Manly Seminary Staff and Associates
I should have known from my very first minutes of entering Manly Seminary I was not meant to be there. As I excitedly ascended the winding staircase leading to the first year student’s dormitory with two bags containing all my earthly possessions I was whistling a happy tune. The sound of my whistling echoed up the cavernous, empty stairwell and I enjoyed the sound immensely as it mingled with the cool air of ancient austerity.
Suddenly my joy was broken harshly by a yet unknown voice which boomed from above.
“Shut up that fucking whistling! This is not a fucking aviary!” an angry voice bellowed.
I had no idea who the authoritative expletive filled voice belonged to but it shocked me to hear such irreverent language coming from such a holy looking place.
As I trod quietly the final steps towards the landing I saw the blood-red angry face of a priest leering at me.
“Who are you?” he asked accusatively.
“I’m Kevin Lee. I am starting today” I said with much embarrassment.
“Well remember this is a place of prayer and not frivolity!” he said as he swiftly returned inside his room. I was later informed that this unhappy looking man was Father Terry Johns. He was once a lecturer, but was now retired. He lived on the floor above us and was seldom seen. His residence was nicknamed “the hymen” because no seminarian was allowed to pass there. His scolding voice haunted me whenever I went up those stairs in the future.
The seminary at Manly was a place of contradictions. While we were being formed for celibacy, no one ever really believed that many of the priests teaching us were celibate. My Moral Philosophy teacher, Father Tom Harass, had a girlfriend. That was common knowledge. He could always be seen driving his little blue car through the College gates late at night after visiting her. Our suspicions were confirmed when he left the priesthood to marry her. They now reside in my home town of Springwood.
A couple of professors who were overtly effeminate shared a pristine presbytery at Beauty Point. One of the students assigned to the parish for pastoral work, whose story I will tell later, admits surprise when they came to breakfast one day wearing matching bath robes. This student told me many fascinating, but at the same time disturbing stories, of what went on it that presbytery with the incredible view.
It then came as no surprise to me when I read the story that one of them, Father Terrence Goodall had been convicted of indecently assaulting a person who came to him for spiritual advice xii.
I even heard first hand from some of the priests about their duplicity. I used some devious means to get information out of the unsuspecting priests, but the best methodology was to feign ignorance or act ‘gay curious’. It appears there is no better method of extracting information about the gay lifestyle of a Catholic priest, than feigning interest.
Everyone in the College knew I was into weights at Manly, so it was not surprising when Tom Carroll asked if he could ‘work out’ with me. Tom was a rather over-weight man whose bellowing laugh would echo around the halls of the seminary heralding his arrival. He was nonchalant about his weight and always explained it as something in his genes, but I picked up his sensitivity to it. I suggested that a little exercise would assist him in shedding some unnecessary and mobility impeding pounds. He agreed and we worked out an exercise routine which involved swimming and working out with free-weights.
He used to come always at the same time, puffing as he ascended the stairs to the foot of the bell-tower where our small gym was. We worked out about three times a week with clockwork regularity at 3pm, with Tom usually making small talk about insignificant things.
We began to go swimming at the Warringah Aquatic Centre and gradually grew in trust.
I feel a slight sense of betrayal as I tell this story because I am sure that it was Tom who went in to bat for me when the seminary officialdom were trying to get rid of me.
Anyway, Tom looked very worried one afternoon as he arrived at the pool. Hurriedly removing his enormous t-shirt he lowered his huge body into the pool, displacing large volumes of warm water as he held his hands in the air. He didn’t have his usual jovial demeanour but worriedly splashed around doing his twenty laps of breaststroke. When he had finished, I could tell he had not been enjoying himself but had been contemplating whatever it was that had upset him for the past half hour.
Finally as we got back in the car, I asked “What’s the matter Tom?” 40
He fidgeted on the steering wheel before looking at me through his foggy thick rimmed glasses.
“You won’t tell anyone will you?” he asked with a burning look in his eyes testing my honesty.
“What?” I said without committing a sin.
Assuming he could trust me, he finally blurted out what was boiling up inside him. “That bastard Clancy!” he shouted. “Someone has reported that Sooty, Borg and I have been going to gay bars in the City. And he has banned all three of us from visiting gay bars. I mean, I don’t know who would be telling him that nonsense”.
