A Hunter Valley man who was abused by an Anglican priest in Cessnock in the 1960s is urging others who experienced the same trauma to share their stories with the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse.
Paul Gray was sexually abused by Fr Peter Rushton from the ages of 11 to 15, when he was an altar boy and member of the Church of England boys’ brigade.
Fr Rushton – who died in 2007 – completed his training at Morpeth in 1963 and spent four years at Cessnock before he was transferred to Wyong.
He also served at Weston from 1968, moved to Wallsend in 1973, Maitland in 1983 and Hamilton in 1998, before retiring in 2001.
In October 2010, then Bishop of Newcastle Brian Farran confirmed Fr Rushton’s “involvement in the sexual abuse of minors” and apologised publicly to the late priest’s victims.
Mr Gray, now 63, said Fr Rushton (who was also his godfather) ran a paedophile ring in the Cessnock area, which included clergy and laypeople of different religions.
He is certain there would be many people who are still suffering from the memories of the abuse.
He hopes they will come forward when the Royal Commission comes to Newcastle in August.
“There could be a big groundswell,” Mr Gray said.
“Rushton was the lynchpin; he could have abused hundreds of boys.
“People are going to be shocked.
“This may have been a long time ago; unfortunately for survivors, it only feels like it was yesterday and we have carried the scars all our lives.
“Not only has it affected our potential but it has taken away our confidence to be who we really should have been.”
Mr Gray said he considers paedophiles to be as bad as murderers.
“Sometimes they may only wound you and you carry the scars your whole life,” he said.
“But at other times some people can no longer carry the scars and decide to take their lives. Does that make paedophiles murderers?”
Mr Gray has had numerous hospital stays and hundreds of hours of counselling to deal with the memories of his abuse, but it was through the Quorrobolong centre Heal For Life that he found the will to live again.
He now volunteers at the centre on a casual basis, as does his partner, who he met at Heal For Life.
“Heal For Life is an amazing place – it gave me the hope and tools to carry on,” Mr Gray said.
“They help you to deal with the emotions associated with the abuse so you can overcome the suffering and begin to heal.”
He said the main emotions that stop people coming forward are fear and shame.
“You don’t get to live your life, you live your life in fear, and I don’t want anyone else to go through that,” he said.
Mr Gray has spoken to the Royal Commission, and said it gives survivors the chance to stand up, make a difference and put an end to child abuse.
“This is your chance to write some wrongs committed against you as an innocent child,” he said.
“I know it takes courage but this is our chance to stop this and never let it happen again.
“All any survivor of childhood sexual abuse wants is to be heard and to be believed."
A public hearing will be held in Newcastle from August 2 to 12.
Any person or institution who believes that they have a direct and substantial interest in the scope and purpose of the public hearing is invited to lodge a written application for leave to appear at the public hearing by July 18.
People can share their story with the commission in private, with registrations closing September 30, or in writing via email or post.
Mr Gray is happy to give support and advice regarding the commission and can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Lifeline 13 11 14
• MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
• Heal For Life 1300 760 580