From an empty shell, survivors ready to take on next chapter

For Gary Sculley, a world of complete evil has become a little brighter because he now knows there are good people out there. 

STRENGTH: Ballarat survivors Gary Sculley, Tony Wardley and Paul Auchettl hope their "act of desperation" pays off when the royal commission releases its recommendations. Picture: Lachlan Bence

STRENGTH: Ballarat survivors Gary Sculley, Tony Wardley and Paul Auchettl hope their "act of desperation" pays off when the royal commission releases its recommendations. Picture: Lachlan Bence

That has been the power of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It is nearing two years since Mr Sculley first broke his silence publicly on the horror disgraced paedophile Christian Brother Gerald Leo Fitzgerald inflicted on him at St Alipius Boys School.

“When I first came out with what had happened to me I thought I was the only survivor,” Mr Sculley said.

“But then as time went on and the Victorian parliamentary inquiry was formed I started to realise it wasn’t about me, it was about a lot more than me.

“It was about everybody that went to the school I went to, and then I came to the realisation it wasn’t only that school, it was Ballarat-wide, then it became Australia-wide, worldwide.”

Mr Sculley said the movement in law reform and schools that had already started to take place had filled him with the strength to go forward, but this was not enough.

Change needed to happen across the board, it needed to happen everywhere. 

“The major thing that has happened to me on this journey is understanding that there are people out there who don’t want to see this happen or repeated again, and who want to make sure the future is secure for children,” Mr Sculley said. 

“From being just an empty shell I’ve come to realise there is goodness in humanity – we just need to tease it out.”

Mr Sculley described the work of the royal commission as exemplary, but was all too aware, even though the highest form of inquiry, it could only work within certain parameters.

He hoped the government, which would decide what recommendations were implemented and to what extent, would recognise the opportunity for action was now.

Mr Sculley also hoped when decisions were made, those in power would be thinking of their love for their families not votes.

“This is something that is above politics, it’s way above politics, this is a crime against humanity and it must be treated as such,” Mr Sculley said.

“If people in power can’t make the hard decisions and get these laws changed to bring everybody under the one banner of humanity, we are not a society and never will be a society.

“We have to put the line in the sand and say no more.”

Those who have supported the survivors throughout the royal commission process have seen just how far they have come.

The shy and voiceless men, who once held onto secrets no one wanted to hear, have become the faces of abuse and champions for change, who have spoken in front of international media and stood up to Cardinal George Pell in Rome. 

But clergy abuse survivor Paul Auchettl did not think of his actions as bravery, he called it desperation.

Mr Auchettl was sexually abused by disgraced Christian brother Robert Best at the age of 11.

“This (the royal commission) has been a good thing that has happened,” he said.

“It has been an opening up of the past for us and to go back and start talking about what happened, we’re doing it in numbers now and together.

“But we need something to happen.

“There have been too many people buried, lost and in trouble, in jail, sick and unwell, all because of this grief and trauma from the past.

“The real apology comes in action, because without that we are still in the dark ages.”

Survivor Tony Wardley was abused from the age of six at three different schools in Ballarat.

He still has days or weeks of not coping and struggles to see himself ever becoming a fully-functioning member of society.

But he said the royal commission had helped him stop beating himself up about the abuse.

“I finally learnt to accept what happened to me as a child had nothing to do with me, it was vile paedophile criminals that did it to me,” Mr Wardley said.

“I think I’ve become a better person, a better husband, a better father,  just from liking myself a bit more and not blaming myself, because I was always told I was the reason they were doing this stuff to me.”

Mr Wardley hoped to see out of the royal commission a publicly accessible paedophile register to better protect children and the Catholic Church made to pay rates and taxes.

Phil Nagle, who was repeatedly assaulted by disgraced priest Stephen Farrell when he was a grade five pupil, said he felt relief when the royal commission validated his story, and many others, in writing after what had been a drawn-out process.

Mr Nagle started speaking publicly about his experiences of abuse in the mid 90s, at a time when no one would believe him.

“I was called a liar, told I was making it up, even my family thought I was a liar,” he said.

“And I know other survivors have gone through the same thing.”

For Mr Nagle, the scathing report on Ballarat’s Catholic Church authorities released on Wednesday had instilled hope in what was to come. 

“The royal commission is not beating around the bush at all and I believe the recommendations will be treated in the same way,” Mr Nagle said.

“Hopefully they will be very strong and very appropriate, in line with what actually happened.”

Mr Nagle said the recommendations needed to hold the Catholic Church hierarchy accountable and ensure key figures faced police prosecution.

“They need to be put in jail where they belong, because by covering up the crimes they are just as evil as the people who committed the crimes,” he said.

But Mr Nagle also said it was paramount the commission delivered strong recommendations on ongoing support and counselling to keep survivors alive.

“Everyone is different in the way this has affected them and the degree of damage, so you can’t just do a group assessment,” he said.

“It needs to be done on an individual basis because what each survivor requires and needs is different.”

Clergy abuse survivor Peter Blenkiron said there had been a time to act and recognise the moment, and the survivors who could, did. 

Now, he said, it was in the hands of professionals to ensure the recommendations were carried out and the community did heal. 

To contact CASA, located on the corner of Vale and Edwards streets, Sebastopol, call 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292. Lifeline can be accessed on 13 11 14.

​HOW IT UNFOLDED BELOW