He used the nickname ‘Sooty’, referring to the Very Reverend Chris De Souza (who was the vocations director of the Parramatta Diocese) who had approved my entry to the seminary and now holds the illustrious title of Vicar General for the Parramatta Diocese and similarly elevated Very Reverend Robert Borg who is now the Dean of the Cathedral at the Broken Bay Diocese.
Those within the Church have been left in no doubt about the sexuality of these particular priests whose association with Tom Carroll only makes it more obvious.
You can almost feel the change in vocal tones that each of them turn on in the company of the other.
I wonder how a man who is banned from gay bars in his early years of priesthood could be entrusted with the development of future celibate vocations for the priesthood in his later years.
One evening as we completed our weights training, Tom mentioned that he would be having dinner with the Brothers of Gerard Majella in Greystanes and asked if I didn’t have any lectures or appointments if I might like to accompany him. I told him I was completely free for the evening, but felt uncomfortable at being invited by him without a specific invite from the Brothers themselves. At the time there was no air of suspicion surrounding the Brothers, and all I read into this invitation was a genuine interest to spend more time with me. In reality, as he explained later, he was intending on having a few alcoholic drinks and was in need of a designated driver to take him home.
I told Tom that I had friends living in Greystanes and suggested that I would visit them while Tom enjoyed his meal with the Brothers. He seemed agreeable to that suggestion and that is what happened. I dropped him at the Monastery on Prospect Road and went on to visit my friends living in nearby Darling Street. I returned later in the night to fetch the inebriated cleric.
When I entered the plush lounge room, I saw Tom seated in a huge plush red velvet arm chair with his feet up on a poof clutching a port glass which was swaying with his movements.
“Come and have a seat” he sang out, pointing to a vacant space alongside an unknown priest.
I declined graciously and suggested we should leave soon as it was already getting late. As I had no reasons to suspect anything inappropriate about the gathering, I took no mental notes of who was in the room but recall there would have been five or six other men wearing black clerical tonsure shirts. The only thing I do remember noting is that their shoes were immaculately polished.
I should have recognised an association with the infamous Gerard Majella Brothers would have indicated that Tom Carroll was in the clique. It was only later when the Brothers
were facing charges over sexual assault, that the full realisation of how fortuitously I had evaded being unconsciously drawn into the inner circle of these men with evil intentions.
I suspect, and it can never be proven, that these men use their position and status as priests to gain ready access to an unlimited number of young vulnerable men who have no idea that a priest could possibly have a physical proclivity towards them.
The action of showing charity and concern for people who come to us in vulnerable situations is often the vehicle by which these pretenders will gain the confidence of a person who hardly knows them. I think the amount of fraudulent care that you dispense as a priest can quite easily turn the man from being a genuinely caring person to a very needy and potentially dangerous one.
As I add chapter to chapter to this diary of deceit, I wonder how many more priestly reputations I have to destroy before the hierarchy reluctantly remove the cloak of clerical celibacy and admit the pretence it has always been.
During my seminary time I was so eager to be a priest and to wear the collar that would announce to the entire world that I had dedicated my life to Jesus Christ. On one trip to an ordination in Wollongong, I was in the car with my classmate Phil O’Rourke who had already been ordained.
He pulled up at a McDonalds to have something to eat, as we arrived there with plenty of time before the Mass. As he got out of the car he removed the small piece of white plastic that was slipped through the black tonsure shirt collar.
”What did you do that for?” I asked curiously.
“I don’t want everyone to know I am a priest!” he said as if it was obvious.
“Why?” I laughed, “Don’t you want people to know that priests eat at Macca’s?”
“No, I just don’t want people coming up to me and talking to me. I want to spend some quality time with you”.
“Get out!” I said incredulous, “People come up to you when you are wearing your priest’s uniform? What do they talk about?”
“They come up and tell you all sorts of things. Their life story, their experiences of priests abusing them, some want to make confessions for things they did years ago, and some even want to complain about the things that ‘the Church’ did during the Inquisition. It really gets on my nerves!” he said with obvious frustration on his face.
I was amazed and excited at the prospect of complete strangers coming up and talking to me about religion. I loved to talk about God and my religion and was always ready for a debate on the Church and its history. I could not believe that someone would ever get tired of talking to people about it.
Sadly, some years after being ordained, I found myself regularly removing my collar for exactly the same reason.
One ‘tip’ given to students to preserve their chastity, and thereby spare themselves from eternal damnation, was the principle of ‘custody of the eyes’ xv. This meant looking away from women when they were near, and avoiding places were clothing was scant. Consequently, for a long time while the major Australian seminary was located at picturesque Manly, students were forbidden from going to the beach. And a large hole in the ground at both seminaries at Springwood and Manly, gave testimony to the presence of a pool that seminary students were allowed to relieve themselves of the summer heat.
It may not be surprising then that many students found themselves sexually attracted to members of the same sex, i.e. other students and seminary staff. The imposition of unjust restrictions during the seminary formation period, leads men who otherwise would understand the moral evil of using deception to justify its use in their case.
Maybe an example would help you understand what I mean. In the seminary there were two rules that I flagrantly broke. We were expected to be home every night, and we were not permitted to be engaged in any form of paid employment whilst a student. Feeling these to be an unjust restriction of my personal freedom and remembering that I voluntarily chose to enter the seminary I rejected these (and many other) restrictions. I frequently went out with my friends whom I knew before entering the seminary, and even stayed overnight at their homes. I knew that I was doing nothing morally evil, so I simply ignored the rule. Considering our financial limitations as students I also continued to do casual work, one day a week, with IBM (my previous employer), which necessitated my absence from the college on Fridays.
I attended Morning Prayer in the chapel at around 8:00am with my business suit in my bag. With the Sign of the Cross after the final hymn, I jumped on my motorbike which was parked out of view beside the chapel, and flew from Manly to Castle Hill in peak hour traffic, to do a full eight hours work. I would leave in time to return before the Friday evening Mass in the college chapel, with no one noting my absence for the whole day. It is
quite remarkable that I was able to pull it off for so long. In many ways, I am very much a product of my upbringing and qualities I developed were greatly influenced by our home life. In a large family there were times when we did things that were wrong (by Dad’s strict standards) but it would have been worse for us if the offence were discovered.
When asked by my father “Did you do that?” the denial meant that there were nine other suspects, and I would be spared a beating by sticking to my story. But as my mother told me “A liar has to have a good memory”. I didn’t, so I was often like a fish, caught by my own mouth.
I can’t boast of my own innate knowledge of the Catholic faith. There was so much I didn’t know as I was quickly to discover when I began my studies for the priesthood.
I was totally ignorant even of the procedure of becoming a priest when I entered the seminary in 1986, to begin what would be a six year process of becoming “ordained” a Catholic priest.
In the first couple of days at seminary, I stood on the headland at Darley Road Manly enjoying the billion dollar views of the Northern beaches and drinking cheap instant coffee while basking in the holy atmosphere of a group of more than fifty other potential clerics.
A group of senior students were discussing the upcoming ordination of a number of sixth year students to the Diaconate. They were becoming Deacons. I had never heard the word before and naively asked one of them, Brendan Quirk “What is a deacon?” He looked at me in exaggeratedly feigned surprise. “You want to be a priest and you haven’t heard of deacons?” he said raising his voice in derision at my unforgivable ignorance. I was
embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t. The other fellows present all broke into laughter as if this was something like not knowing the Pope’s name. With a straight face he said, “It’s the last step before being a priest! It used to be one of the six Minor Orders, the others being Porter, Lector, Tonsure, Exorcist and Acolyte. The word deacon comes from the Greek word deaconos. It is sometimes satirically called ‘denackeros’… which means losing your knackers … or castration. Every deacon must be castrated before becoming a priest so that you don’t bring scandal to the church by having illegitimate children with any of your flock!”
The others just looked at me fighting back the urge to burst into laughter as they looked at my totally accepting face. I had no reason to doubt him. Why would a man who was months away from becoming a priest tell a lie? I sincerely assumed what Brendan Quirk was telling me was the truth. It appeared perfectly logical to me at the time, and although I didn’t for a minute look forward to that eventuality I was so willing to become a priest that I would have allowed myself to be castrated if it meant being elevated to the Priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church. Soon they all erupted in simultaneous guffaws and one other man told me, “No you don’t have to get castrated! If that was the case, there would be no priests!”
