Growing up in Melbourne in the 1970s, Amy and her family often went to stay with her grandmother, in a coastal town in northern New South Wales. Between the ages of about five and 11, Amy spent most of her school holidays there.
During these holidays, Amy got to know Brother Lonergan, a Marist Brother who also visited the area for holidays. The Marist Brothers’ property where he stayed was quite near Amy’s grandmother’s house, where he became a regular visitor.
Lonergan was friendly with all the family, but his special relationship was with Amy. Often, Amy spent most of the day with Lonergan. They’d meet in the beach in the morning and stay there for hours, playing in the sand, swimming, collecting shells and going for walks.
Lonergan often took Amy back to his place for lunch, and in the late afternoon they’d meet up with Amy’s parents. Sometimes they had a little nap after lunch – an opportunity, Amy told the Commissioner, for Lonergan to have ‘a field day’.
‘He touched me, he fondled me, he made me touch his penis, he used to masturbate, he would get very close to me all the time and make a very unusual sort of noise, sort of like a grunt.’
‘But at that stage when I was very young I looked up to him, I adored him, I respected him, you know, I used to be terribly excited to go and see him on the beach … All that time was terribly exciting for me because he used to spoil me and spend loads of time with me.’
He never threatened her, or told her to keep what he was doing a secret, she explained.
‘He just said, “I’m giving you lots of love and cuddles, and I enjoy having you close to me and you’re very special to me”, and, you know, he would tell me he loved me and that I was like a grandchild to him … He was very gentle with me as a person, he never hit me or raised his hand to me or anything like that, he was a kind soul.’
The abuse went on for years. Lonergan sexually assaulted Amy at his place and also frequently in the water when they swam. Over time, it made her feel very uncomfortable.
‘I think [I was] roughly 11, 11-and-a-half, around that age, you know, when I started to realise more about what was going on and his behaviour with me.’
One night she told her family what he’d been doing.
‘I had been with my sister and he was sitting me in his lap, and had his penis in my back and, you know, he was rubbing me and touching me … and I went home for dinner that night and I said to them at the dinner table … I said, “He’s touching me in a funny way” and Mum said, “What’d you mean?”’
Amy tried to explain: Lonergan was putting his hands down her pants and touching her vagina. But her grandfather interrupted, furious with her for, as he saw it, telling lies about a Marist Brother. Her story was dismissed.
Years later, this was very troubling for Amy, when she learned that Lonergan had been convicted and jailed for offences against children: ‘I hold terrible guilt that, you know, perhaps if they listened to me at the time these other victims wouldn’t have had to go through what they went through’, she said.
As a teenager, Amy struggled at school. She couldn’t concentrate. She took drugs and attempted to kill herself several times.
‘I have gone through depression, anxiety, I have panic attacks, I pick my fingers all the time and make them bleed constantly’, she told the Commissioner.
‘Basically, I hate myself, I don’t have a lot of self-worth and things like that. I’m very insecure and I don’t trust men, any man in this whole world, I don’t even trust my father.’
Amy has seen counsellors and psychologists over the years but not always found them helpful. As a teenager she was over-medicated, she believes, on antidepressants that she later weaned herself off. ‘I thought it was just a band-aid and I was trying to sort of start focusing and getting myself better’.
More recently, visits to a therapist have brought memories of Lonergan’s abuse to the surface and caused flashbacks and nightmares.
‘It sort of made me feel sick and anxious, and so I stopped that pretty much straightaway.’
When she was 14 or 15, Amy disclosed the abuse to her mother a second time. Her mother was distressed and apologetic about her failure to take Amy’s first disclosure seriously. She contacted the Church about Lonergan and reported back to Amy that he had died.
‘She said, “You can move on, he’s dead, he’s deceased”.’
In the early 2010s, Amy discovered this wasn’t true. She had contacted a child sexual abuse survivors’ group and with their help found that Lonergan had died just a few months before. She also reported him to police, and at that point learned he had abused others as well as her.
Amy has not sought redress from the Church.
‘I don’t know whether I would do that, I don’t know whether that would give me ... I mean, it’s out of their control … It’s not their fault, it’s his fault, and he needed to take the action and take the guilt on himself.’
Amy has young children and a ‘gorgeous’ partner who’s she’s been with for about 13 years. Previous relationships have not worked out, in some cases because they followed a pattern established by Lonergan’s abuse. This relationship is different, she told the Commissioner. He’s ‘very patient with me and it’s amazing how he’s stuck around’.
She has recently come to see that her partner needs help to understand her experience and its consequences.
‘It’s time for me to start healing’, she’d told him. ‘I think it’s perhaps really important you come with me and listen to some of the things and how we can handle it and move forward.’