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June 24, 2024

One man’s journey to seek justice from the Catholic Church

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John Saunders’s book, Sexual Abuse Survivor’s Handbook: One man fights the Catholic Church, tells his story and aims to guide other abuse survivors wishing to confront perpetrators through the justice system. Photo Eve Jeffery
John Saunders’s book, Sexual Abuse Survivor’s Handbook: One man fights the Catholic Church, tells his story and aims to guide other abuse survivors wishing to confront perpetrators through the justice system. Photo Eve Jeffery

Eve Jeffery

It would seem that $55,000 is the amount a child should expect to be paid after a teacher repeatedly plays with his penis.

It’s the accepted reimbursement a ten-year-old might receive after a teacher from a religious institution sexually abuses them.

And that abuse would most likely ruin your childhood, education, job prospects, social life and romantic and sexual relationships. Relationships with your own children may also be affected.

But wait! There is one more relationship ruined.

If it turns out that the source of your spiritual knowledge, the one trusted to educate you about the great almighty, was also the fellow who sat you on his lap and slipped his hand inside your undies, chances are you will find yourself bereft of faith in both humanity and God.

John Saunders was in grade six when a lay teacher from Mosman Marist Brothers Primary asked him to take a seat on his knee.

This was the beginning of daily sexual and emotional abuse that lasted about eight months and, 40 years on, Saunders still carries that weight.

In 1997 Saunders gathered himself together enough to begin the end of his torment when he visited a police station and reported his ordeal. In 1998 the church made him an ex-gratia payment to shut his mouth.

When in 2004 Saunders continued his original quest to seek justice from the church in regard to his ongoing abuse by school bullies as a teenager in the Catholic school system, he was, under the hand of Cardinal George Pell, given a ‘pastoral response’: another ex-gratia payment of $10,000.

Public hearings

Thankfully the physical and emotional abuse of children at the hands of the Catholic Church is finally being addressed: the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is now underway.

Public hearings and private sessions will continue into December of this year at least.

It is expected that 5,000 people will speak to the commission. And while it is possible that John may be included, for now, he is addressing the problem on other levels.

John has written a book, the Sexual Abuse Survivor’s Handbook: One man fights the Catholic Church.

The book tells John’s story but also aims to be a healing guide for abuse survivors and a practical handbook for those wishing to confront their perpetrators and seek compensation and justice through the legal system.

And for those wanting to learn more about how to approach the healing, John will also co-host with mayor Simon Richardson a forum entitled ‘Child Abuse & Community: How does Institutional Child Abuse affect Community?’

Byron forum

Panelists will include professionals in the fields of health, law and relationships, and the evening aims to break down the social taboos and exchange knowledge and further community connection.

It will explore the impact on children, adult survivors, intimate relationships, family, friends and community, government and the institutional response.

There will be qualified people available to support those who may become distressed.

John says he wants the night to better inform the public, ‘in the critical conversation on healing child abuse in all its forms.’

The public forum is open to all over the age of 12 years and will be held at the Byron Community Centre Theatre on November 28 from 7pm.

For more information on John’s book, visit www.sexualabusesurvivors.com.au.

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