CHAPTER 12 – WHO CAN I TRUST?
Even if I wanted to, I nearly didn’t get the opportunity to become a priest. The time in the seminary was a tough trial for me. It wasn’t academically very challenging, but the pseudo-religious lifestyle I had to endure really grated on me. I did not enjoy the company of the more effeminate seminarians, and my reluctance to socialise with them led to the perception that I was not likely to be a team player. The main reason for my inability to mix with the other fellows who were trying to become priests, was my belief that many of them were homosexuals, whose motives for wanting to become priests were at best dubious.
One such character was John. When he first entered the doorway of the College for our initial meeting of the new academic year, I was convinced he was a gay on a mission to infiltrate the priesthood. He wore skin tight faded jeans with a white t-shirt and a black leather jacket that looked like it came straight out of a George Michael music video. He had collar length, blonde-streaked hair and pencil line plucked eyebrows. Adding to this his effeminate stride, I was surprised that the seminary authorities even considered admitting him for consideration for the priesthood.
It didn’t take long for him to establish himself with the title of ‘queen of first year 1990’. But John was not a keen student, and it became apparent that his academic results were raising some concerns that he would not succeed past that first year of study. One particular evening as he drowned his sorrows with another classmate, and a bottle of Penfold’s Club port in the garden outside the chapel, I wandered past to hear him tearfully expressing his disappointment.
Despite my distaste for his unmanly behaviour, John was an entertaining character with a knife-like wit, and in the same way that Herod liked listening to John the Baptist, I also enjoyed listening to John. As a senior student in my 4th year, I intruded on their drunken conversation and asked John why he was crying.
“All my dreams are shattered!” he said with a dramatic tossing aside of his bleached locks.
“Why is that?” I asked pretending not to know of his imminent departure. 76
“All because of that cock-sucker Vince Casey”
Father Vincent Casey was a priest from the Broken Bay diocese who had recently returned from Rome where he had studied psychology. His role in the seminary was to administer the latest Vatican tests to determine a fellow’s emotional state and fitness for ordination. He had already examined John twice because of his constant acts of rebellion in relation to seminary rules. The exact details of that investigation escape my mind, but I am sure they are on file somewhere in the Sydney Archdiocesan Chancery.
“Well, try as he may, he won’t get rid of me!” John protested.
“Why is that?” I asked fishing for details from the inebriated student.
“Because Iverson will be backing me!” he said confidently nodding his head.
“Oh?” I feigned surprise. I predicted exactly what he was about to say next.
He looked at me with glazed eyes, ringed with red from crying.
“I know too much” he attempted to whisper, but only succeeded in covering me with spit. “We are very close!” he said again nodding.
I leaned away to discretely wipe the saliva off my face, but still looking intently at him waiting for further admissions.
“Yes, I am very close to Father Iverson. We are intimately connected. And he would never sanction any attempt to kick me out of the seminary, because I know too much.”
I think the innuendo was obvious.
There had to be a reason that John would even be allowed to audit classes in a seminary, let alone be encouraged to pursue theological studies in preparation for ordination to priesthood in the Catholic Church.
“But why do you want to be a priest John? You are obviously not a spiritual person” I said hoping my accusation would not offend.
“It’s the Mass!” he said as his eyes lit up with theatrical glee. “The Mass is the ultimate pantomime! You get to wear all those gorgeous coloured silk vestments, and perform to an audience of adoring souls.” He ended his disturbingly self-seeking rant with the words, “… and I … I am the star performer!”
It was like hearing the sad confession of a convicted fraudster, sorry not for the deception but for the fact that he had not achieved his selfish goals. In the end it was not the seminary that forced John out, it was himself who self-destructed.
