WILLAM’S STORY: CONFRONTING THE PERSONAL LEGACY OF PRIESTLY ABUSE

My story begins when I was in form three (now year nine) in 1956, aged 14. This was when Magnus Murray, the curate in my Forbury parish, who was also a part-time staff member at the Christian Brothers’ High School in Dunedin, which I attended, began to take me for swimming outings, to concerts by the National Orchestra, to help me at home with my piano lessons and to try (unsuccessfully) to teach me Greek during
visits to the presbytery where I mowed the lawns.

The swimming included skinny dipping. The concerts were followed by conversations in Magnus’s car during which he would place his hand on the back of my neck. This made me feel uncomfortable but also powerless to ask him stop. The piano playing and Greek lessons were also one-on-one experiences. They felt oppressive in some way that I was not able to put into words. I felt uncomfortable during these encounters, but I also felt privileged to be in the personal company of a priest. Today we would likely label such individual attention to a young person from an adult in a position of power and authority as grooming.

I allowed this feeling of being privileged to overcome any discomfort that I felt, alt-hough I was always relieved when we parted and I was able to return to my “normal” life.

My parents, particularly my mother, were regular Mass goers. They had raised me to have enormous respect for priests as a class apart. We were encouraged to go to
confession weekly: I can remember this particular priest taking what I now realise was more of a personal rather than a professional, or priestly, interest in the fumbling
accounts of my early adolescent sexual explorations and my general curiosity about such matters.

During my form three year, I had some kind of breakdown and lost the ability to do my schoolwork. I remember a really serious interview about this between my form teacher, Brother Whiteman, my parents and me. Somehow I recovered from this experience, managed to pass my examinations and went on to form four in 1957.

These contacts with Magnus continued with regularity during my five years at the Christian Brothers’ High School. I duly arrived at the point, during my upper sixth year, of beginning to think of studying law at Otago University the following year.

I discussed this plan with my trusted “priest friend” and he responded by
recommending most strongly that I consider studying instead for the priesthood. He even provided me with the enrolment forms for the Holy Name Seminary in
Christchurch. The rest, as they say, is history. My ability to resist his recommendation was virtually non-existent, as it had been made by somebody with his authority in the Church. Now I had to allow for the possibility that it was God’s will that I become a priest.

Obedience to the will of God demanded that I test whether I had a vocation by
beginning seminary studies. My acquiescence to this priest resulted in me spending eight late-adolescent years in a sub-culture which only some forty years later could I even begin to understand was pathological: sexually, emotionally and intellectually. The effects have been lifelong.

It was during a vacation, when I would have been aged about twenty-five, in about my seventh year in the seminary (1967), which was now Holy Cross College, Mosgiel, that a small group of we seminarians stayed a night in the presbytery at Queenstown on our way to the head of Lake Wakatipu for one of our regular deer-stalking trips. We were the guests of Magnus, who was in the Queenstown parish on a locum. As we students were placing our sleeping bags around the living area after dinner, he asked me to bring my bag upstairs to his room where he said I would be “more comfortable” on the bed. The old trapped feeling came back, yet I acquiesced.

When I was settled on the bed, he told me to get out of my bag and get under the sheets. I complied and pretended to sleep. Some time later, I felt his erect penis in the area of my bottom. I simply froze.

As my friends and I drove to Glenorchy the next morning, I experienced more shame and unworthiness to be in their company than words can describe. I cannot remember ever feeling worse about myself. I was overcome with self-loathing. I also began to blot out any detailed memory of what had happened in that bed the night before. I don’t think the shame that I felt that morning has ever left me.

My mother died in April 1967, a few months before or after this event. The depression I experienced in 1968 was enormous. I was unable to study and arranged an interview with my bishop in Dunedin (John Kavanagh) in which he suggested that I complete the academic year and then take time out from studies with a view to “experiencing
ordinary life” for a year or two before returning to Holy Cross College for my final year and ordination.

During a seminary vacation, about the mid-60s, I had visited a couple of ex-seminarian friends in Wellington and met their older flatmate, Fred, who must have been at least in his late forties or early fifties. He seemed to have adopted a kind of mentoring role with Pat and Frank and I began to correspond with him from the semi-nary. When I told him I was going to take some time out from the seminary, he offered me a room in his flat.

I joined him early in 1969 and began to work in the Colombo Plan section of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was to live with Fred, first in his flat and then in my first house, for three years. During this time I completed an honours degree and became a lecturer in sociology at Victoria University.

