When Paul Conaghan thinks back to his days at Rosmini College he briefly remembers a time when he was a happy blue-eyed altar boy who became the lead soprano in the choir.
But Brother William Jackson destroyed that when Conaghan was about 11-years-old.
Conaghan, now 59, was one of at least five boys who say they were molested by the Rosmini College music teacher in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“I never said anything for the first few times, then I told my mum, then told my father.”
The abuse happened during private singing lessons.
“From the practice there were individual people that were singled out like myself. You would go down to the music room. He’d play the piano and if you weren’t hitting the note right he’d come over, unzip your shorts and play with you.”
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This often happened several times during a lesson and on multiple occasions. While it never went as far as rape it has had a huge impact on his life.
“I never know what I could have really turned out like.”
After the abuse his interest in the choir vanished.
“I wasn’t interested in being an altar boy any more. I wasn’t interested in singing any more.”
He instead filled his life with drugs, alcohol and violence.
“I became very violent – I never beat my wife but I punched holes and I drank all the time.”
He believes he probably wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for his wife’s support as he coped with what had happened to him. Besides his parents and sister she was the only one who knew the truth – until he was diagnosed with terminal bowel, liver and prostate cancer.
His decision to go to the Church and police about what had happened came after he spoke to a counsellor about what he wanted to achieve before he died.
“That person said to me … the last thing you want to do is take this to your grave.”
“I went to the police and said, ‘Hey, I want this guy extradited, I want him charged’.”
Instead he was told they weren’t going to do anything.
“They didn’t even bother going down to interview Jackson.”
Conaghan is very strong in his belief about where Jackson should be – and it isn’t in a retirement home in England.
“He should be in C or D block in Paremoremo.”
Conaghan also wants compensation from the Church, which allowed Jackson to come to New Zealand despite knowing he had already abused other boys.
“They should be held to account as well because how many others did they help?”
He said a letter from the Church offering $2000 was insulting and he didn’t bother taking it any further. Jackson’s apology was also insulting as it was essentially a carbon copy of ones sent to other victims, bar a few lines offering condolences for his illness.
“It’s an insult to use letters that are out of a photocopy machine and offer me $2000 for me to get physiological help.”
The Church challenges this, saying the letter did query his health at the top so wasn’t identical to others.
He says the compensation is not for the psychological and financial losses, or for the harm caused to his family relationship, but an acknowledgment by the Church that it was in the wrong when it sent a man who had already abused boys to New Zealand.
While Conaghan, who was given 12 weeks to live in 2018, has beaten the odds so far he’s unsure how long he has to live.
“I could go and have my next scan in three months and if they say ‘we have found another tumour’ then that’s me pretty much done.”
All he knows is he wants to see justice before he goes.
Where to get help:
• If you’ve ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on: 0800 044 334 or text 4334. (available 24/7)
• Better Blokes which provides peer support throughout Auckland, including a specific Pacific group.
• Male Survivors Aotearoa offers a range of confidential support at centres across New Zealand – find your closest one here.
• Mosaic – Tiaki Tangata: 0800 94 22 94 (available 11am – 8pm)
• If you have been abused, remember it’s not your fault.
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