I don’t remember exactly how or when his studies at Manly were terminated, but I do recall with mirth his final, fun-filled Liturgy lesson with Father Paul Crowley. John, who had squashed two single-serve packets of tomato sauce in both his hands, stood up in the middle of the lecture to proclaim in pretended horror, “Look at me! I have the stigmata!” xix
I very nearly didn’t get through the seminary selection process myself. It was not the academic challenge. As I have said, I found the seminary studies extraordinarily easy. It was like there was such an incredible shortage of vocations, that they were determined to get priests through. It appeared as though they lowered the theological content of the course, and made the academic level of the degree unbelievably pedestrian.
I had a breezy passage in lectures which I recorded and typed up for later sale to some of the Vietnamese students. I even managed to teach myself Vietnamese during the course of the lectures. The only challenge I found was stopping myself from arguing with some of the academic light-weights, with unorthodox opinions, I was forced to listen to.
I worked out pretty quickly that the rector, Gerry Iverson, was trying his best to get me kicked out. In conversations with me, he maintained that, according to some on the
assessment board, I was unwilling to be involved in College social activities, thus suggesting that I am not a team player. In one written assessment, he labelled me as “theologically inflexible”.
While it is true that I am unwilling to readily surrender my deeply ingrained attitudes towards my faith, I was not seeing modelled in the priests who taught me, a better version of my belief system. Iverson saw my rugged individualism as incompatible with contemporary clericalism. But, for some reason, my Bishop, Bede Heather, didn’t share his concerns about my inflexibility. He continued to over-rule the seminary adjudicator’s evaluation, that I was an unsuitable candidate for priesthood.
In the end it was Iverson who was deemed no longer suitable for the seminary, and his term as Rector was prematurely terminated in my second last year as a student. The rampant flaunting of homosexuality in the College was being reported to Rome, and the axe had to fall on the top head. Iverson’s previously illustrious position was filled by the affable and down-to-earth country priest, Father Paul McCabe from the Armidale Diocese. He quickly introduced a new balance in the seminary environment. He didn’t reveal any apparent concerns about me the first time we met, and seemed quite comfortable to chat with me about football and farms.
Paul McCabe was more attentive to the challenge of endearing himself to the fickle and cynical, predominantly gay community within the College, than with getting rid of perceived problem students. As far as Paul McCabe was concerned, his role was to rebuild stability in the erratic institution that had lost its way under the previous administration.
When it was indicated that Gerry Iverson would be dismissed from the seminary to be recalled to his own Wagga diocese (which despite having sent men to the seminary had not received one ordained priest from Manly), it was made clear that even Wagga didn’t want him back. It was then widely rumoured that Iverson would be accepted into our Parramatta Diocese and this thought frightened me. Assuming an alliance between myself and Bishop Bede, I warned him not to take Iverson on board.
Bishop Bede allayed my fears with his personal commitment, “Don’t worry Kevin he will never have a parish in the Diocese, he is just going to look after the Priests’ Retreat House in Kurrajong”.
The diocesan owned Retreat House was an expansive building, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, in a remote location where men could go for reflection and prayer on their day off. And although it did transpire that Iverson took up that post for a few years, he had his sights set on continuing active ministry.
The Bishop never kept that promise he made to me and shortly after the notorious Brothers of Gerard Majella were gaoled, and their order closed, Bede Heather appointed Gerry Iverson to take over their decimated and scandal ridden parish at Greystanes!
CHAPTER 13 – OPUS DEI AND HOMOSEXUALS
My introduction to the homosexual subculture in the church, certainly tainted my views on same sex attractions. Prior to beginning studies for ministry, the Biblical prohibition of “a man lying with another man” was imprinted on my mind. But it was definitely not under the most ideal of circumstances, that I was acquainted with homosexual priests.
Before beginning studies for priesthood I shared a townhouse with a gay man when I was working at IBM. We used to travel regularly together on weekends for the 300km drive to his parents’ sheep-wheat farm at Grenfell, totally unaware that he may have liked me more than as a mate. At the time I didn’t even know he was that way inclined. He kept his sexuality to himself, and was an understanding and encouraging friend to me, when I finally decided to enter the seminary. He is now the co-owner of the Aussie Bum swimwear company.
