How a Pedophile Priest Destroyed a Boy's Life

By Geoff Wilkinson
Herald Sun
September 11, 2006,21985,20387519-2862,00.html

Helen Watson vividly remembers the day that marked the beginning of her son Peter's tragic end.

Peter Watson was a student at Marian College, Ararat.

Next door in the presbytery lived pedophile priest Father Paul David Ryan.

Memories: Helen Watson with a picture of Peter.
Photo by Jay Town

Ms Watson yesterday recalled the day 25 years ago when Ryan drove Peter home to their farm after the boy, then 15 or 16, had spent the night in town at the presbytery. Her son reeked of alcohol.

"Later that day I looked out the window and my son was up the paddock throwing trees I would have thought no person could physically lift.

"He was throwing huge logs and building a big bonfire. When I got there he was an absolute mess. He was crying and screaming and told me to go away and wouldn't tell me what was wrong.

"Peter was never the same after that."

Her son later told her Ryan showed blue movies to boys at the presbytery and gave them alcohol.

Ryan pleaded guilty at Warrnambool Magistrates' Court on Friday to five charges of indecently assaulting two other teenage boys at Penshurst in 1989-90, two years before he was moved to Ararat.

The Herald Sun revealed on Saturday that before either posting he was sent to the US for treatment, but had abused boys there.

Ms Watson this year got a written apology from Bishop Peter Connors of the Ballarat diocese.

But she can neither forgive nor forget.

There was evidence the church knew of Ryan's tendencies before he was ordained in 1976, she said.

"I've been a practising Catholic all my life, but I have totally lost my faith.

"I just have utter disbelief that the hierarchy of the church could actually send someone to another place knowing that he had the potential to commit a crime.

"I hold the church fully accountable for what happened to Peter, because they put a known pedophile in Ararat."

Ms Watson said her son was a kind boy with a quick wit and a love of sport before the abuse. "He was a normal boy, then all of a sudden his life just turned around."

He was a troubled soul who could not come to grips with his abuse. He used drugs, abandoned sports, led a transient life and tried to kill himself.

"He had low self-esteem, he couldn't work, he became drug-addicted and did all the things that are typical symptoms of sexual abuse," Ms Watson said.

"He was just generally struggling with life. Like most victims, he blamed himself for what happened to him," she said.

By the time he was 24, he was at a Ballarat psychiatric unit. He absconded in March 1999 and his mother never saw him alive again.

Peter was found hanged in an Aspendale bayside bathing box six months later. It was six years before his body was identified after a check of fingerprint records.

He had been buried in a pauper's grave -- he was exhumed so his mother could give him a funeral on December 19 last year.

Ms Watson said one consolation was that her son's case had highlighted shortcomings in the handling and identification of bodies at the Coroner's Court, prompting changes announced recently.

"Hopefully his tragic journey will also encourage other victims of sexual abuse to find the courage to come forward and speak up against pedophile priests and cover-ups by the Catholic church," she said.

ANYONE with personal problems can call Lifeline on 131 114; Victorian Statewide Suicide Helpline on 1300 651 251; or Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978.


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