Amie’s family was very involved in their Melbourne Catholic church and school communities. In the late 1990s Amie attended classes run by a local priest, Father Arnott, on Saturday mornings. One time, when she was six years old, she accidentally left a book behind and returned to retrieve it after class.
Her memories of what occurred next are fragmented – Father Arnott sitting next to her and touching her genitals; a girl who was also there crying and getting dressed.
At Amie’s school, which shared grounds with the church, she was singled out for attention by another priest, Father Mathers. He was ‘just the most disgusting person I have ever met. He really took it to another level’.
Mathers was also a family friend who would visit Amie’s home. ‘He was literally God, in my parents’ eyes. Dad was always like, you be respectful, you do everything he tells you to do ... If you’re asked to do a task you do it properly ... He would come over to the house, he would tell Mum how she had to organise things.’
Amie remembers that at school ‘everyone knew he was a bit strange ... He would talk to the Grade 2s about abortion ... He was very old and strict’. If he saw her in the playground he would greet her with ‘Hello, my good looking girl’ so that other students could hear it.
She would go into the chapel to pray each day after school. Mathers would sit with her, talking about scripture or things she had said during reconciliation.
‘First he would just put his hand on my leg and rub and all that kind of stuff.’ He’d say that if she prayed hard and did as he instructed then God would cure her sister’s disability. The touching became increasingly sexual, including digital penetration. One time he caused her to bleed, and her parents took her to their doctor, who told them she had probably just scratched herself.
Amie was in Year 3 when Mathers took her into the vestry after mass. ‘The next thing I see is a pubic region. And I have a salty taste in my mouth ... I just remember my head being pushed forward, and I was really freaking out. I was in the room, but I didn’t feel like I was in the room.’
Over the next year or so, ‘I know other incidents happened but I can’t pinpoint it’. Other people have told her they remember she was often missing from class at school.
When Amie was preparing for her confirmation in Year 5, she went to the presbytery to collect a book from Mathers. He insisted that she come inside and have a glass of water, even though she didn’t want to.
‘When I see it back, I see a glass of water. But after I drink it, I have a funny feeling, like I feel a bit drunk.’ He took her into a bedroom, ‘and then I feel this feeling in my stomach like someone’s pushing really hard. And my legs are over the bed ...
‘The pain was just unbelievable. And that’s when he did penetrate. And I think that was the first time, because that’s the one thing I remember was the pain. And I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t do anything. I think at one stage there was a pillow over my face.’
Mathers was very angry afterwards. He told Amie ‘go clean yourself up, and he swore at me ... And then I looked down, and I was heavily bleeding ... He was saying to me things like, you’re so dirty, look at what you’ve made me do ... If you tell anyone they’re not going to believe you anyway ... If you tell anyone I’ll do it to your sister and I’ll do it to your brother’.
That night her parents were concerned about the blood on her underwear, and took her to their doctor again. He told them it was nothing to worry about, that her hymen may have been broken riding a bike or similar, or it could be her first period.
They took her to the hospital, where staff noticed bruising as well ‘and they were wondering how I got it. I can’t remember anything else after that’. Amie did not tell her parents about the rape or other abuse. Her dad later said he knew something bad must have happened. ‘And it happened to Mum when she was young too, she was abused by a Brother.’
Mathers continued to abuse Amie for the next six months, until he left the parish. ‘I was always at the doctors for scrapes and cuts and bruises and stuff. Because he did get really violent. He tried to choke me one time.’ Her grades dropped, and she developed an eating disorder.
After moving to a high school which provided a safer, more supportive environment, she started getting straight As. For a while, she didn’t recall much about the abuse.
‘I did block it out, but people had seen things that I hadn’t really noticed. So when Dad tried to hug me I would pull away, and I wouldn’t let my brothers and sisters out of my sight, I was very hypervigilant ... So I did remember it, but I remembered it more when I was 16, when I got my period for the first time.’
Amie started remembering the abuse through flashbacks. ‘I started having these things – I just thought they were dreams. And then I spoke to somebody at school, and I said, but they happen when I’m awake. And they explained post-traumatic stress and flashbacks. I had always known there was something that had happened to me, if that makes sense. Like even Dad would take me to the doctor because I would always think I was sick. I always thought I was dying, and things like that.’
One night ‘I just said to my mum, “I was raped”. And she goes, “Oh Amie, don’t be silly, go to bed” ... She didn’t realise why I would say something like that. And she goes, “Oh look, it’s probably a movie you’ve seen”’.
Amie’s physical and mental health deteriorated, and she left school. She spent time in psychiatric facilities. After breaking down during an internal examination for another matter, she disclosed the abuse to her psychologist.
In her late teens Amie reported both priests to police, and made a video statement. Her parents, now fully aware of what happened, assisted with providing information. Mathers denied the allegations, and is now dead. Arnott was questioned, but no further action was taken. She recently instigated civil proceedings against the Church.
It was important for Amie to share her story so that people realise that child sexual abuse is an ongoing problem in institutions. ‘People think that the Church is changed, that this all happened back in the 70s and 60s.’
She has ongoing counselling and would like to participate in support groups, but finds some of the other survivors there triggering. ‘I can’t go to a support group, because a lot of them are male ... and older. So for me going into a situation with older men is very difficult ... There’s nothing for young people.’
Amie’s faith is still strong and a source of strength, although she can’t handle going to church. Her husband is aware of the abuse and is very supportive, as are her family.
‘We’ll stick together, like we always do.’