Fred told me that he had been consecrated a bishop “in peto” (secretly). He led me to believe that this had been in connection with work he had done facilitating the es-cape of Jews from Europe during the Nazi occupations in World War II. The only evi-dence for all this was a photograph of Fred as a seminarian in an Irish seminary. However, I felt unable to query his story in any detail, as he portrayed himself as hav-ing made me privy to a few aspects of his life only inadvertently and without any con-scious intention. He construed his self-revelations as “accidental” in the context of our close
relationship.

Living with Fred, I was now in the company of a “superior” within the ecclesiastical
system that I had become part of, and one did not question one’s superiors, did one? He alleged that he was in regular contact with the archbishop in Wellington along with the other bishops of New Zealand, including my own. He portrayed himself as
extremely well connected socially in both Europe and New Zealand. He would classi-fy people according to whether or not they “belonged”. I can now see that Fred’s “cov-er story” was contrived to persuade me to accept our relationship, whatever form it took, as somehow sacred.

I felt privileged to be privy to all this, and felt that my time with Fred was part of some grand plan with regard to my clerical career. Fred began a sexual relationship with me as part of what he explained as “training”, which I understood to be a form of
initiation, something special.

Ironically I have always regarded myself as heterosexually orientated, and simply
endured the physical encounters with Fred as part of the “special” education I was
receiving at his hands. My understanding was that Fred was helping me so I felt obliged to accept whatever form this “help” took.

I remember becoming particularly involved with one of my female colleagues in 1970, but whenever I began dating somebody, Fred would always provide utterly plausible reasons for her unsuitability and remind me that I was destined for celibacy.

I think it must have been about 1970 that I wrote to my bishop in Dunedin and said that I wanted to return to the seminary. He replied that he felt my vocation was not to the priesthood, but to be a good layman. I was utterly devastated by his response. I
carried my disappointment at not attaining the priesthood for at least twenty years,
before I finally began to allow myself to become both angry at the Catholic Church and also very sad at my loss of normal sexual development.

In 1972 I met Helen (not her real name), who was to become my wife and the mother of my two sons. When Fred provided the usual reasons for her unsuitability for me (he said she was “on drugs”), I was finally able to reject his reasons as completely untrue. I had just read a novel called The Magus by John Fowles, which explored the theme of deception in relationships. I realised with blinding clarity what Fred’s whole modus
operandi had been with me. Without further ado, I asked him to leave my home and my life. I felt both angry and deeply ashamed when I thought about the people who knew the two of us while we were living together and who would have assumed we were in a consensual homosexual relationship. I still feel this shame, as I had
absorbed the homophobia, which is so strong within the Catholic sub-culture, when I was growing up.

My relationship with Helen started going downhill only a few months after we were married, when we arrived in London in 1974. I had enrolled as a PhD student at the University of London and I had a position as a part-time teacher and tutor at the
London School of Economics and Political Science. My thesis began an exploration of what I called “non-church religion”, but I was only able to complete a couple of
chapters over two academic years. I jumped at the opportunity to return to New
Zealand by applying successfully for a lectureship in sociology at the Wellington
Clinical School of Medicine of the University of Otago. Living in London did not agree with me and I had become depressed once again. This feeling worsened during the
subsequent six years lecturing medical students in a subject which did not interest them because they did not regard It as “real” medicine.

I had many sessions with a psychiatrist, Dr John Hardwick-Smith, but they did not seem to help. The solution seemed to lie in me exiting academic life and our moving to a lifestyle block in Waimauku, which was Helen’s dream. We purchased the life-style block in 1984, some twelve months after I had resigned as a lecturer, owing to
difficulties with selling the Khandallah property. (I had begun my new career in
personnel/training, boarding/flatting on my own in Auckland for a year.)

I found the corporate environment to be completely alien, with its backstabbing and petty jealousies that seemed to dominate everything that took place. Between 1983 and 1994 I worked for five different organisations and experienced three terminations. Two resulted from senior management failing to support the personnel training
function, one resulted from the 1987 stock market crash, and one was a
conventional redundancy.

During this time Helen and I converted what had been the homestead paddocks of a dairy farm into a productive unit for fattening dry stock. This meant that for some two years we were working, either in paid employment or at home, seven days a week as well as parenting our two sons born in 1982, and 1986. Helen became increasingly
antipathetic towards me and I began to sleep separately in a basic hut which was
on the property.

My only relief was having a few beers sitting on the back porch before dinner alone each evening. This all work and no play scenario continued until Helen finally took our sons to live near her parents and family in New Plymouth in 1992.