My early opinion of homosexuality was negatively coloured by the overtly promiscuous and sometimes predatory gay men I found holding positions of authority in the Church. Just like you can meet a really obnoxious heterosexual man who is forcing himself sexually onto every woman he sees, there were gay men in the seminary who thought they were sexually desirable to everyone else. These men flaunted their effeminate natures with egocentric displays of flamboyant attention-seeking. It was not uncommon for me to be feeling pinches on my bottom in hallways, and to have suggestive comments directed at me as I left the communal showers semi-clad.
In the whole five years I resided at the Manly seminary, there were only a few students that I would consider myself as ever feeling close to. It was hard for me to make friends, as I was suspicious of the motives of certain students, and they were suspicious of me.
Because of my conservative leanings, some of the students in the College presumed I was an Opus Dei infiltrator and were none too discrete in asking questions to discover if I was.
I am guessing that some of you don’t know what, or more correctly who Opus Dei is, so I better give you a brief overview. If you have watched The Da Vinci Code movie or read
the book, you will still have no idea because that book is purely fictional. But Dan Browne took advantage of the mystery that envelopes the operations of the real Opus Dei cult, using the same name to identify a mythical secret sect intent on protecting the fictional Vatican secrets alluded to in Browne’s novel.
But the real Opus Dei, which is Latin for ‘The Work of God’, is a personal prelature or association of priests and lay people that was formed in 1928, by the actions of a certain Spanish priest Father Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás. His spiritual movement had found its way into Australia in 1963, through the efforts of a humble and holy Springwood identity and father of ten, Professor Ron Woodhead. Convinced of its merit he welcomed the movement and all it stood for into Sydney University in 1971.
Its influence spread through Warrane College, a residential college that provided a home predominantly for country students, and the members worked tirelessly to ensure that other young and energetic Catholic students would be introduced to their founder’s teachings. A local doctor who had attended Warrane College lived in Springwood and he soon saw the six Lee brothers as potential converts to the Opus Dei movement.
We were soon invited to attend retreats and went on shooting trips with members of Opus Dei. It was not long before I became interested in learning more of the philosophy and teachings of the charismatic founder, Father Josemaria Escriva. His inspirational sermons, as well as his books of meditative texts made a deep impression on me, at a time when I was searching for a deeper relationship with God. His best known book ‘The Way’ which I was given a copy of whilst still a teen, has sold over 4.5 million copies and has been translated into 44 languages.
Despite negativity and controversy from some sectors regarding Opus Dei, I came to be impressed by the personal spirituality and sacrifices of the members I met. At that time, I saw nothing of the negativity or secrecy which the group is often criticised for – I just saw a group of good Catholic men, who were intent on helping me become holy.
I was convinced that this group were intent on helping me become a saint, and that if I wanted to become a saint, I had to imbibe all their doctrines without processing or questioning. I was also impressed by the interest they had in me, and encouraged by their goodness. While most of the other young people my age were out watching bands, drinking and chasing girls, I was attending spiritual talks.
As I travelled home on Saturday nights from the Recollections at Strathfieldxx I would sometimes see people I knew on the train. When they asked me where I had been, I lied and said I had been to a concert or had been out with mates, in the city, drinking. It was ironic that it was more acceptable to tell them that, than to admit I had been praying or seeking spiritual direction.
When I ultimately joined the seminary, it soon became apparent that I was influenced by the Opus Dei spirituality. It may have been because of the people I hung around, the insistence on receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, or the wearing of the hair-shirtxxi, in order to help … I am kidding, I never wore a hair shirt.
I think the reason I was targeted was probably due to my associations with certain Opus Dei priests prior to entering the seminary. What was wrong with Opus Dei? Well this was something I could never quite understand. Prior to entering the seminary, a priest of Opus Dei told me to conceal my association with the personal prelature if I wanted to be accepted into St. Patrick’s College. He explained that the seminary officials did not believe an Opus Dei spirituality would suit a modern church. He gave examples of some students who
aligned themselves with Opus Dei, and who consequently experienced persecution. Some were even forced to leave the seminary. Realistically, I think it was the strict intensity of the Opus Dei spirituality that the seminary feared would isolate potential priests from the ordinary church membership.
