A Catholic priest says he was abused by a pedophile priest at age 12 — and now he seeks justice

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 17 February 2020

An Australian legal firm is demanding compensation from the Catholic Church on behalf of eleven victims who say they were sexually abused in the 1960s by a priest (Fr Clarence David Anderson, usually known by his middle name David). One victim, who was aged 12 at the time of the abuse, eventually became a priest. This is believed to be the first Australian case of a serving Catholic priest seeking compensation as a childhood victim of another priest.

Clarence David Anderson was born on the New South Wales north coast about 1939. He trained as a priest for the Lismore diocese, which extends up the north coast (from Port Macquarie to Tweed Heads on the Queensland border). The bishop of this diocese is located in the city of Lismore.

Broken Rites research has found that Fr David Anderson liked being a surfer on north-coast beaches, and this is how he groomed some of his victims.

Broken Rites has found that Anderson left the priesthood in 1970; he got married (settling in Queensland) and had children of his own. He died in 1996.

Anderson's victims still feel hurt by the abuse and by the church's cover-up.

Broken Rites cannot give details about the 12-year-old victim who became a priest but we have obtained information from some of Anderson's other victims.

Broken Rites began hearing from some of Anderson's victims in 2002. At least four of these victims were boys who lacked a male parent.

Example #1

One complaint concerned two brothers, aged 14 and 9, who encountered Fr David Anderson while he was ministering in Macksville, including Nambucca Heads (on the mid-north coast), in 1966-68. The boys' father had died, so their mother ("Mary") allowed this priest to "befriend" the boys, because the boys "needed a father".

"Mary" told Broken Rites in 2002:

"My two sons (from an earlier marriage) were: "John" (born 1953, died 2009 with Parkinson's Disease); and "Peter" (born 1956, died in a road accident 1981 -- when he hit a semi-trailer head-on, possibly a suicide).

"The father of my two sons was an alcoholic. In the late 1960s, I had a marriage break-up and was trying to look after my two sons (then aged about 15 and 12) on my own. We lived in Coolangatta, near Tweed Heads. My boys were attending school in Tweed Heads (where David Anderson was the parish priest) and they used to spend time at weekends at nearby beaches (and Anderson used to visit these beaches).

"One day Anderson came to our house and offered to drive my sons to a surf beach. I encouraged my sons to go with Anderson because I thought he would act a substitute father-figure for the boys. My boys loved surfing, and so did Anderson.

"Anderson began taking one or both of my boys to beaches. During these outings, Anderson began sexually abusing each of my boys, separately.  Neither of my sons knew at the time that the other one was being abused.
"I didn't know about the abuse until about ten years after it happened. Peter told me  when he was about 18. John told me many years later."
"I am still feeling hurt by the fact that the Catholic Church recruited Anderson as a priest, inflicting him on gullible families. I feel guilty for having been so trusting towards the church. I feel very fragile about the whole business.

"About the year 2000,  my son John had a discussion with detectives and signed an official police statement, outlining the criminal offences that Anderson had committed on him. However, the police discovered that Anderson had died, and therefore the police couldn't arrest and charge Anderson.

"John later lodged a complaint with the church authorities. In 2003, a senior cleric came to interview John and me.. This cleric claimed that John's complaint was the first and only complaint that the church had received regarding Anderson."

Example #2

Another complaint (received by Broken Rites) concerned two brothers, aged 9 and 15, who encountered Father David Anderson when he ministered in the Tweed Heads parish (near the Queensland border) in 1969. These two brothers were from a fatherless family; and they, too, were "befriended" by Anderson.

One of these brothers ("Geoff", born in 1959) told Broken Rites in 2004:

"I need to tell of an unpleasant event that occurred in my life at Nambucca Heads whilst growing up and the impact it had on me and my family's lives. I feel compelled to tell this story because of my absolute disgust of the treatment I received from the Catholic Church, both the religious personnel and its legal representatives. I have no trouble in writing this, as everything that is told, is the truth, and the conclusions that I have drawn are from my own experience.