I was devastated once again, but I did begin to do some personal development work at this time and somehow survived until I met my second wife, Jane (not her real name), in 1994. It took me three or four years to recognise, on the unsolicited advice of a
lawyer friend, that I even had a right to 50% of Helen’s and my assets. Nor did I have any idea that I had the right to question Helen taking my Sons to live 300 kilometres away from their Father.

I financed Jane and myself into a very successful business providing accommodation and support for people with serious mental illness, and life became relatively enjoya-ble for some ten years. However, my penchant for allowing myself to be manipulated and taken advantage of by those close to me was illustrated once again when I admit-ted myself into Hanmer Springs in 2001 0r 2002 at the behest of Jane (who could not drink alcohol and must have resented me enjoying it in the evenings), and one of her
daughters. They convinced me I had a drinking problem. Many months later, very close friends of Jane and me told me that they disagreed entirely that I had a problem and I gladly discontinued the Twelve Step Programme and began to enjoy a wine be-fore dinner, something which I do to this day.

In 2003 I became aware that Magnus, the “friend” of my adolescence and seminary years, had been convicted on 10 charges against four Dunedin boys between 1958 and 1972. (He was to serve less than three years of a five-year sentence. He is
currently living in a Catholic retirement home in Epsom suffering from dementia and was not defrocked as a priest until 2019.) This was a momentous revelation for me.

The media accounts of Magnus’s trial re-awakened the memories that I had repressed for almost forty years, memories of events that still assume a dream-like quality. Prior to his conviction, I had even continued my “friendship” with this man. For example,
I remember telephoning him during a visit to Sydney in 1974 and visiting him in
Ngaruawahia about 1990. I thought of him as an old friend until the publicity about his conviction. I had no inkling prior to this that his behaviour towards me constituted what we now refer to as abuse.

I had also attended a school reunion in Dunedin in 1999. When at least two of my
contemporaries told me about how they had been abused sexually by priests in the 1950s, one by Magnus, I was simply incapable of relating their accounts to anything that I had experienced personally until the news of Magnus’s trial and conviction four years later.

I began counselling and participated in men’s groups over many months
during the ensuing years. In 2004 I left Jane. I felt she had come to take advantage of me and was just using me as a bank account for her daughters’ and her friends’ travel and other projects. I now wonder how much the revelations in the previous year about my first abuser may have influenced my sensitivity to being taken advantage of by Jane. At the very least, I was coming to question whether my lack of normal sexual
development had impacted on my ability as an adult to form healthy, functioning and lasting relationships with women.

It’s clear to me now that my Catholic indoctrination had been so total and so intense that I had not been able to stand back from it and see it for what it was. The abuse had started when I was young and was so sustained that I lost my sense of what was
appropriate, where to set boundaries. I was not equipped to allow any sense of
personal agency to develop. I could not see Fred’s sexual abuse, with its
accompanying lies, false associations and delusions, for what it was. What I am trying to do now is to take back the personal power that I lost to Catholicism. (I finally
relinquished any loyalty to the Church in the 1990s, soon after Helen took the boys
and left me.)

The purpose of these reflections is to achieve healing for me and to assist other survi-vors towards the same. I know I need to forgive myself for allowing myself to be abused, particularly by Magnus and Fred, but also to a lesser extent by Helen and Jane. I have to acknowledge that I was simply not equipped to assert myself and to have my own need for respect as an individual with personal rights met by these peo-ple. I did not know how to prevent my rights to my sexual identity and to my sexual in-tegrity from
being violated by Magnus and Fred, my right to any independence of thought from
being denied by Helen and my right to peace and enjoyment from being disregarded by Jane.

I had been educated to be obedient above all, a people pleaser, and had never learned how to say “No”. Obedience was the highest virtue in the seminary. ‘Not my will, but Thine be done.’

I am forgiving myself for being naive enough to believe that I was somehow obliged to accept abuse, because priests were to be trusted, and to accept that whatever
happened to us was ultimately the will of God.

My main challenge now is to accept that I was not responsible for what any of these four people did to me and to admit that I did not know how to deal with any of them in
a way that served my needs. Although I have done my best to forgive the people who harmed me, and words cannot capture how much I now detest Magnus in particular, my main challenge is to forgive myself for not having been able to take personal agency, protect myself and maintain my own integrity. This is work in progress, even in my mid-70’s.

WILLIAM,
31st July, 2019.

Author: betterblokesnz