John Casey was sentenced to four years jail on child abuse charges this week.
John Casey was sentenced to four years jail on child abuse charges this week. NewsRegional

Abuse lawyer reflects on local priest's jail sentence

When abuse hits home... an opinion piece by Lisa Flynn, Shine Lawyers' National Abuse Law Manager.

"My job involves representing survivors of child sexual abuse.

The team that I lead is dedicated entirely to assisting those who have suffered abuse and mistreatment.

It is sad to say that we have over twenty five lawyers and support staff working solely on matters involving child sexual abuse, often involving the fault of an institution.

We are currently assisting over 900 survivors of abuse. We have assisted over 1000 victims obtain some sort of resolution for the atrocities that they endured.

I have heard hundreds of heart-breaking stories from survivors of abuse who have described experiences that no child should ever live through. I have passed tissues as people have tried to recount how they felt as a child, cowered in a corner, crying in fear as their abuser would come for them night after night.

I have held hands with these brave survivors as they have made me understand how they told another adult about the abuse and how they were disbelieved, and how this kick was often just as damaging as the initial abuse.

When nobody listened they felt worthless yet again.

I have cried with them as they have told me how their lives were devastated - how their lives were snatched from them, before they even had a chance to start or dream.

I have also, proudly, stood beside these brave survivors, as they have looked their perpetrators in the face, or the institutions that failed to protect them - in order to hold them to account.

My clients are from all over Australia.

They have been abused in Schools in Perth, orphanages in Ballarat, sporting clubs in Sydney, youth detention centres in Brisbane, foster homes in Tasmania.

Some people ask - "Why do you do it? How can you bear to listen to these horrific stories of abuse, day after day?"

My response is often that it is a really rewarding job.

The most rewarding job. I am able to finally give these people a voice- who have been denied one for so long.

I think another reason is that what these people have gone through is very far removed from my life. I didn't attend the school that it happened in. My family weren't church-goers.

I live in sunny Sawtell - a small coastal town on the Coffs Coast. It is idyllic.

The beach provides me a sanctuary away from the horrors.

A place where I can pretend that the world is a beautiful, caring place that would never hurt vulnerable children in the most horrific ways.

However, this has been wrecked a little bit for me today as I was reminded that the abuse of children has happened everywhere, even in my home town.

Yesterday, a Sydney Court sentenced Father John Patrick Casey to four years and 10 months jail on charges of sexually assaulting two teenage boys in the 1980s.

The allegations against Father Casey included performing oral sex on one of the boys, masturbating in the boy's presence, and digitally penetrating the other boy's anus.

John Casey was ordained on February 2, 1974.

In 2004 he was appointed to his most recent parish the "Mary Help of Christians" parish at Sawtell.

In 2015, he was arrested following an investigation by police who were acting on reports of abuse made to the Royal Commission.

I remember when news of his arrest broke in our town.

I have three young children.

They don't attend Mary Help of Christians School and we don't attend Church, but we know many children and families who do.

To somewhat cynical me, it was not a shock.

Another Catholic Priest charged with child sexual abuse.

However, what was different was that this time I was part of a community dealing with the fallout of the charges.

Some of the sentiment from the community was to disbelieve the complainants.

Father Casey would "never do something" like what he was being accused of.

Why did the victims only now come forward?

They must just be after some money.

There was the other camp who were understanding and sympathetic to the survivors who had come forward.

It was terrible what these young boys went through. How brave they were to come forward.

There was also fear. "My son goes to that school. I think he has been alone with Father Casey.

What if it has happened to him?"

In August this year - any doubt about Father Casey's innocence was quashed after a jury found him guilty of sexual assault (category three) of a person under the age of 16 years, and guilty of sexual assault (category four) for an indecent act with a person under 16.

This week he was sentenced.

To me, it is another tragic chapter in our nation's history, but this time it is not somewhere else in the nation - it is here.

Our community has to face the fallout, the fear, the shame and the feelings of helplessness.

Saddest above it all, is the fact that children within the community will have had their innocence robbed and their faith in the beauty of this world snatched.

Last week, as the Prime Minister delivered his apology to victims of abuse, he offered one triggering line that each victim around me at Parliament House held on to "we hear you and we believe you," it's time every Aussie followed suit to give victims of abuse the power to come forward and the tools to repair their lives.

A culture of silence and rejection hasn't worked for anyone so far."

Lisa Flynn has worked at Shine Lawyers for more than 19 years. She has represented hundreds of abuse survivors at The Royal Commission and has been instrumental in lobbying for legal changes across the country to provide access to justice to the people she represents. Lisa has also prepared submissions to assist with the launch of the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse in New Zealand. She is also a proud mother of three.

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