Testimonies help hold church to account
The courage of survivors to give their horrific testimonies has been crucial in enabling the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to hold Ballarat’s Catholic Church authorities to account.
Ballarat’s Centre Against Sexual Assault operational director Shireen Gunn said for a lot of survivors it had been important to come forward, have their story heard and feel supported.
While in doing so, the Catholic Church had been scrutinised in a way that had not been possible in the past.
“While they’re all individual stories and horrendous stories, they repeat a lot of the same things over and over again,” she said.
“About the abuse, how they were not heard and it was covered up, and how the offenders were untouchable at that time and moved around from place to place.”
Having listened to evidence when the royal commission sat in Ballarat, Ms Gunn said she was not surprised by the strong language expressed in the commission’s latest report.
“This brings it all to a finish, to a point, and I think it is really important for it to be all described in the one report,” she said.
“We just think it’s really good that it has been put out there for the public to read and for it to go down in history, so that it is never repeated and we can learn from this.”
Ms Gunn said the people seeking support from Ballarat’s CASA reflected the same picture the royal commission had depicted of who had been victims of abuse.
“It is a high number of males coming forward, between 40 to 60 (years old), who are survivors of institutional abuse and a very high number of those are from the Catholic Church,” she said.
To contact CASA call 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292. Lifeline can be accessed on 13 11 14.