"I was one of three children from a family who had been in the valley for several generations. Tragically my father's life was cut short in 1964 in an accident and my mother was left to raise three children on her own. As most would know there was little or no assistance from the government and mum was forced to work in order to earn enough money to support us.

"My mother, a devoted Catholic was of strong Catholic faith and she sought answers and guidance from the Catholic Church in raising two boys and a girl without the help of a husband. This is where Father Clarence David Anderson came into our lives. My mother thought he was the answer to her prayers. However, unbeknown to her he was going to be the undoing of our family unit and his actions were going to contribute to years of trauma both psychologically and behaviourally for myself and my brother.

"Father Anderson obviously saw us as easy prey, not having our father to check on him and having a mother who was pre-occupied with work and a home to look after. He was given free reign over us as mum thought she was acting in our best interests. She felt two young boys needed a father figure around to help them grow into honest and decent young men. I have since learnt through other victims that this was common amongst Catholic priests that preyed on young boys for their own sexual gratification.

"The treatment we received from Father Anderson for being "good boys" ranged from rape for my brother and attempted rape for myself and various forms of sexual molestation. My brother would be taken away to Father Anderson's family home and would be repeatedly raped by him whilst his family was not at home.
For me it was showers with him and car rides, where he could do whatever, as I was only 7 years old.

"The irony of this whole situation was for my brother, where on Sundays he would attend church at Nambucca Heads. He would first attend confession where he would confess to bad thoughts and minor childhood misdemeanors. All would be forgiven by Father Anderson, and he would be told to make penance. He was reassured and sent on his way only to be met by him an hour later to have "his way with him".

"These events occurred without the knowledge of our mother or sister and neither my brother nor I were aware it was happening to the other. It wasn't till approximately 1997 that we discovered it was something that David Anderson was doing to both of us.

"The effects of this abuse on me during my childhood were acted out at school with bad behaviour and masking the negative feelings with alcohol. It became a crutch for dealing with life. Social events were avoided as I often had feelings of low self worth. Various forms of therapy were sought on my behalf, as I entered adulthood and experienced a complete breakdown at the age of eighteen.

"Now what was the Catholic Church's response to my allegations?

"I decided to contact the Towards Healing program run by the church. This program is meant to assist victims of sexual abuse from Catholic clergy. Did I say assist? In my opinion it is to make things as difficult as possible. You are interviewed and notes are taken and your story is put to the perpetrator. You are contacted by the church's attorney, as at all times money is as the forefront of any discussion. You are offered the services of a support person from the church and if you are lucky enough they will contact you several months later.

"Our case was a little different. Father Clarence David Anderson is now deceased. He left the church as a priest and felt the need to marry and have children of his own. There is no-one to collaborate mine or my brothers story. And that is where we lose the Catholic Church as they can wipe their hands on us, unless other victims can be found.

"After some time we were given the opportunity to meet with the Bishop of Lismore, to tell him our story. He told us he found our story credible and apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church for the actions of Father Anderson. That's where his and the church's obligations stopped.

"What am I left thinking? The Catholic Church pays out millions to lawyers, trying to stop victims from gaining monetary compensation instead of putting this money to better use and assisting the people that the church has harmed. During my brother's and my lifetime we have spent thousands of dollars on medication and counseling. This will continue to be ongoing for the rest of our lives as no one can erase what happened to us as children."

Legal action

In 2020, a legal firm (Ken Cush and Associates) is acting for eleven of Father David Anderson's victims, tackling the Lismore Catholic Diocese for compensation. The diocese is resisting the victims, including the one who became a priest. Each Australian Catholic diocese usually pays an annual premium to the Australian Catholic Church's own insurance company, expecting that the insurance company will provide some compensation for the church's sexual assault victims.