When the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse came to the Hunter, John Cleary was there to give evidence.
His work and insight into the diocese as its business manager gave the Commission valuable insight into the institution.
And that work was recognised last Monday, when Mr Cleary, 43, was named Citizen of the Year at Lake Macquarie Council’s Australia Day Awards.
Despite saying he was “honoured” to have received the award, Mr Cleary said he spoke out against the Anglican Church not expecting any accolades.
“I’ve been doing this work for 10 years now and I just went about things quite happy with no recognition,” he said, while also saying he was overwhelmed by support he received by the community.
Mr Cleary said he spoke out against the church because he was tired of hearing about the sexual abuse of children without anything getting done.
“I began to hear the stories of victims from very early on in my 10 years with the church; it was around March or April 2007 when I began to hear them,” he said. “[It] struck a chord with me and I had no reason to doubt these people.
“These people had typically approached the church before and, regrettably, weren’t always believed.
“I just felt I was duty-bound. It was the right thing to do.”
In August, abuse survivor CKA told the Commission that the church only made real progress in addressing sexual abuse after Mr Cleary was appointed business manager in 2007.
He feels content having spoken out, but admits it has taken a toll on him and his family.
“I don’t think the environment that I was operating in was always conducive to listening to the stories of these people,” he said.
He has described having his life threatened, as well as various incidents of intimidation and isolation.
“It has taken its toll on both my family and my health,” he said.
The Royal Commission will hand down its recommendations later this year and Mr Cleary said the Anglican church will need to adopt what it suggests.
“In politics, people talk about the pub test and I guess it’s really a matter for the church as to whether they’ve convinced people through the pub test,” he said
But he also praised the current order for working to fix “historical” issues surrounding the Anglican church.
“It’s a historical problem ... the current bishop has been pioneering change, good change,” he said.
He said the church needed to work with the community to restore trust.