Ex-altar boy tells of priest’s abuse

Jessica CuthbertAlbany Advertiser
Pete Rogers said he has found his voice and is now inspiring others to share their stories.
Camera IconPete Rogers said he has found his voice and is now inspiring others to share their stories. Credit: Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Pete Rogers was molested by a Catholic priest in Melbourne in the late 1960s. The 68-year-old has struggled with the demons of that abuse ever since but the past five years in Albany have helped him heal. As Catholic bishops from around the world gathered at the Vatican last week for an historic summit on clergy sexual abuse, Mr Rogers told his story publicly for the first time to Jessica Cuthbert.

Pete Rogers was one of many boys who suffered terribly at the hands of notorious paedophile priest, the late Desmond Gannon.

He was an altar boy at St Michael’s Church in Ashburton — barely a teenager — when Gannon’s predatory actions altered the course of his life.

Events in recent years, combined with his own resolve, have led him to a point where he wants to inspire others to find their voice.

Mr Rogers was among thousands of Australians who bravely told their stories to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In October, he joined other survivors at a national apology in Canberra.

He said it was an overwhelming experience but the struggle was returning home, where his emotions opened up.

“Grief reappeared for me. I remember going up to Stony Hill, a favourite spot of mine, and I sat by the rock and I began to cry — great sadness filled me,” he said.

In 2010, Mr Rogers wrote a letter to Gannon, a letter his abuser would later read.

“You robbed me of my childhood innocence. You are responsible for destroying my love and freedom of being in church, a place I loved,” the letter said. His letter ended with a verse from the Bible.

“Whosoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea,” it said.

Mr Rogers received a $150,000 payout through the Melbourne Response last month.

The former Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, wrote a letter to him in 2016 apologising for the abuse on behalf of the Church.

“I acknowledge how traumatic this has been for you and that the abuse has had a lasting effect on every aspect of your life,” Archbishop Hart said.

“Please know that I will continue to hold you and other victims of abuse in my thoughts and prayers, irrespective of whether or not you choose to accept the enclosed offer.”

After years of coming to terms with his abuse, Mr Rogers said a big part of his strength to continue his fight was his resilient nature and finding Albany as his healing place. “My strength is my fight for justice — the Church knew and did nothing,” he said. “I fought, I crashed and I was fighting demons every day, I was suicidal from the age of 14 and always, always had suicidal thoughts.”

Mr Rogers said it was others who had gone before him and spoken out that inspired him to keep going.

“Speaking out and sharing my story was overwhelming and very traumatic but I’m glad I spoke out,” he said.

After moving to Albany five years ago, Mr Rogers said he had found closure and relief through therapy, crafts, writing and photography.

He was calmed by the water.

He said he would like to see support networks and a resource centre in Albany for victims of trauma run professionally and paid for by the churches.

“You cannot overcome trauma without professional help, this has been my revelation; how far I’ve come by doing counselling,” he said.

“I hope I inspire people to have the courage to tell their story.”

“I’m ready to have a voice and ready to tell my story. I encourage other people to come forward with their stories, to find freedom.

“ Let’s bring trauma to the forefront — trauma is an epidemic, an unrecognisable epidemic.”

Mr Rogers said he had never met Gannon again after leaving St Michael’s. Gannon was jailed twice for child sexual abuse crimes before his death in April, 2015.

“Trauma blocks the memories from your mind. I can tell you every priest in that parish, I remember their faces; but not him,” Mr Rogers said.

“I never faced him again. If I had, my first reaction would be fear.

“I don’t know what I would say to him now but I wrote to him and I know he read it.

“That’s closure, that’s helping me move on.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails