PETER Gogarty could "never, ever, ever" have imagined the chain of events that would follow hearing the news that pedophile priest Jim Fletcher had been arrested on multiple child abuse charges.
"It was like being hit in the face with a shovel," Mr Gogarty said.
"That there was somebody else and then the realisation there were lots of somebody elses, then that Fletcher wasn't the only one, that whole cascading revelation of the enormity of this."
Since then he has become an advocate for child sexual abuse survivors, campaigned for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and written a book, called Judas Church: Memoir of a Shy Young Fellow. Mr Gogarty has today been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, for service to the community through support for survivors of childhood abuse.
"I feel honoured and humbled that I have been recognised for all of this work," he said. "But at the same time I also feel a bit sad about the extent of the problem. I never thought when I started making noise about this, never had any concept at all about how big this issue was, and I think 20 years down the track the other thing I'm a bit sad about is I'm far from convinced that we've made kids safer. I'm sure we've made a lot of progress, but I'm still not sure the job is done. Getting this award has kind of re-energised me as well. There's still plenty to do and while I have the ability to do it, I will keep doing what I'm doing."
Mr Gogarty said he was "hugely grateful" for support and help he had received in his quest for justice and to extract accountability from the Catholic Church, which he said had given him purpose and helped with his healing.
"I'm incredibly fortunate that I survived and I'm still here and doing relatively well, but a lot of the people aren't here at all and a lot of the people who are still here are still tormented every day by what happened to them," he said.
"What I've been doing for the last 20 years has literally saved my life, because I've been able to channel that situation, my personal circumstances, into something useful. So many survivors have said that they don't want this to happen to any other kids. They don't want what happened to them to be for no purpose."
Mr Gogarty had buried his experience of being abused as a child by Fletcher in the 1970s and only hinted at it to his then-wife.
"On the face of it, everything looked pretty rosy, I had a half decent career, a nice home, but was never content, constantly struggling with depression, never really calling it for what it was and never letting myself think about what had happened to me, much less that it might have happened to other people. I never contemplated that until I heard that piece on the radio about Fletcher being charged."
He said he went into a "very dark place" and hadn't yet decided whether to get involved when he received a phone call from a woman he hadn't heard from in 20 years.
"As soon as I heard her voice I knew why she was calling, because her brother was another one of Fletcher's victims," he said.
"That galvanised me to - it's that quote, if you're not part of the solution you inevitably become part of the problem. I know stuff, I need to at the very least help these other men get through this, not thinking that would necessarily do me any good, just that I felt like I had an obligation to get involved."
It came at a price. His marriage didn't survive his public disclosure and his parents and siblings were "devastated". He has not spoken to many family members for years.
But he said there had also been freedom in facing what had happened. He said it made him better, stronger, more capable.
"I did what I believed to be the only thing I could do, I thought 'If I don't do this, I'm going to be worse than I was'," he said.
"Life is very, very different, but personally I am so much better than I could have ever imagined."
He is close with his partner and children and finds his work as a casual academic in the University of Newcastle's School of Humanities and Social Science fulfilling.
"In one sense I'm scared to stop [fighting for justice] because I think if I stop maybe I'll fall into a dark place," he said.
"I think at another level I kept this a secret for so long, that part of it's maybe a little bit of guilt that if I said something about what happened with me with Fletcher when I was a kid - mind you no-one ever did or ever would... but I've got this skillset and the platform and I'm determined to use it."
Mr Gogarty said the wins included the public being much more aware of abuses by what were seen as trustworthy organisations.
"When I was a kid the Catholic Church was everything, a priest was the next best thing to God and you trusted them implicitly. Hopefully nobody will ever fall into that trap again, so to that extent kids are safer."
He said NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman had "embraced" the Royal Commission's recommendations and made law reform changes.
Mr Gogarty said the list of what still needed to be done started with institutes being held accountable for crimes committed on their watch.
"Why, despite what we know, have we effectively had one failed conviction in this country for concealing child abuse?" he said.
"The institution that I know most about [the Catholic Church] is back to business as normal, still getting lots of government money, still not paying tax, and the same for people who very conveniently foisted the problem onto dead bishops. A lot of the people that were part of the problem - who acknowledge they did an horrendous job, that this was effectively a deliberate scheme to cover up child abuse to protect the reputation of the church - a lot of those people are in the same jobs. There's been no real accountability and I think that's one of the things that keeps exercising me, it's like the next big thing, how do we change this, why has the world accepted that that's okay?
"We can't just have got all this information, there has got to be an outcome from that. From their perspective they've suffered a bit of short term embarrassment but there's not been any long term consequences. Nobody has had to pay the price. Nobody is held accountable for their role, people higher up the food chain than just the abusing priests, how they could have known about it and moved these people around and there's findings about all of that. So I'm far from resting on my laurels and saying 'Well isn't it nice I'm now being recognised for what I did', but it's just another thing that says, well I've got to keep earning that honour."
Mr Gogarty called the death of former Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson - who was convicted with concealing Fletcher's crimes, then acquitted on appeal - a "lost opportunity".
"It's a lost opportunity for Archbishop Wilson and for others who are still here to say 'We were involved in this, we were told to do it this way by the Vatican, by people in high places in Vatican City and we personally were convinced that our loyalty to the church outweighed our Christian duty to children'. If someone in the church admitted their own culpability in that way I think that would be a heroic thing to do and that they were actually, as an institution, on track to change the culture that let this happen. But not a single person in the world, that I'm aware of, in a high place in the church has actually ever said that."
He said the abusers didn't operate in a vacuum, but in the church "thinking it was and remains above the laws that govern the rest of us".
"What we have accepted as a society is the church saying 'We've learned our lesson and you can trust us', well why? Where is the external oversight of what they're doing?'"
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