Father Michael was the new young parish priest at Alisa’s western Sydney Catholic church, where she served as an altar girl. At first, she thought he was ‘cool’, but she soon realised he was ‘creepy’, and started to feel uncomfortable around him.
In the mid-1970s, when Alisa was in around Year 5, Michael began sexually abusing her. One time he called her to the back of the church while he was changing his robes, and exposed his genitals to her.
Then there were the ‘one-on-one confessions’ he held in a room next to the confessional box. ‘He’d just sit opposite you and start rubbing your leg ... Then you’d sit on his lap, and [he’d] give you a cuddle, and occasionally he’d go like that down the back of your pants.’
Although the kids didn’t discuss what he did, they all tried to keep their confessions short. If someone was in there for a long time, ‘you just sort of knew in your head’ what had happened.
Michael was also a frequent visitor to the Catholic primary school Alisa attended. ‘He’d be in the playground all the time, playing with us ... It was just the way he’d come up and grab you around the chest and everything.’
The kids learned to keep away from him, and ‘you’d be pushing him away if he came near you’. Alisa had never been taught about sex, or inappropriate touching, so didn’t understand what he was doing or have a way to talk about it to anyone.
‘I don’t think I personally got abused. Like he might have touched us and that, but I didn’t think it was sexual abuse or anything, because I didn’t know what it was.’
When Alisa started high school she met other girls who knew Michael from his previous parish. ‘They said he was creepy then’, and that ‘he did something to someone there and he got kicked out, that’s why he was at our parish.
‘Then there were rumours going around that he did something to one of the girls at our parish, and he got kicked out. And that’s when we decided to ring up.’
Alisa and her new friends called the parish ‘from the school phone, in the playground, and spoke to the lady there’. They asked where Michael was currently working, and were told he had been moved to another parish to work with kids with disabilities.
‘And then when I went oh, I said “He’s a creep and shouldn’t be around children”. And she said, “Don’t speak about your priest like that”, and hung up on me.’
After the abuse, Alisa became paranoid that people were looking at her. When she was 11, she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. She lacked confidence and didn’t like going to school, and left in Year 10.
In her early 20s Alisa had a breakdown, as her depression and anxiety continued to get worse. She has tried to block out memories of the abuse and get on with her life.
A couple of years ago, she saw footage of the Pope speaking about child sexual abuse online. ‘He was admitting that there was so many paedophiles amongst the priesthood and all that, and I thought “Oh, I’ll just Google Father Michael” ’cause he always bothered me. And it come up: offender.’
She read a story about Michael’s offending, and contacted a lawyer saying ‘This could have been stopped in the 80s, when we tried to ring up’.
The lawyer took a statement about what Michael had done, and Alisa thinks that he has lodged a compensation claim with the Catholic Church on her behalf.
The police contacted Alisa recently. Some of Michael’s other victims had come forward, and he had been arrested. Alisa is unsure of where this matter is up to. The process has been hard for her, as she finds speaking about the abuse very traumatic.
Even though Michael has been charged, Alisa wishes she had never contacted that lawyer, ‘because this has been a nightmare, to tell you the truth’.