For example, Opus Dei members were expected to do certain daily spiritual exercises called ‘norms of life’ such as praying the Rosary, reciting the Stations of the Cross, half hour morning meditations and fasting from certain foods. These were supposedly helpful for maintaining a sincere commitment to celibacy, and an appropriate growth in graces necessary to make you a saint. But saints are not popular in normal life, so the Manly seminary authorities attempted to weed out those who exhibited signs of an Opus Dei spirituality.
I say this is ironic now, because all the recent appointments to top positions in the church have come from men who have certain leanings towards Opus Dei, if not a purposeful association with it.
The Founder of Opus Dei was canonised by Pope John Paul II in record time following his death in 1975, and many appointments to the episcopal ranks have been implicitly influenced by Opus Dei associations. There are still many within the church who remain critical of the supposed Opus Dei interference in Church affairs, but I do not share their concerns. I have met many families who have sent their kids to Opus Dei schools,xxii who are fine examples of virtue and sincerity in living the Christian life.
I think the criticism of Opus Dei, is largely influenced by ignorance of their agendas in education. The opening of Opus Dei schools certainly implies that the Catholic schools are not doing a good enough job of passing on the Catholic faith, and this inference angers some priests and principals in the mainstream Catholic Church.
As coincidental or random as this may seem, every one of my seminary companions that I did consider as a friend have all ‘come out’ as gay. This is pretty ironic because some of the blokes in the seminary believed me to be homophobic, because they say I was resistant to forming friendships with those I knew to be active homosexuals.
The reason many of them concluded I was ‘homophobic’, was after an attempt made by three of us to bring to the leader of the seminary institution’s attention, the flagrant disregard for the prohibition of homosexual activity in the place.
Danny Austin was known to everyone in the seminary as a man’s man, that is, he was a real ‘blokey’ bloke. He used to be a high school P.E. teacher before he decided to become a priest and was endowed with a very athletic physique. He didn’t have an attractive face, due to years of pimple squeezing, but he compensated with his well-developed muscular body and a charming personality. Many of his past pupils, now adult attractive women used to visit him at Manly and he entertained them appropriately.
I guess the openness with which he paraded his female guests around the college, led to resentment from the homosexually oriented students, who used to pass remarks that he was ‘a tart’ for flaunting himself and his ‘harem’. Their cynicism only contributed to my dislike of ‘them’ because they knew his attractive masculine body was off limits, while almost every other ‘pretty’ seminarian soon became someone’s special friend.
I know that Danny was committed to celibacy because it was he who gave me the best advice in living chastely even before I entered the seminary. When I came for an orientation weekend whilst enquiring about priesthood as a vocation, he appeared the most ‘normal looking’ man in the place. It sounds harsh to say this, but most of the other men looked like
they should be priests and by Darwinian standards, their genes were not meant to be passed on. Many would certainly never have found a wife, even if they were looking for one.
So I asked Danny how he hoped to live the celibate life for the rest of his life. His honestly thought out response made perfectly good logic and sustained my celibacy for years: “Pray and ask God each morning ‘Lord, keep me celibate today’ then worry about tomorrow when it comes”. He was a deeply spiritual person, who told me about a spiritual experience that convicted him that God had truly called him to priesthood, and not to married life. He told me once that he was praying in front of a crucified image of Jesus in a church. As he looked intently at the wounds of our Lord, he felt that the problem he was going through was nothing compared to the sufferings of Jesus. He allowed himself to stay immersed in this feeling for some time, and claims that he felt ecstasy.xxiii When moments of his sexual deprivation used to prompt him to lustful thoughts, he tried to relive that comforting vision.
But overt homosexuality was rife in my time at Manly, and both Danny and I found it disturbing. The east wing of our dormitory was known facetiously as the ‘AIDS wing’, owing to the predominance of gay fellows who slept there, and the expected outcome of their promiscuity.
Danny Austin was lamenting one morning about the fact that the authorities were doing nothing to discourage the immorality amongst some students. He proposed that we would together go and see the Rector, and bring it to his attention. He suggested that we needed more students to support our testimony. I enlisted the help of Matthew Muller, a senior fellow on our floor, who was also outspoken when it came to this issue. An unlikely alliance was formed, and we went to speak with the college rector, Father Gerry Iverson.
The rector had a large corner office with a commanding view of the ocean that many a company executive would be envious of. We sat uncomfortably in the leather-look lounges as we waited for him to arrive. When he came in and saw us waiting anxiously to see him, he closed the door and pulled up a chair to sit with us.
