Victim sees inquiry as a light on the hill
Emotional hold … Tony Hersbach and Father Victor Gabriel Rubeo.
TONY HERSBACH and his son were in their kitchen on Monday evening putting in some timber fittings when they heard Julia Gillard announce on the radio a royal commission into institutional child abuse.
Mr Hersbach, 59, was overwhelmed. He was elated, terrified, satisfied and exhausted. It has been more than 40 years since his parish priest, the man who assumed the role of surrogate father, repeatedly molested him. He is still waiting for the truth.
''That's what I've struggled with for so many years,'' he said. ''That the whole story has never come out. I'm still trying to get the church to admit what they did. I'm still trying to get over what happened. It affects me every single day.''
Father Victor Gabriel Rubeo sexually abused Mr Hersbach when he was 11 years old until he was 18 at a house in Laverton in Melbourne's west.
He met the priest when he volunteered to become an altar boy and was soon attending youth groups at the priest's house and staying over.
Although the physical abuse ended in the 1960s, Father Rubeo's emotional hold on Mr Hersbach continued. He came to birthdays, played grandfather to Mr Hersbach's children and joined family holidays until 1994 when Mr Hersbach confronted the 61-year-old priest and told his wife, Lu, and his four teenage children what had happened to him as a child.
While his family rallied around him in disbelief, the church's response to his horrific revelations shocked him.
Father Rubeo offered to resign but the archdiocese refused and allowed him to continue working in a nearby parish without informing parishioners or the police. A priest who had been charged with child sex abuse was appointed his spiritual director.
During this time, Mr Hersbach discovered his twin brother had been molested by Father Rubeo.
''I tried to get on with my life but it has destroyed me,'' he said. ''I had to stop working because I kept having breakdowns. It's affected my family deeply. Now, I just want them to tell the truth about what happened. That's all.''
Mr Hersbach is certain there was a cover-up until the day Father Rubeo died, just hours before he was to front a committal hearing last year on 30 abuse charges.
The church told him he died of natural causes, aged 78, and denied him any details about the funeral. He believes the priest attempted to commit suicide but died of related complications and the church covered it up.
Mr Hersbach is desperate to tell his story to a royal commission. His wife and sons will be by his side when he does. But, after four decades of torment, he winced when he heard Ms Gillard say it might last several years.
''I'm almost at the top of the mountain. I can see the light at the top in the royal commission,'' he said. ''But I'm not sure I've got the energy to make it there.''