Althea studied piano after school when she was 12 years old. After lessons, she waited on the steps of the Catholic church next door for her dad to collect her. It was the mid-1960s, and Father Bedford was a Marist priest in their regional Queensland parish. He soon started grooming Althea as she waited, asking her to do jobs such as helping clean the church, or arranging the flowers.
Coming from a very religious family, Althea felt flattered by his requests. Bedford ‘was a fairly prominent person in the town, as well as being the parish priest. And he had a lot of power, he built schools – he’s still very well-regarded there’. He would give Althea long hugs after she did tasks for him, as well as holy pictures with messages thanking her for doing a good job. He began taking to her the presbytery for other chores, and would fondle her breasts there. Sometimes they went to the convent in the same complex, while the nuns were away, and he undid her clothing to molest her.
Eventually Bedford formed a close relationship with Althea’s parents, and would be invited to the family home for meals. Whilst there, he would sexually abuse Althea as they watched television in a darkened room.
Althea did not disclose the abuse to anyone at the time, as ‘the priest was like god really. They [adults] gave him that power ... Dad would say to me, you can’t even speak about the religious at all. So how could you ever say?’
Bedford only stopped abusing Althea when she was sent to boarding school. He still sent her letters, but these did not have any sexual content.
Bedford presided over Althea’s wedding when she was 20, and even stayed with her and her husband for a while. He continued to behave inappropriately to her, even though she was married. All of this time, Althea didn’t really conceptualise his behaviour as abuse. Instead, she thought ‘he’s a dirty old man, and just put it to one side. And felt sorry for him’.
Althea participated in some self-improvement work through her church, and also did some counselling, when she began to have children. This led her to think differently about the abuse, and in her late-20s she cut all ties with Bedford. ‘I remember distinctly saying to him on the phone, “You are never welcome at our house again”.’ He hung up on her, and she never heard from him after this.
Althea first disclosed the abuse to a Marist Brother she knew, who listened to her and was caring, but he did not offer any advice. Later on, she told her husband and her older children ‘although I’m sorry in a way that I told them’.
Experiencing depression after her last child was born, and not feeling like she was able to parent well, Althea went to see a psychologist. These sessions continued for three years, and towards the end of this time Althea became more fully aware of the impacts of Bedford’s abuse.
Althea has pursued further counselling over the years, ‘even though it was extremely distressing, and I was very physically ill in that process. I would get extreme migraines, vomiting – it was quite hard going. But my GP was really supportive of what I was doing ... I got through it’. She is ‘very glad that I did persevere with the counselling, because it just grounded me’.
It is still hard for Althea to think that she let Bedford in their family home, with their children around, including saying mass at their table.
‘I can’t explain it. And the guilt is great. All I know is, until I worked through those therapy years I was still a kid, I was still immature. And he still had a control over me.’
Her husband also struggles with Bedford’s involvement with Althea and their family too. ‘I don’t know how to help him with it ... He just hates the fact it happened. And he feels it’s like adultery really. I was his wife ... Even the thought that he [Bedford] would have had thoughts of me. The priest had thoughts that were probably using me.’
In the mid-1990s Althea went through the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing process. ‘At first I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to cause any trouble. I was still very good ... But I realised that he was still visiting families, and staying with families with children. So I decided I would then report what happened to me.’
She was represented by a solicitor, and awarded $40,000 compensation. Although Church officials believed her account, they did not report Bedford to police, or acknowledge if he had perpetrated any other abuse. Althea believes Bedford was simply moved around Sydney, and never suffered any real consequences for his offending. She did not take criminal action herself, and Bedford is now deceased.
Althea’s faith in God has been a strong factor is helping her deal with the abuse. Being able to separate the abuse, the individual offender, and the Church as an institution from her faith in God has enabled her to retain her beliefs.
‘I can see the people in the Church as broken really. The priests are very broken ... When I first started to read about the Royal Commission I felt excited. I thought, this is fantastic. And I guess that’s where I wanted to put my vision. I thought, it’s about time. Through the brokenness, the good will come.’