“Now, what is it you wanted to speak to me about?” he asked, pursing his lips and fluttering his eyelids as he spoke.
I was apprehensive as to how he would receive the information we were about to deliver. Danny was the most senior student and he immediately took control.
“Well Gerry,” he began, taking a deep breath. “We want to know if you are aware that there are a number of actively homosexual seminarians in the place, and they don’t even make any attempt to disguise the fact. Also they seem to be preying on younger students who are vulnerable.”
“What do you mean by ‘vulnerable’?” the rector asked, again fluttering his half-closed eyelids, not attempting to dispute the accusation.
“Kids from the country Gerry,” I said. “These younger fellas, who have no friends or family in Sydney. They seem flattered that senior students take an interest in them, and some of the older students are taking them to gay bars and introducing them to their gay friends, and showing them a good time.”
I could see that Gerry was looking intently at me, but he did not appear shocked. My eyes caught Matthew’s, and he didn’t look impressed with Gerry’s lack of reaction, to what we believed would be a surprising revelation. After a pause Matthew reignited the conversation.
“Do you understand Gerry that there are a number of gay students who are in the college 82
not to become priests, but just for a good time?” Matthew pronounced.
“What gives you the ability to discern a person’s motivation for choosing to become a priest, Matthew?” Iverson asked accusingly with pursed lips.
“You don’t have to judge them Gerry, you just observe!” Matthew said angrily.
“Aren’t you concerned that there are a lot of homosexuals in the college Gerry?” Danny asked with derision.
“I don’t think the fact that a person is a homosexual, or has a homosexual orientation is a reason to exclude them from the priesthood Danny. In fact, I have many homosexual friends who are priests and they make excellent pastorally sensitive leaders in their communities,” Iverson said adjusting his spectacles uncomfortably.
“Well, I don’t have any homosexual friends!” Danny exclaimed proudly, “And I don’t think that homosexual students should be allowed to train with heterosexual men. I have a hard enough time with celibacy. Imagine if I was having to go to the communal showers with a bunch of attractive looking women every day? It would be exactly the same as it must be for these homosexuals who stare at me in the shower”.
“Well that sounds like it’s your problem, Danny” Iverson said he as rose from his padded leather chair.
It was apparent that the rector found nothing further that we had to say, to be worth listening to, and he walked to open the door.
“Thank you gentlemen, for your visit. Have a good day!” he said as he insincerely shook each of our hands as we left the room.
When we walked out of the rector’s office we were all filled with righteous indignation. Now we understood why there was an open tolerance to active homosexuality – the rector approved!
As things transpired, I did not see or hear from anyone from the Sunday Night program apart from noncommittal phone calls so I agreed to meet with the ABC team and did the interview on the day I stepped back into Australia on 22nd May 2012. I was asked to recount my recollection of the events that surrounded the paedophile ‘Father F.’ during my time in Merrylands parish and I explained my knowledge of the way the Church authorities concealed his sins.
I was taken to Manly Seminary where I did my training and filmed sitting pensively in front of the historic buildings where Father F. had also studied to become a priest.
I am glad now that I did take that course of action because it was the Four Corners program that fairly shone a searing spotlight on all that I had revealed whilst Seven had simply looked for sensations.
The program that they eventually aired on July 2 was entitled Unholy Silence, a slight adjustment to my manuscript’s initial title, Unelected Silence. I liked the title the ABC gave it so much I decided to change the name of my manuscript and from then on called it Unholy Silence.
In the days following the ABC’s program the Catholic Church reeled from the accusations and all sections of the media pronounced that a Royal Commission into the Catholic Church’s covering up of sexual abuse, particularly that pertaining to the mysterious Father F. (John Farrell) was inevitable.
The spin doctors in the Church leapt into action claiming that misinformation and miscommunication were behind the mistake of allowing Father John Farrell back into priestly ministry with children while he was awaiting trial for child sexual assault.
The Four Corners program was a huge revelation for most of Christendom that were oblivious to the extent of cover-ups in the Church although they were aware of the sporadic reporting of priests who sexually abused children.