STEPHEN McClung’s parents were journalists and believers in God and church, who sent their 12-year-old son to St Pius X High School at Adamstown in 1961 to get a good Catholic education from the live-in teacher/priests.
Mr McClung, nearly 70, was educated, but he was also sexually abused from 1963 by priest Kenneth Hodgson, whose bedroom smell of “Old Spice” aftershave can hit Mr McClung even now and take him back more than five decades. Fellow priests included Father Tom Brennan, who went on to become the principal who presided over the school’s darkest period in the 1970s and 1980s, before being acknowledged by the Catholic Church in September as a child sexual abuser.
Mr McClung was one of 800 people sitting in the Great Hall of Federal Parliament today as Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers a national apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
It was Mr McClung’s mother’s death in January, 2008, and Pope Benedict’s limited apology to abuse survivors during an Australian World Youth Day visit a few months later, that led him to face his past and talk to police.
More than just ‘Sorry’: Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard urges the government to follow recommendations on redress
Hodgson, who was living in Victoria and died in June, was charged with sexually abusing Mr McClung at St Pius, but the charges were withdrawn in 2010 after a magistrate accepted the priest was too old and frail to travel to NSW for a trial.
“When that happened I fell apart. I just felt I’d been screwed by the Catholic Church and then screwed by the law,” Mr McClung said.
Mr McClung said he was advised Hodgson’s health deteriorated sharply after 2010.
“I may have triggered that happening and I’m not apologetic about that at all,” he said.
He phoned Hodgson at that time.
“What was in the back of my mind was that he would say sorry. All I wanted was an acknowledgement of the damage done and an apology for doing it,” he said.
The Newcastle Herald spoke with Hodgson after the charges were withdrawn. He denied sexually abusing Mr McClung, but confirmed he received “a very nasty letter from the ex-bishop” who said he “believed Stephen McClung and he’d paid him money”.
“I thought the bishop must have taken leave of his senses. From my side, if such things had occurred I should have been faced with it at the time and not by a retiring bishop years later,” Hodgson said.
He said Mr McClung “was in no way damaged” and “he went on to lead a normal life”.
Hodgson said he was a member of the Society of St Pius X, named after the Catholic Pope who died in 1914, established canon law and directed that popes should not be questioned, and should be accorded “only obedience”.
Hodgson said it had “always been noted, and my references say over and over, that I was wonderful with the young”.
Mr McClung confirmed he received a settlement from Maitland-Newcastle diocese after a church investigation of his allegations against Hodgson.
A national apology, delivered by the prime minister, tells Australians that “this is serious”.
“People who think the whole child sexual abuse scandal has been this big kerfuffle and fuss about nothing might think again when they see Scott Morrison apologising on behalf of the nation and acknowledging failures across the board, including by governments,” Mr McClung said.
He believes governments and the community must demand a new relationship with religions that acknowledges they harboured criminals who committed crimes against children.
“Governments should be looking at what freedoms churches deserve, from taxes and other obligations, because of what has happened. The public funding, the tax concessions, the churches’ place in society is just way beyond an acceptable level, in my view, and particularly when you look at what happened because of that special status,” Mr McClung said.
“The national apology is at least a step in the right direction, but I don’t think churches have had to experience the real consequences of what they’ve done yet.”
Sign up to receive the latest breaking news, as well as the top stories of the day selected by the editors of the Newcastle Herald: