FOR weeks on end, the Special Commission of Inquiry has heard about paedophile priest Jim Fletcher’s abuse of a young boy, known by the pseudonym AH.
Yesterday, AH – now a father of three in his early 30s – held the commission in awed silence for 10 long minutes as he told his story in a measured and steady voice that could not conceal the volcanic emotions that were welling beneath.
At his closing comments – ‘‘Thank you for what you are doing because you will find the truth’’ – the hearing room filled with applause, with some of the public gallery in tears.
Noting the shame he had referred to more than once, Commissioner Margaret Cunneen told AH: ‘‘No shame attaches to you and your courage has put the shame squarely where it belongs.’’
AH began his statement – departing occasionally from a statutory declaration signed on June 26 – by describing himself as ‘‘the victim of James Patrick Fletcher, whose abuse of me was the subject of a criminal trial in 2004 where Fletcher was convicted on all charges’’.
AH said the years of abuse he endured from Fletcher had ‘‘a dreadful and very significant impact’’ on his life.
‘‘I tried to block it out but there were many time I was tormented by memories and the shame, anger and embarrassment, which had, and still have, a really bad effect on me,’’ AH said.
He said that as his plight had become more known, people he didn’t know had begun coming to him to tell their own stories of abuse by the church,schools or family members.
AH twice thanked Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox for his help, describing him as ‘‘a man of integrity’’ who gave him the 11months he needed to compile his statement.
‘‘I thought I could just go to the police and tell them everything and then move on but I had no idea it would be so hard to get the words out,’’ AH said.
He talked about other clergy visiting Fletcher during his trial while ignoring AH and his family.
‘‘After it was over, Bishop (Michael) Malone rang Dad and asked to speak to me,’’ he said.
‘‘I took the phone and he told me Fletcher would never work in the diocese again. He asked me to keep the faith. To this day I wonder what ‘faith’ he was talking about. That was the day he was announced guilty. Keep the faith ...’’
AH said each day the commission was ‘‘uncovering the truths about the Catholic church and its cover-ups.
At this point, AH turned to Monsignor Allan Hart, who was sitting a few metres away, and said: ‘‘I haven’t seen you for 10 or 12years but unfortunately it’s a memory, does that make sense?
Monsignor Hart, who resumed his evidence after AH’s statement, said it did.
AH continued: ‘‘This is exactly what needed to happen but you do ask the question: ‘If they had done something about Fletcher years ago instead of moving him around would he have got to me? How would my life be different? Would I have continued with my cricket and being playing in the Ashes this year?’’
The cricketing aside was a brief moment of levity in a speech that showed the commmision room, first hand, the human toll of this tragedy.
‘‘The breach of trust I have experienced at the hands of the Catholic church will affect me forever as I was an innocent little kid with a big hope for the future,’’ AH said.
‘‘The priest, James Patrick Fletcher – his number plate JPF-004 will always be in my head – did a terrible job on me but I expected when I finally got the courage to tell someone about it, the church would not let me down and they would do the right thing.
‘‘That wasn’t to be and I believe they put more effort into damage control than into caring for me.’’
Outside the commission, AH spoke briefly to the media, saying he had spoken publicly to ‘‘clarify what this commission is all about’’.
After AH, Monsignor Hart continued giving evidence about what he did when women complained to him about being abused as girls by paedophile priest Denis McAlinden.
Monsignor Hart acknowledged knowing about the abuse from as early as 1993 but said Bishop Leo Clarke and Father Brian Lucas – who is scheduled to give evidence later this week – handled most of the McAlinded matter.
Various church documents of the time were tabled as exhibits.