Aileen was around eight years old the first time the nuns asked her to help Father Kennedy in the presbytery. The church was just down the road from her Catholic primary school in regional Victoria, and helping the priest lay out his garments for Mass was seen as something of an honour. ‘We used to have to lay out the clothing that he would wear to church, the gown and the wrap for around the neck.’
It was the late 1960s, and Aileen thought Father Kennedy was ‘cool’ because he rode a motorbike and was much younger than the town’s other priest. She was sent to assist him on at least half a dozen occasions, always during school hours, and he sexually assaulted her during these visits.
First, Father Kennedy told Aileen that she was a good girl, and touched her legs. He progressed to kissing her, having her undo his pants, and eventually raping her.
Father Kennedy also sexually abused Aileen’s friend Lizzy. Aileen remembers Lizzy saying that she had been belted by her mother after disclosing this abuse. ‘There was no way I was going to tell my parents. I didn’t want a hiding.’
She also feared being a ‘bad girl’ who would go to hell, as Father Kennedy had said. ‘Then on the other side of it, you got that you were the good girl and that’s why you were chosen.’
Although there was one nice nun at the school, Sister Lucia was a cruel woman who hit the children with her walking cane, and punched them in the back, so Aileen was too scared of the Sisters to inform them of the abuse.
After leaving school Aileen has worked in the welfare field, including many years in a sexual assault service. She believes her own history of abuse may have given her additional insight when helping others.
It was only in the past decade that Aileen disclosed to Lizzy that Father Kennedy had abused her too. Lizzy does not want to pursue any criminal or civil action against him or the Church, and Aileen is still unsure if she would like to.
She contacted Broken Rites in an attempt to confirm Father Kennedy’s name, and contacted the school to see if she could obtain further details. The current principal vehemently stated that there had never been a priest of that name in the parish, and apparently made no attempt to check if this was actually the case.
Aileen told the Commissioner the biggest impact of the abuse has been in relation to her marriage and children, and ‘the closeness that you can have with people. The trust that you want to give but you just don’t’. During her marriage she kept pushing her husband away because she could not tolerate any physical intimacy.
‘My marriage was probably ruined because of it. Because I used to scream at my husband to get off me. And I think you know, doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t take long before you’ve had enough of that. And it’s sad really ... We still contact each other. And we still end our phone calls with “you’re the love of my life”.’
Aileen was never able to tell her husband what Father Kennedy had done to her. ‘I think he knew to a certain point. You know, there’s someone screaming at you to get off, that it’s not natural. He didn’t push it, and I didn’t either.’
When she first became pregnant, ‘I was so scared that I was basically condemned to death by falling pregnant, and I don’t know why I linked that back to my childhood, but I did. And I don’t know whether it was because of that, “you’re a bad girl”, and all of that sort of stuff’.
Her children were also affected, both due to the breakdown of her marriage and also because she found it difficult to show them any affection. Even now when her adult daughter asks for a hug, ‘I find it very difficult. I pat her on the back, as if she’s a pet. I can’t, or I don’t, hold her like a mother should’.