Future developments in this story from ABC Online will bear watching. I’ve heard such stories from several separate sources over the years, so I can’t say I’m utterly astounded. Nevertheless, it’s quite a weird feeling, watching a story of this sort unfold about someone you’ve known very well for over 20 years. It’s almost possible to understand the psyches of Anglican and Catholic church officials who covered up sexual abuse by their colleagues. One’s initial reaction is disbelief that someone you know and respect could possibly do such a thing, because it seems so out of character. There’s also a feeling of sympathy that someone who has worked tirelessly for 30 years or more and won justified respect for achievements in the public domain, might conceivably end their life in ignominious disgrace.
On the other hand, it seems those churchmen mostly failed to take the next step that I instinctively do, and that’s to project oneself into the situations of the (alleged) victims. What suffering might have been inflicted on children allegedly involved, and how might those events have affected their subsequent lives? I wasn’t sexually abused as a child, but I came frighteningly close at the hands of a music teacher when I was about thirteen. It caused me to give up piano lessons, something I’ve always regretted, although I still bash away at the ivories periodically, to the chagrin of neighbours who might well wish I’d become a bit more proficient!
Within a few months of that, I was also one of a group of boys who managed to avoid sexual assault at the hands of a couple of perverted scoutmasters, by bolting from the scout camp, catching the bus home and refusing ever to go back. Fortunately the scoutmasters were eventually caught and served time in prison , though not as a result of being dobbed in by us bolters: – we just voted with our feet and kept quiet.
The events undoubtedly had a psychological effect on me for some time afterwards, particularly on my ability to trust adult authority figures. From being a very high-achieving, almost sickeningly well-behaved student, I began exhibiting pretty marked rebellious behaviour and my academic results suffered accordingly. Fortunately I largely managed to pull myself together by about Year 10, although I still reckon I could have done better if it hadn’t been for those events. It’s even possible that it’s part of the explanation for my lifetime habit of being an instinctive outsider and non-joiner of organised groups. The ongoing effects for victims of actual childhood sexual abuse (as opposed to thwarted attempts) are immeasurably greater, as suicide figures and psychiatric admissions attest.
PS – I’ll be moderating comments to this post fairly vigilantly, due to the obvious risks of defamation or prejudicing future legal proceedings. Please be cautious.